A Prominent Historical Figure Faces an Uncertain Future

Former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk served as president of the country from 1989 to 1994. He is best known for ending policies of white privilege, starting with the release of longtime political prisoner Nelson Mandela from jail. From there, he negotiated the quantum shift to universal suffrage, putting an end to white-minority rule.

A potentially deadly diagnosis

For all of his unprecedented moves, not to mention a Nobel Peace Prize, De Klerk suddenly found himself having something in common with countless people around the world. In March of 2021, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, formally announcing the illness on his 85th birthday. Later in the month, he started immunotherapy treatments, according to a statement from the F.W. de Klerk Foundation.

While not publicly announced, de Klerk, as with anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma, was at some point exposed to asbestos. Symptoms can take anywhere from 10 to 50 years to show up.

Immunotherapy drugs on a fast track

Simply put, immunotherapy is creating a certain amount of optimism in treating this rare form of cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced fast-track designation to a specific type of immunotherapy drug due to promising clinical trials that have revealed promising survival benefits. As a result, the drug could be approved for use much faster than standard FDA processes.

That promising news follows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving a combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab to treat unresectable pleural mesothelioma based on additional and successful clinical trials.