Eight clinical trial sites are being set up to investigate a way of targeting cancer stem cells for people diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, which kills more than 2500 people each year. It can take between 30 and 40 years to develop but when symptoms begin, it can be too late for treatment.
Most sufferers, many of whom worked in construction, shipbuilding or railways, die within 12 months of diagnosis. Doctors said existing treatments were limited and there was an urgent need for a new approach. A total of 11 countries are taking part in the study, with eight research centres planned for the UK.
It comes after legislation was lodged at the Scottish Parliament which could pave the way for health boards to claw back the costs of treating the victims of asbestos-related disease from former employers.
West of Scotland MSP Stuart McMillan said there was a "substantial financial cost to the NHS in diagnosing and managing asbestos-related conditions".
Novelist James Kelman, who has campaigned for compensation for asbestos victims, said it was "a step closer to getting industry to take responsibility".