SALT LAKE CITY (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- The FDA says about 74,000 Americans were diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Last year, nearly 10,000 of them died of it. Researchers now have a new weapon in their arsenal; one that comes from a genetically-altered herpes virus. Here is more about the first cancer-killing viral therapy ever approved in the U.S.
Larry Hegland can tell you exactly how long it has been since his doctor told him his metastatic melanoma was gone: one year, four months.
Hegland's melanoma had developed into 19 lesions on his arm.
He refused to do any more traditional melanoma therapy. Instead, he chose a clinical trial run by Dr. Robert Andtbacka. A modified cold sore virus therapy called T-vec is injected into the tumors.
Dr. Andtbacka, surgical oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City explains, "It leads to the tumor cells sort of bursting open, and all those cancer proteins that the immune system has not been able to see before that are now exposed to the immune system."
This is what happened to Hegland's tumors over the course of about a year. The T-vec killed the tumors and caused the immune system to fight the melanoma throughout his body.
"They were a mess when they were all big and ugly, but then they started to disappear and the good news came long after that; I am 100 percent cancer-free," says Hegland.
Dr. Andtbacka said many of the patients in the study have had similar results, which he expects to be long-lasting.
Side effects are minimal, mostly flu-like symptoms. The T-vec treatment is for patients with tumors on the skin, not for patients with disease in their lungs or liver, yet. T-vec and other virus immunotherapies are being tested in combination with other drugs for those patients right now.