When you have a big old cold sore on your lip, you would probably prefer to hide away until it disappears. But this herpes simplex virus has actually been identified as the perfect therapy for melanomas. It may seem like an unlikely partnership, but according to scientists and the FDA, put a cold sore together with skin cancer and you have a match made in heaven.
The research and the drug
OK, it isn’t as simple as that, but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved a new drug in the war on melanoma and in particular the most deadly late-stage melanomas. The approval of the oncolytic (cancer-killing drug) came through late last month following a study that discovered that herpes cold sore virus would kill tumour cells.
Scientists from the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey recently completed a phase 3 study which used a genetically modified version of the cold sore virus called Amgen. This drug was designed to replicate inside a tumour and kill them off and it also contains a human gene that stimulates an antitumour response. This means that the body sees the tumour cells as something that shouldn’t be there, increasing its immune system to fight off the invader. This worked on places where the drug was injected and around the rest of the body.
The new drug is called Imlygic in the US and it is thought it will be used primarily to fight melanoma tumours that have spread into the lymph system, however it can be used at many stages of development of this type of skin cancer, according to the company that has developed it, Bristol-Myers Squibb.
While the side effects can include general flu-like symptoms – the results of trials have been very good, giving hope to many melanoma cancer sufferers.
Nothing beats early detection and prevention
Despite this being a huge step forward in the fight against skin cancer, it doesn’t mean that we should ever be complacent about the effects of sun on our skin. The importance of covering up, using sunscreen and staying out of the hot sun can never be underestimated. It is also extremely important to see the doctor if you are worried about a mole on your skin that has changed in any way. Even if this drug has been made available in your country, the early detection of melanoma could mean that you will have much less invasive treatment and you may never need this new wonder drug.