FDA approves use of virus to treat melanoma

By Money Times

Nov 03, 2015 08:19 PM EST

For the first time in history, the FDA has approved the medical use of a virus to treat people with cancer - specifically those suffering from skin cancer, or melanoma.

The announcement was made through a news release by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on October 27, stating that Melanoma is the most widespread form of cancer in the country and will be responsible for the deaths of 10,000 people by the end of 2015.

According to the news release, the virus approved by the FDA is a genetically re-engineered version of the herpes virus which attacks the tumor directly and stimulates the treated person's immune system. The viral therapy is known as Imlygic, or T-VEC.

While the approval for this radical new way of treating melanoma patients is indeed a surprising approach, it's not as ground-breaking as people may expect from a $65,000 treatment course.

The average life extension is less than four and a half months, and tumors were noticed to shrink in only 16% percent of treated patients.

According to Wired, the real significance of Imlygic's medical use is that it proves that oncolytic viruses do work in fighting cancerous cells. Knowing this, scientists and researchers can begin to work confidently on other known viruses to treat medical ailments.

Oncolytic viruses, or OVs, is a term used for a broad diversity of DNA and RNA viruses that are cancer-selective, or can be genetically altered to behave in a cancer-selective way. 

Oncolytics Biotech has also been working on developing Reolysin (reovirus type III) for more than two decades, and they've conducted clinical trials to test safety and efficacy through various methods of administration.

Another company that has been developing oncolytic viruses is Jennerex Biotherapeutics, Inc. Their target was the re-engineering of the Vaccinia virus, or VV, which is a complex, enveloped virus under the poxvirus family.

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