Melanoma is a topic close to my heart and it wasn’t so long ago that we wrote about a promising treatment under investigation, talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC). This treatment manufactured by Amgen promises to treat tumors that can’t be removed, as well as those lying beneath the skin. What makes this treatment unique is how it is sourced - it is the first virus-based cancer treatment ever approved, as it is derived from the herpes simplex virus.
Once the FDA’s advisory panel voiced their support in a 22-1 vote, it was approved just months later. The study carried out by Amgen looked at 436 individuals with stage III or IV cancer and found that those treated with T-VEC had a significantly higher overall response rate of 26.4% compared with those treated with GM-CSF, a white blood cell growth factor.
Moreover, patients treated with T-VEC experienced a median overall survival time of 23.3 months, compared to 18.9 months for those on GM-CSF. Essentially, this shows that T-VEC does support combinations with other immunotherapies as an approach to late-stage melanoma. However, it isn’t without its side effects. After being scrutinized in 5 other studies, the most common side effects of the drug were fatigue, chills, fever and flu-like systems that ranged from mild to moderate severity.Using a virus to lengthen life spans for melanoma patients, is a new modality to treat cancer in general. My only concern is the cost - although Amgen intends to make this therapy to patients almost immediately, the cost is anticipated to average $65,000. It can be discouraging to learn that new treatments aren’t always affordable, but I am pleased to know that we are moving in the right direction.