Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in the United States today. But now researchers are saying they have a new way of treating it, and it includes using the herpes virus.

CBS news reports on treating melanoma.

Can the herpes virus really help treat melanoma?

Researchers are saying it was successful in the trial run.

Scientists have been experimenting with types of therapy using viruses, an approach called immunotherapy, to fight cancer for the last few years. A new study, issued on Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is the first to show the approach works in patients engaging in a Phase III clinical trial, which is the last step of human testing before a treatment can receive the FDA’s stamp of approval.

How was the trial conducted?

In the clinical study, patients who received the immunotherapy drug showed greatly improved odds in the treatment of these skin cancer tumors, particularly ones that they cannot operate on.

When an altered type of the herpes simplex virus type-1 is injected directly into a melanoma, it causes two reactions that can destroy the cancer cells on its own and in conjunction with, other treatments, it brings in a powerful hit.

Professor Kevin Harrington, who is a professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, led the UK research team. He said in a statement,

“They can launch a two-pronged attack on tumors -- both killing cancer cells directly and marshaling the immune system against them, 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.”

This specific treatment, called T-VEC, is a genetically engineered version of the herpes simplex virus designed not to cause an active herpes infection, which can be a threat to cancer patients.

This was a random, controlled human trial, patients who had inoperable stage III and stage IV melanomas lived almost two times as long when injected with T-VEC therapy compared to earlier-stage melanoma patients who were utilizing more traditional treatments. The trial, the first to reach Phase III status, was given funding by the manufacturer of T-VEC, also known as Amgen.

“Used alone, T-VEC is most useful for late-stage melanoma tumors that are easily accessed -- only a fraction of the melanomas diagnosed every year. But some researchers say the real promise of T-VEC and other immunotherapies is as part of a disease-fighting duo to attack late-stage cancer tumors,” according to CBS news.

Many scientists said these linked therapies could take the brakes off the immune system, increasing survival or life extension rates. In the study, around 163 patients with stage III or early stage IV melanoma treated with T-VEC lived an around 41 months, which was about two times as long as the control group.

The American Skin Cancer Society says that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States and rates have been increasing for the last 30 years. They also say that there could be over 73,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed this year and nearly 10,000 deaths.

Experts are saying that while the sun is a contributing factor so are genetics; anyone who has a close relative, immediate family member, who has been diagnosed with melanoma, should be particularly vigilant.


Gerry Oginski
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