Doctors around the world are using a genetically engineered herpes virus to treat skin cancer and, amazingly, the new method appears to be working.
The clinical trial, led by by The Institute of Cancer and Research and The Royal Marsden Hospital and performed at 64 research centers around the world, included 436 patients with aggressive, inoperable malignant melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer, according to the Daily Mail.
Participants were randomly injected with either Talimogene Latherparepvec (T-VEC), the viral therapy, or a control immunotherapy.
The T-VEC group demonstrated a 16.3 percent durable treatment for over six months while only 2.1 percent of the control group did, the Daily Mail reported. In 40 percent of the cases it worked and tumors disappeared and decreased by more than half the original size.
The study is the first of its kind to use viral immunotherapy to treat cancer.
“There is increasing excitement over the use of viral treatments like T-VEC for cancer, because they can launch a two-pronged attack on tumors — both killing cancer cells directly and marshalling the immune system against them,” professor Kevin Harrington, the U.K. trial leader, told the Daily Mail.
Some patients even had lasting effects over three years.
“We tend to reserve the word ‘cure’ for five years of being free from the disease,” Harrington said. “But we know that when people get to three years, they have a good chance of getting to five years without a relapse.”
What's more, T-VEC does not appear to harm healthy cells, whereas other, more aggressive treatments like chemotherapy do.
The drug worked best on those with less advanced cancers and on those who had not received treatment before.
The herpes virus was altered to remove the ICP34.5 and ICP47 genes so they cannot replicate, but can still enter cancer cells and break them open from within.
“We may normally think of viruses as the enemies of mankind, but it’s their very ability to specifically infect and kill human cells that can make them such promising cancer treatments,” professor Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, told The Guardian.
The virus has also been engineered to create GM-CSF, which ignites the immune system to attack tumors.
Harrington hopes the drug will be available to the public in 12 months, but the expense may be an obstacle.
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