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Not many people have ever associated anything good with the herpes virus.

That reality has been shattered by a recent medical trial out of the U.K., where patients with aggressive skin cancer have been treated successfully using a drug based on the herpes virus. The findings are the first positive trial results for cancer “virotherapy,” where one disease is used to attack another.

One crucial aspect of this particular therapy is the potential to overcome cancer, even when the disease has spread to other organs throughout the body, offering hope for future patients who’ve been faced with the most dire of prognoses.

The trial included more than 400 patients with aggressive melanoma; about one in four patients responded to the treatment, and 16 per cent were still in remission after six months. About 10 per cent of the patients treated had “complete remission,” with no detectable cancer remaining — considered a cure if the patient remains cancer-free five years after diagnosis, said Kevin Harrington, trial leader and professor of biological cancer therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research in London.

The results are especially encouraging because all the patients had inoperable, relapsed or metastatic melanoma with no more conventional treatment options available. “They had disease that ranged from dozens to hundreds of deposits of melanoma on a limb all the way to patients where cancer had spread to the lungs and liver,” said Harrington.

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “We may normally think of viruses as the enemies of mankind, but it’s their very ability to specifically infect and kill human cells that can make them such promising cancer treatments. In this case we are harnessing the ability of an engineered virus to kill cancer cells and stimulate an immune response.”

Researchers say the modified herpes virus medication provided a significantly higher disease response rate and just significantly higher overall survival, making this a “novel potential therapy for patients with metastatic melanoma.”

It isn’t a cancer miracle, though; it’s a start, and could help pave the way for a new generation of cancer treatments. The herpes-based medication could be available for cancer patients as early as 2016.