Most likely, someone in your life has been affected by cancer.
In a moment, their lives get turned upside-down. They must immediately go into battle with this dreaded disease that takes so many lives every year.
Arguably the hardest and most-grueling part of this journey for many people with cancer is chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are brutal, "scorched-earth" affairs. But they remain the go-to treatment options for many patients.
Cancer cells are slightly — but not much — more susceptible to the havoc they wreak than the rest of the body. But the side effects of chemotherapy can be devastating. That’s because it can cause new diseases in the body to emerge, sometimes leading to death.
But last week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the first time approved a single treatment that can intelligently target cancer cells while leaving healthy ones alone, and simultaneously stimulate the immune system to fight the cancer itself.
The treatment is called T-VEC (talimogene laherparepvec) but will be sold under the brand name Imlygic.
T-VEC is injected directly into a cancerous tumor. It uses a modified virus to hunt cancer cells in what experts say is an important and significant step in the battle against the deadly disease.
Developed by the Massachusetts-based biotech company BioVex, T-VEC uses a special modified version of the herpes virus.
Current treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy kill cancer cells and also damage the rest of the body. But these targeted viruses can be programmed to attack only cancer cells, leaving patients to suffer the equivalent of just a day or two’s flu.
Stephen Russell, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic, specializes in oncolytic virotherapy — as these treatments are known. Dr. Russell said the FDA’s clearance of Imlygic represents "a huge milestone" in cancer treatment development.
Researchers are fine-tuning ways to kill cancer cells with viruses.
Treatments such as T-VEC directly attack the cancer cells and then trigger the body’s immune response to dispose of the virus itself and other rouge cancer cells.
An incredible phenomenon researchers are observing with this treatment is its ability to target all cancerous tumors in the body, not just at the site of injection.
What appears to be happening, one researcher said, is that the body’s immune system seems to "wake up" to the presence of all tumors in the body — even those that were not injected with the virus.
The goal of these types of targeted cancer-hunting treatments is to completely eliminate the use of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and other archaic forms of cancer treatments.
Russell is hopeful that Imlygic represents "a first step in the direction of a complete change in the game" in how we treat cancer.
"We can’t prematurely claim that we’ve achieved our ultimate goal, because we haven’t; this really is a single step along that path," he said. "But it’s a very important and very significant step."
A very significant step indeed. This type of treatment promises to not only improve the way we treat cancer, but also vastly improve the quality of life of the patient as they undergo treatment.
Happy and healthy investing,