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The Fight Against This Deadly Cancer Has A New Ally!

The deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma, may have finally met its match — and it’s probably the last thing you’d expect.

After a series of successful tests, the FDA for the first time ever approved a virus therapy for cancer. The virus is called Imlygic; it’s a genetically modified form of the HSV-1 virus, commonly known as the “cold sore virus.”

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Photo courtesy of AMGEN

Basically the way it works is that an oncologist injects millions of Imlygic viral agents directly into the site of a melanoma lesion. The viruses then infect or destroy any cancerous cells they can find; cancer cells don’t have the virus-fighting abilities of normal cells, which makes them more vulnerable to a viral attack.

At this point, the immune system senses something is wrong and sends in some T cells to clean up the rest.

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Melanoma cell, courtesy of WebMD

Surgery is still the best bet for melanoma, but this new treatment is a good alternative for lesions and tumors that can’t be surgically removed. Though the practical results aren’t much different than radiation and chemotherapy, the side effects aren’t nearly as bad (flu-like symptoms, irritation at the injection site).

Although this isn’t the miracle cure we’re all hoping for, it could pave the way for something even better. This is the first virus to achieve the FDA’s approval, proving that carefully modified viruses can combat cancer as an important part of an effective treatment regimen.  Several biotech companies are investigating this potential, with the goal of creating new oncolytic viruses that will work with existing medications.  Imlygic’s creation represents a medical and scientific breakthrough that could someday help turn the tide in our battle against cancer.

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Matthew M. Sullivan holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Grand Valley State University, with emphases in fiction and nonfiction. He lives smack-dab between some railroad tracks and Grand Rapids Michigan's third-busiest road, and spends his time studying film and literary fiction.