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UCLA Study Shows Virus Plus Immunotherapy Hold Promise for Advanced Melanoma

Modified herpes virus and checkpoint inhibitor together enhance cancer-killing T-cells by altering tumor microenvironment, with 62% percent response

The combination of an oncolytic virus and an immune checkpoint inhibitor has shown promise in patients with advanced melanoma, according to a phase 1 study led by a Parker Institute of Cancer Immunotherapy director Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) is the first FDA-approved oncolytic virus, designed to combat cancer by killing tumor cells directly and by attracting immune cells such as T-cells to the tumor site. Pembrolizumab, an anti-PD-1 blockade agent, releases the brakes on the immune system so it can attack cancer.

In this 21 patient study, nearly two-thirds of patients responded to the drug combination. In addition, 33 percent had a complete response, meaning the tumors disappeared completely or could not be detected. The authors say side effects were manageable.

The results suggest that this combination can alter the inhospitable tumor microenvironment in such a way that T-cells are able to penetrate the tumor and fight off cancer.

The study was published online in the journal Cell.

Read a brief of the study from UCLA.