BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - There's a new treatment for certain types of melanoma, and it works in an unusual way. Doctors inject the herpes virus directly into cancer cells.
It’s been a blessing for patients like Bill Tripoli. Five years ago, the Abita Springs resident developed melanoma on his leg. It eventually spread to his lymph nodes and entered stage three.
“They started me on this one treatment, which didn’t work after about two months, then they started me on a second treatment, which was a disaster. I got these carcinomas all over my body, had to get a facelift,” Tripoli recalled.
Then, he was referred to Dr. Vince Cataldo, an oncologist at Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center. He’s believed to be the only doctor in Louisiana using this form of immunotherapy.
“It seems strange to be injecting a live herpes virus into a patient, but it’s a modified herpes virus that’s modified to the point where it is only able to infect the melanoma cell because it recognizes the melanoma cell as a host,” Cataldo explained.
The unique drug is known as T-VEC (Imlygic). Besides killing the tumors where it’s injected, it also triggers the patient’s immune system to kill other cancer cells throughout the body. But it only works on a small subset of melanoma patients.
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“It’s for patients who have too much skin disease or lymph node disease to remove all surgically,” Cataldo said. “For most patients with melanoma, unfortunately, they have metastases in other organs like liver and lung.” Tripoli was the ideal candidate, and he’s seeing positive results.
“The doctors told me I must have a really good immune system because I should have been dead,” he said.
Cataldo pointed to a dramatic reduction in melanoma on Tripoli’s leg.
The doctor hopes more of his colleagues learn about T-VEC and how to use it.
“When we find that right patient, this needs to be recognized as a very viable option for that patient,” Cataldo said.
Tripoli was initially given a year and a half to live, but his new prognosis is much brighter.
“Once they told me I wasn’t dying, I had to go back and change my will,” he said with a smile. “Now I’m working part-time. I went and got a job because I feel good now.”
T-VEC was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about four years ago. Patients are encouraged to ask their doctor for a referral if they think they could benefit.