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Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) Soars on Cancer Therapy Test

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted March 22, 2013

The race to find a cure for cancer has long been a major focus point for researchers and scientists not only in America but the world over. While we are still a ways off from effectively curing the disease, every step in the right direction counts as important.

This week, biotech company Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) released a partial study indicating that a vaccine they’ve been working on shows promise in shrinking tumors associated with melanoma.

According to the New York Times, this is the first time that a drug specifically based off of a tumor-killing virus has been successful in a late-stage clinical trial. The company stated on Tuesday that it had reached its primary goal in a phase 3 clinical trial in treating patients who suffer from melanoma, which happens to be the deadliest form of skin cancer one can be afflicted with.

vaccineThe treatment is known as TVEC, which is short for talimogene laherparepvec. It caused a shrinkage of tumors in 16% of patients who participated in the trial, compared to only 2% in the control group. The shrinkage lasted for at least 6 months.

The company is extremely hopeful that these advancements will lead to longer lives for cancer patients. While patients who underwent treatment are indeed living longer, Amgen is quick to point out that it is too early on to decide whether or not the drug itself had effectively improved survival rates. Information regarding this should be available as early as late this year.

For those unfamiliar with the driving force behind this vaccine, the concept may seem a bit unorthodox. The TVEC vaccine works by taking a variation on the herpes simplex virus and modifying it to replicate in quick-growing cancer cells while keeping healthy cells intact, as the New York Times reports.

Combined with an immune-boosting protein known as GM-CSF, the drug is injected into skin tumors directly. The drug is then replicated inside the cells, producing large amounts of GM-CSF.

Once the cells eventually burst due to the replicating virus, both the virus and protein are freed, which is thought to create an immune response that helps to kill cancer cells that have infiltrated the rest of the body.

While the advancement is surely causing excitement in the medical community, doctors and scientists are keeping a healthy amount of skepticism in play. Some believe that the drug may not be entirely effective at treating melanoma, as while it can be injected into skin-level tumors, this is not effective for individuals who have tumors that have spread to internal organs or other crucial parts of the body.

A major aspect regarding whether or not the drug is approved for use is how long it can actually extend the life of melanoma patients. If it comes to pass that the drug itself isn’t actually as effective as these late-trial results appear to show, there’s a chance that the drug may never actually be used clinically. As of right now, most analysts are on the fence over whether or not the drug is likely to be approved, according to the Washington Post.

Even though it is unclear as to whether or not this drug will actually see the light of day, it should come as no surprise that shares of Amgen stock rose at the unveiling of the news about the potential utility of this vaccine. According to USA Today, Amgen shares rose $1.92 to $94.32, an increase of 2.1%.

The increase in share prices for Amgen comes at an interesting time for the biotech industry. The industry itself is seeing growth like never before, with new, innovative treatments being created on what seems like an everyday basis.

Investors, doctors, and scientists are all taking note and looking towards a potential golden age for healthcare in treating diseases that have plagued the medical community for years. With every small achievement, stocks are going up and promise is seeming more and more viable.

It’s too early to tell whether or not the Amgen vaccine will truly have a major impact on those who suffer from melanoma. Needless to say, however, it is a step in the right direction for the biotech industry, and one that will surely see a variety of follow-ups by other similar companies.


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