The BTP PLUS Foundation, a joint foundation representing the construction sector, signed a sponsorship agreement with the Institut Pasteur in the spring to fund a research project led by Frédéric Tangy, an Institut Pasteur scientist. The aim of the project is to fight mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer that particularly affects people working in the construction sector.
The BTP PLUS Foundation, which was set up in 2005 under the aegis of the Fondation de France, provides grants for innovative social projects aimed at current, future and former construction workers, and fostering self-sufficiency and social advancement for people in the building and public works industry. In 2018, the BTP PLUS Foundation launched a call for proposals in the "Health" category and allocated funding to an Institut Pasteur research project focusing on a highly innovative therapeutic approach developed by scientists. This approach could be used to limit the development of asbestos cancer among current and retired construction workers. Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), or asbestos cancer, is a chest cavity tumor that occurs decades after exposure to asbestos.
This occupational cancer is fatal in most cases. Median survival in patients is less than one year, and the overall five-year survival rate is below 5%. It is estimated that 1,000-1,200 new cases are currently diagnosed in France every year and approximately 1,500 people die from MPM each year. Santé publique France (formerly the Institute for Public Health Surveillance) predicts 100,000 deaths by 2050. The situation is the same in many European countries, the US and throughout the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an "asbestos tsunami" is expected in China and South East Asia.
An ambitious project to fight mesothelioma
The research project led by Frédéric Tangy, Head of the Viral Genomics and Vaccination Unit at the Institut Pasteur, heralds a new era for cancer treatment. It focuses on manipulating the tumor environment to help the patient's own immune system fight the cancer. "Among the revolutionary treatments available, viruses are perfect weapons for targeting cancerous cells and inducing immunogenic cell death of cancer cells", explains Frédéric Tangy.
Researchers have therefore developed a new cancer treatment as an alternative to conventional therapies: using the measles vaccine virus capable of specifically killing the tumor cells while preserving the healthy cells. By also inducing anti-tumor immunity, this treatment based on a very safe pediatric vaccine is supposed to unleash the patient’s own power to fight his cancer.
The project aims to:
- develop basic research to understand the mechanism of action of the virus and gain information for selecting patients likely to be responsive to treatment by the virus,
- carry out part of the regulatory preclinical trials required before the clinical trials for the new virus-based treatment.
In particular, the funding from BTP PLUS Foundation will enable the researchers to start preclinical trials sooner.
If successful, this new therapeutic approach could be used for other cancers, such as bladder, ovarian and lung cancer, and this is the subject of other research programs within the Viral Genomics and Vaccination Unit.
This study is part of the Cancer Initiative of the Institut Pasteur's strategic plan for 2019-2023.