In a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, University of Louisville researchers along with international colleagues found that patients with stage IIIb to IV melanoma treated with a modified cold sore (herpes) virus had overall improved survival. Genetically modified viruses are one of the most promising treatment strategies to treat cancer, as these are able to invade and destroy cancer cells.
This phase III study included a total of 436 patients who were treated with talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC), a viral immunotherapy. The herpes simplex I virus was genetically engineered to stimulate the immune system, to become non-pathogenic and kill cancer cells. These genetically modified herpes virus do not affect healthy cells, but when injected into tumors replicate and stimulate the immune system to fight cancer.
“The results from this study are amazing,” Chesney said in a recent news release. “Patients given T-VEC at an early stage survived about 20 months longer than patients given a different type of treatment. For some, the therapy has lengthened their survival by years. ”
Shari Wells from Kentucky was one of the patients who entered the study in 2010. She had a stage IV, advanced metastatic melanoma and before study enrollment she underwent several surgeries, however none of them was successful.
“When you hear that you may only have three to six months to live, it is very scary,” Wells said in the news release. “I would not be alive today if I had not been accepted into the T-VEC trial. Dr. Chesney and the James Graham Brown Cancer Center saved my life.”
She went to Louisville every fortnight for a period of two and a half years where she received local injections on her leg lesions. This treatment resulted in a gradual remission of the melanoma lesions, until these eventually disappeared. She is now in remission for about 8 years. “I want everyone to know they should never give up hope. With research there will always be something new tomorrow that wasn’t here today,” she said in the news release.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are now considering the trial results so that more patients with an advanced stage of melanoma can have access to the treatments.
The trial results validate previous findings reported in a recent study published the New England Journal of Medicine, where researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using checkpoint inhibitors, nivolumab and ipilimumab, for melanoma treatment.
Chesney and his colleagues are working in collaboration with Amgen, and are currently planning to conduct their studies using a combination treatment of T-VEC together with ipilimumab. “We finally understand how to activate the human immune system to clear cancer cells, having developed new classes of immunotherapies that dramatically improve the survival of cancer patients,” Chesney said in the news release. “I believe T-VEC combined with immune checkpoint inhibitors will not only reduce cancer-related mortality in melanoma but in all cancer types, and we are moving quickly to develop these methods.”