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Health : US approval for drug that turns herpes virus against cancer

US approval for drug that turns herpes virus against cancer.

The herpes virus is turned against skin cancer by a new drug called Imlygic but 
the FDA has cautioned it is not proven to extend life.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a first-of-a-kind drug that
uses the herpes virus to infiltrate deadly skin cancer tumours, reducing their
size in some cases.

 The FDA is allowing the injectable drug Imlygic, made by Amgen Inc, to be
used at first only on melanomas that
cannot be removed surgically. The company said a single course would cost about
$65,000 depending on the length of the treatment.

The drug is injected directly into tumour tissue, where it uses herpes as a
Trojan horse to slip past and rupture cancer cells. The drug combines a gene
snippet meant to stimulate the immune system with a modified version of the
herpes simplex virus — the kind that causes mouth cold sores.

Despite the drug’s groundbreaking approach FDA officials stressed it had not
been shown to extend life. Instead company studies showed that about 16% of
patients injected with the drug saw their tumours shrink, compared with 2% of
patients who took more conventional cancer drugs. That effect lasted at least
six months.

Regulators stressed that Imlygic had no effect on melanoma that had spread to
the brain, lungs or other internal organs.

Amgen said patients should be treated with the drug for at least six months,
or until there were no more tumours left to treat.

The drug — known chemically as talimogene laherparepvec or T-VEC — divides
into copies repeatedly until the membranes, or outer layers, of the cancer cells
burst. Meanwhile the gene snippet produces a protein to stimulate an immune
response to kill melanoma cells in the tumour and elsewhere in the body.

A 2013 review in the journal Molecular Cancer
concluded that cancer-fighting viruses armed with genes that stimulate the
immune system “are potent therapeutic cancer vaccines”.

The FDA has approved a string of new medicines dubbed immunotherapies, or
immune-oncology drugs, that harness the body’s immune system to help attack
cancer cells. The drugs have brought some of the first significant advances in
patient survival in many years for some cancer types, particularly lung cancer
and melanoma. 
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