Sekwon Jang, MD, is board certified in internal medicine, hematology and medical oncology. He specializes in managing melanoma and other skin cancers. Dr. Jang is the director of Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology Therapeutics and Research at the Inova Dwight and Martha Schar Cancer Institute. Read Dr. Jang’s profile.
A lot of us carry the herpes virus, which causes cold sores. Now we can use a genetically engineered herpes virus to treat patients with melanoma. This type of treatment, called oncolytic virus therapy (or oncolytic virotherapy), is an exciting, innovative treatment modality that uses viruses to kill cancer cells.
A New Oncolytic Virus Therapy for Melanoma
On Oct 27, 2015, U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Imlygic (talimogene laherparepvec). This is the first FDA-approved oncolytic virus therapy for treating melanoma lesions in the skin and lymph nodes for patients with melanoma that cannot be removed completely. Doctors inject Imlygic directly into the melanoma lesions, where it replicates inside cancer cells and causes the cells to rupture and die.
Virus + Immune System = More Tumor Damage
In addition, the virus is engineered to deliver a compound called granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor or GM-CSF, which stimulates the immune system. The result is tumor response not only in the injected melanoma, but in uninjected lesions as well, leading to further damage to the tumor.
I think this is a novel approach to melanoma treatment for patients who have injectable lesions. It also has a lot of potential to work synergistically with other immunotherapies.