A genetically altered version of the herpes virus was proven to treat skin cancer -- even in its most lethal stages.
The study, led by Kevin Harrington, a professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, involved 436 patients with severe skin cancer.
Of the patients, Harrington said,
They had disease that ranged from dozens to hundreds of deposits of melanoma on a limb all the way to patients where cancer had spread to the lungs and liver.
The patients were T-VEC, a drug developed by the company Amgen.
Each participant received an injected dose every two weeks for up to 18 months.
Responses to the treatment were observed in one in four patients and 16 percent of all participants remained in remission after six months had passed.
Participants with stage III and early stage IV melanoma lived for an average of 41 months, and those given the control treatment lived for an average of 21.5 months.
Approximately 10 percent of patients were completely cancer-free by the end of the study.
T-VEC, like the herpes virus, multiplies inside cells and causes them to break apart.
But the herpes in T-VEC is modified to prevent the virus from multiplying inside healthy cells.
It is also programmed to produce a molecule that directs the immune system toward the cancer cells.
Professor Harrington said,
It's like an unmasking of the cancer. The patient's immune system wakes up and attacks the cancer cells wherever they are in the body.
T-VEC is currently awaiting FDA approval, and that's expected to be granted within the year.
It could become available to skin cancer patients immediately after, he said, and it's still being tested for combating other types of cancer.
This study was originally published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.