The injectable drug made by Amgen Inc. is meant for patients with hard-to-treat melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer that is expected to be diagnosed in 74,000 U.S. patients this year. For now, the drug is only approved for melanoma tumors that cannot be removed.
Imlygic, chemically as talimogene laherparepvec or T-VEC, is injected directly into tumor tissue, where it uses herpes as a Trojan horse to slip past and rupture cancer cells. The drug combines a gene snippet meant to stimulate the immune system with a modified version of the herpes simplex virus (Type 1)
The company estimates one course of treatment will cost about $65,000, depending on the length of treatment.
Despite the drug's groundbreaking approach, FDA officials stressed it has not been shown to extend life and has no effect on melanoma that has spread to the brain, lungs or other internal organs.
Amgen said patients should be treated with the drug for at least six months, or until there are no more tumors left to treat.
Over the years, scientists have explored altering various viruses, including measles and polio, to combat several types of cancer, including brain tumors, breast cancers and others.
A 2013 review in the journal Molecular Cancer concluded that cancer-fighting viruses armed with genes that stimulate the immune system "are potent therapeutic cancer vaccines."
These string of new medicines dubbed immunotherapies, or immune-oncology drugs, that harness the body's immune system to help attack cancer cells have improved survival rates of some cancers e.g. Lung cancer and melanoma.