A genetically modified version of herpes simplex virus type 1, the same virus that causes cold sores, shrank tumors of the deadly skin cancer melanoma in a clinical trial, according to Amgen, which is developing the experimental cancer treatment.
Patients in the trial were in the late stages of the disease, and were either being treated with a drug called GM-CSF or the new virus. Sixteen percent of the patients in the group that got the virus, known as talimogene laherparepvec, saw their tumors shrink completely or partially for at least six months. That compares to two percent of the control group. There was a trend toward the virus helping patients live longer, but the difference is not yet statistically significant.Amgen says that it may become so later this year, and those results are likely to be far more important in determining the future of the treatment.
Amgen purchased the company that developed the virus, Biovex, in 2011 for $425 million in cash and a commitment to pay up to $575 million if Biovex’s medicines hit certain milestones. If the Biovex anti-cancer virus is indeed a potent cancer fighter, it could help get investors excited about Amgen. It might also benefit Merck, because Amgen’s former research chief, Roger Perlmutter, has just agreed to take over running the research labs there, and this might reflect on his ability to make smart acquisitions.