Previously, we had talked about how genetically modified bacteria can potentially counter health issues like obesity. Well, this time around, scientists have developed a modified version of the herpes virus that can be used for exterminating skin cancer cells. Also known as Talimogene Laherparepvec (T-VEC), this modified herpes strain was found to not only eliminate the cancerous cells but also rev up the body’s immunity system that could prevent the occurrences of harmful tumors (deduced from an actual clinical trial). To that end, this expansive trial was conducted by The Institute of Cancer Research (based in London) across 64 global research centers – thus culminating in the infusion of the T-VEC into (some of) 436 patients who suffer from inoperable skin cancer conditions.
In terms of the modification itself, the T-VEC was derived by removing two key genes from the conventional herpes virus. As a matter of fact, this technical process of gene removal is the most crucial step in the entire treatment scope, since it snatches away the power from the herpes virus to replicate normal human cells. However, at the same time, the drug still possesses the capability to replicate in cancer-stricken cells because of the cancer’s intrinsic genetic errors that make them susceptible to infections. In other words, the T-VEC has the ability to invade cancer cells and then kill them off from inside. Furthermore, this is complemented by their capacity to generate a molecule known as GM-CSF that can aid the body’s immunity system in destroying tumors.
Now, when translated to figures, this medical ambit has pertained to some encouraging results. In accordance with the aforementioned clinical trial, some among the 436 patients were injected with the T-VEC, while others were treated with control immunotherapy. The consequent results showed that 16 percent of the patients treated with T-VEC showed durable response of over six months as opposed to just 2 percent of the patients subjected to immunotherapy. Moreover, patients who have stage III and early stage IV melanoma, generally demonstrated average survival period of 21.5 months when treated with immunotherapy. But this figure promisingly rose to 41 months when the related group was administered the T-VEC drug.
Lastly, the scientists involved in the trial also found that T-VEC was most effective in dealing with the less advanced stages of cancer – thus making it a suitable alternative to other invasive (and potentially risky) procedures like chemotherapy and surgery. So the question naturally arises – is T-VEC ready to be used in the commercial side of affairs? Well, the good the news is, the drug is already submitted to the US Federal Drug and Food Administration, with the researchers hoping for full approval by this year.
The study was originally published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Image Credit: Wellcome Collection