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HSV-Derived Immunotherapy Promising in Advanced Melanoma

Study shows it helped a minority of patients, and experts say this approach has promise

WEDNESDAY, May 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) — A genetically engineered form of the herpes virus is showing promise in slowing the progression of melanoma, according to research published online May 26 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The study included 436 patients with aggressive, inoperable melanoma. Each received either an injection of the viral therapy — Talimogene Laherparepvec (T-VEC) — or a control immunotherapy. T-VEC is a modified form of herpes simplex virus type-1 that has had two of its genes removed so that it can’t replicate in healthy cells, the research team explained. Instead, T-VEC multiplies inside cancer cells and destroys them from within. It also produces a molecule that stimulates the immune system to attack and destroy tumors.

Treatment response of more than six months occurred in only about 16 percent of patients in the T-VEC group. However, that was higher than the 2 percent response rate of those in the group that didn’t receive the treatment, the researchers reported. Also, some patients in the T-VEC group had a response lasting longer than three years.

Responses to T-VEC were strongest in patients with less advanced cancers and in those who had not received any prior treatment, Kevin Harrington, Ph.D., U.K. trial leader and professor of biological cancer therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said in an institute news release. This highlights the potential benefits of T-VEC as a first-line treatment for patients with advanced melanoma that cannot be surgically removed, the researchers said. Average survival among patients with stage 3 and early stage 4 melanoma was 41 months for those who received T-VEC, and about 22 months for those in the control group.

The research was funded by Amgen, which is developing the therapy.

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