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Tumour-destroying treatment could change skin cancer care

Skin cancer patients have seen their tumours destroyed with a new treatment that could be widely prescribed in a year's time.

The treatment, known as viriotherapy using the drug T-VEC could be widely available next year, and was shown to overcome cancer even after it has spread to other organs in the body.

In the phase 3 trial, which included more than 400 patients with aggressive melanoma, one in four patients responded to the treatment, and about 10% of patients treated had no detectable cancer remaining.

Professor Kevin Harrington, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London who led the trials, said: "There is increasing excitement over the use of viral treatments like T-VEC for cancer, because they can launch a two-pronged attack on tumours - both killing cancer cells directly and marshalling the immune system against them.”

The T-VEC treatment contains the same herpes simplex type-1 virus that causes cold sores, and the trials of 436 patients (295 with inoperable tumours) were held in the UK, US, Canada and South Africa.

Professor Harrington said he will now begin discussions on cost-effectiveness, but is aiming to get approval for T-VEC in about one year so it can be prescribed for cancer patients.

Dr Hayley Frend, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “Using a virus to both kill cancer cells and nudge the immune system into attacking them is exciting. Previous studies have shown T-VEC could benefit some people with advanced skin cancer but this is the first study to prove an increase in survival.

“The next step will be to understand why only some patients respond to T-VEC, in order to help better identify which patients might benefit from it,” she said.

It is not yet clear how long it will keep patients clear of cancer but some patients have remained in remission for three years.

The findings are published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.