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FDA approves drug that uses herpes virus to fight cancer

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WASHINGTON — Federal health officials have approved a first-of-a-kind drug that uses the herpes virus to infiltrate and destroy skin cancer tumors.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the injectable drug from Amgen for patients with hard-to-treat melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer that affects about 74,000 new patients annually.

The drug, Imlygic, is injected directly into tumor tissue, where it uses herpes as a Trojan horse to slip past and rupture cancer cells. The drug combines a gene snippet meant to stimulate the immune system with a modified version of the herpes simplex virus — the kind that causes mouth cold sores.

Despite the drug’s groundbreaking approach, FDA officials stressed it has not been shown to extend life. Instead, some patients on the drug saw their tumors shrink.

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