A huge milestone: Approval of cancer-hunting virus signals new treatment era...
This is a really big deal even though it only works for a small number of people.
Because it's a new approach to fighting disease that potentially has many applications:
This does represent a new bioresource:
The treatment, which is called T-VEC (for talimogene laherparepvec) but will be sold under the brand name Imlygic, uses a modified virus to hunt cancer cells in what experts said was an important and significant step in the battle against the deadly disease.
It works by introducing a specially modified form of the herpes virus by injection directly into a tumour – specifically skin cancer, the indication for which the drug has been cleared for use.
It was developed by the Massachusetts-based biotech company BioVex, which was acquired in 2011 by biotech behemoth Amgen for $1bn. The genetic code of the virus – which was originally taken from the cold sore of a BioVex employee – has been modified so it can kill only cancer cells.
Cancer-hunting viruses have long been thought of as a potential source of a more humane and targeted treatment for cancer. Unlike current oncological treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which kill cancer cells but also damage the rest of the body, viruses can be programmed to attack only the cancer cells, leaving patients to suffer the equivalent of just a day or two’s flu.
Treatments such as Imlygic have two modes of action: first, the virus directly attacks the cancer cells; and second, it triggers the body’s immune system to attack the rogue cells too once it detects the virus’s presence.
Dr Stephen Russell, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic who specialises in oncolytic virotherapy – as these treatments are known – says that the FDA’s clearance of Imlygic represents “a huge milestone” in cancer treatment development.
Viruses are “nature’s last untapped bioresource”, Russell said. Imlygic itself has an officially fairly modest effect coming out of its clinical studies – an average lifespan increase of less than five months. But underneath that data, Russell said anecdotally that in his Mayo clinic studies in mice, some programmable viruses saw “large tumours completely disappearing”.
The goal, he said, was to get to the point where the clinical trials would see similarly dramatic outcomes, so that chemotherapy and radiotherapy could finally be consigned to medical history.