Journal scan

New viral therapy shown to halt the progress of advanced melanoma

A genetically engineered herpes virus has halted the progression of advanced melanoma.

The landmark worldwide trial, led in the UK by researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, randomised 436 skin cancer patients to receive either an injection of the viral therapy, called Talimogene Laherparepvec (T-VEC), or a control immunotherapy. Study participants had aggressive, inoperable malignant melanoma.

Of patients given T-VEC, 16.3% showed a durable treatment response of more than six months, compared with 2.1% given the control treatment. Some had a response that extended beyond three years, a mark that oncologists often use as a proxy for cure in immunotherapy.

Responses to treatment were most pronounced in patients with less advanced cancers and those who had yet to receive any treatment, suggesting potential benefits of T-VEC as a first-line treatment.

The 163 patients with stage III and stage IV melanoma who were treated with T-VEC lived an average of 41 months. This compared with an average survival of 21.5 months in the 66 earlier-stage patients who received the control immunotherapy.

A modified herpes virus could prove a boon in treating melanoma

Picture credit: SPL

UK trial leader Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research, said: ‘There is increasing excitement over the use of viral treatments like T-VEC, because they can launch a two-pronged attack on tumours – both killing cancer cells directly and marshalling the immune system against them.’

Professor Harrington added: ‘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.’

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