New herpes drug can slow down the progression of deadly skin cancer, study finds
In the study, researchers found that a newfound herpes virus-based drug (called Talimogene Laherparepvec or T-VEC for short) can slow down the disease progression in patients with melanoma
– the deadliest form of skin cancer
According to the team, led by Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer
therapies at ICR and honorary consultant at the Royal Marsden, their study represents the first phase 3 trial to demonstrate the benefits of viral immunotherapy for cancer
To reach their findings, Professor Harrington and colleagues randomised 436 patients with advanced malignant melanoma
to receive either a T-VEC injection or a control immunotherapy.
What exactly is T-VEC, you ask?
Simply put, it’s a genetically-modified form of the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). It works by multiplying inside cancer cells and, in turn, killing them.
Researchers then analysed the results of the two different types of immunotherapy on patients. They found that 16.3% of patients who received T-VEC had a strong treatment response lasting more than six months, compared with only 2.1% of patients who received the control immunotherapy.
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“There’s increasing excitement over the use of viral treatments like T-VEC for cancer because they can launch a two-pronged attack on tumours – both killing cancer cells directly and marshalling the immune system
against them,” comments Professor Harrington.
“And because viral treatment can target cancer cells specifically, it tends to have fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy or some of the other new immunotherapies,” he adds.
T-VEC treatment was so effective that it lasted up to three years in some patients
For some of the patients who received T-VEC treatment, the response lasted longer than three years – a time period that oncologists frequently use as a benchmark for a cure when it comes to cancer immunotherapy.
Researchers found that patients with stage III and early stage IV of melanoma who received control immunotherapy survived for an average of 21.5 months. Those who received T-VEC lived for an average of 41 months. Professor Harrington points out that this is a significant difference.
They also found that patients with stage IIIB, IIIC and IVM1a melanoma (less advanced forms of the cancer) showed the strongest responses to T-VEC. As did those who hadn’t undergone any other treatment for the disease. The team notes that this means doctors can use T-VEC as a primary treatment for inoperable metastatic melanoma.
Professor Harrington says that ongoing studies are currently evaluating if T-VEC can become a first-line treatment for more aggressive forms of melanoma.
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