London [England], Oct. 1 : An advance drug that utilizes a human-made virus to treat later stage skin cancer, Melanoma has been approved for use.
The novel medicine, which doubles average survival time for people with inoperable melanoma, is to be provided to patients for whom other drugs do not work, after NHS (National Health Service) recommended it for immediate use, reports Daily Mail.
The therapy, known as T-VEC, works by infecting and killing cancer cells with a genetically-modified form of the herpes virus.
The drug also harnesses the power of the body's own immune system and directs it against tumours. Remarkably, it does this without harming healthy human cells, as a result having fewer side effects than chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
Trials led by the Institute of Cancer Research in London showed that terminally-ill patients treated with the fortnightly injections lived for an average of 41 months.
Patients treated with another modern drug, an immunotherapy which until now was considered one of the best treatments for metastatic skin cancer, only lived for 21 months.
Rates of the disease have shot up by 360 per cent since the 1970s in UK, which experts blame on the rise of cheap package holiday deals and sunbathing.
Lead researcher Kevin Harrington said, "It is very exciting news that NICE has approved T-VEC for patients with advanced melanoma, making it the first of its kind to be approved for use on the NHS.
This is the culmination of ten years' work on this agent." "T-VEC is a modified form of the herpes virus and kills cancer cells in two ways - by attacking them directly and by directing the patient's own immune system against the tumour.
The treatment has not only been shown to be effective, but has relatively mild side-effects making it particularly suitable for patients who can't be given some of the other immunotherapies on the market," he added.
Scientists developed T-VEC by modifying the herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores, to attack cancer cells but be harmless to healthy cells.
It multiplies within cancer cells and bursts them from within, but scientists removed two key genes so that the virus cannot replicate in non-cancerous cells.
T-VEC also releases a molecule which stimulates the immune system to attack the cancer, resulting in a twin attack from inside and outside the cancer cells.
Initially it has been approved for use for patients with inoperable malignant melanoma, for whom immunotherapy drugs would not work.
Roughly 100 patients a year are expected to benefit at first, but this number may rise in the future if it is judged to be suitable for use at an earlier stage.
John Kearney, from the drugs company, which sells the drug under the brand name Imlygic, said, "Melanoma still takes too many lives each year.
New medicines based on cutting-edge science, such as Imlygic, are playing their part in improving the ways that doctors and the health service as a whole can help people affected in the future." "The scientists who invented and developed the technology leading to Imlygic really deserve to be remembered and celebrated today - as a company, they make us very proud," he added.