Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Another Potential Weapon Against Head and Neck Cancer

Herpes - the gift that keeps on giving. A phase I/II study completed by BioVex was just published in ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology). By injecting a genetically altered form of the Herpes virus directly into the lymph nodes of 17 patients with head and neck cancer in combination with Cisplatin and radiation, head and neck tumour shrinkage could be seen on scans for 14 patients (82.3%), while 93 per cent of patients had no trace of residual cancer in their lymph nodes when subsequently surgically removed. After an average follow-up time of 29 months (19 to 40 months), 82.4 per cent of patients remained alive. Only two of 13 patients given the top virus treatment dose relapsed, and no patient had recurrent loco-regional disease.

Dr Robert Coffin, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, for BioVex, said: “Up to half of patients given the current standard treatment of chemotherapy combined with radiotherapy typically relapse within two years, following which the prognosis is grim, so these results compare very favorably. This, combined with the very high complete pathological response rate indicates that OncoVEX may provide significant additional clinical benefit to chemotherapy and radiotherapy alone, hence our decision to move directly to a pivotal Phase III trial."

Speaking from a personal experience perspective, this is a potential game changer. After 36 IMRT radiation treatments which ended in July of 2005, they found live squamous cell carcinoma cells in 2 of the 17 lymph nodes removed from my left neck. Within 18 months following the radiation treatments, I had 4 local recurrences which lead to five surgeries one of which was a 12 hour salvage surgery which has left me permanently disabled.  I spent almost two years in bed due to the debilitating effects of nine different chemotherapy regimens. All of this saved my life, but the side effects, using Dr. Coffin's word, have been grim. I am currently in remission and have had no evidence of disease for 34 months. I continue to take a maintenance chemo drug and will do so as long as the side effects from that drug are minimal. I have no proof of this, but I suspect the maintenance drug is keeping my cancer from returning.
I wonder at times how my life would have been different if the above treatment had been available to me 5 years ago. This treatment along with others I have written about recently gives me hope that others will not have to travel down my path. For those of you wondering, I was neither a smoker or a drinker. My disease was not related to the HPV virus. Where it came from is a mystery.
Here are two links to articles on the above clinical trial.
Take care everyone.

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