A $65,000 course of treatment extends melanoma patients’ lives by less than four and half months. On average, that result is barely significant.
It’s how Imlygic works that has the oncology world so worked up. Imlygic is a virus, the first of its kind to be approved in the United States for its ability to attack cancer cells. This virus could be a completely different way to fight cancer, which has the tendency to come back after chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
Coming up right behind Imlygic are over a dozen clinical trials for more anti-cancer viruses.
The idea of using viruses against cancer actually stretches back decades. When normal cells turn cancerous, their virus fighting machinery shuts down, this makes them vulnerable.
Unfortunately there are numerous anti-cancer viruses that failed during clinical trials.
Imlygic is a reengineered version of the herpes virus. Oncologists inject a massive dose directly into the skin tumor. Herpesvirus prefers to infect cancer cells, bursting them into bits. Once the immune system sees all the debris and wakes up and joins the fight against the tumor.
The key was learning how to engineer the virus into something useful. Researchers had to continually keep the virus from infecting healthy cells or causing old sores, all while making sure it got pieces of viral and tumor protein to break up properly to alert the immune system.
Although Imlygic did not prove to be effective, it shows promise in combination with other drugs called checkpoint inhibitors which stimulate the immune system. But more importantly, the real significance is that Imlygic is a proof-of-concept.