Experimental drug T-Vec offers hope for melanoma

Lori Silverstein is the type of person who pays attention to her skin. After decades in the beauty supply business, she was quick to notice a bump on her foot.

"I took out my manicure nippers and just said 'oh I'll just you know just chip away at this and it's fine and stuck a band aid on it and Neosporin on it and off I went," Silverstein said.

But the bumps on her foot didn't go away. And after a diagnosis of melanoma, Silverstein underwent years of treatment, including surgery. Finally, after a recurrence, she turned to the Northern California Melanoma Center at St. Mary's Medical Center, Dignity Health in San Francisco.

That's where Lynn Spitler, M.D., recommended an experimental drug called T-Vec, from Amgen. She says the drug is injected directly into the tumor and uses a genetically modified version of the herpes virus to breakdown melanoma cells. "It would target to the tumor cells to the melanoma cells and not go to the normal cells," Spitler said.

While fewer than 20 percent of patients experienced the full benefit during clinical trial, she says the drug showed the ability to shrink both the injected tumors and also satellite tumors on other parts of the body. With multiple tumors, Silverstein odds of survival were estimated at less than 50/50. "We injected both of those tumors every two weeks and over that period of time they gradually went away and they went away completely," Spitler said.

Spitler believes T-Vec may be ultimately be combined with other newly emerging melanoma drugs to enhance the effect. In the meantime, Silverstein is back running her retail stores cancer free for the last five years. "Did this drug save my life, I would say yes," she said.

An advisory panel to the FDA recently recommended approval for T-Vec, but the full FDA board must still make the final decision.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.
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