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3 Potential Game-Changing Cancer Drugs: Amgen, Inc. (AMGN), Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK), ZIOPHARM Oncology Inc. (ZIOP)

Cancer just might be one of the scariest words in the English language. What goes through your mind when you hear that someone close to you has cancer? Sadness, probably. Fear, quite possibly. And there’s always a sense of relief if you learn that the cancer is treatable.

The good news is that more and more forms of cancer are treatable, with researchers marching full steam ahead to discover more effective treatments. Some of these treatments build upon previous approaches while others introduce surprising new twists. Here are three intriguing approaches to fighting cancer that could be on the way.

Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN)1. Feed a virus, starve a cancer
You have probably heard the old expression, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” Now there could be a new spin on the old adage: Feed a virus, starve a cancer.

Oncolytics Biotech, Inc. (USA) (NASDAQ:ONCY) counts more than a dozen clinical trials under way with its product, Reolysin, targeting various forms of cancer. Reolysin is Oncolytics’ proprietary version of respiratory enteric orphan virus, or reovirus. Chances are pretty good that you have had a personal encounter with the all-too-common reovirus sometime in your life.

When the reovirus infects a typical human cell, the cell fights back and keeps the reovirus from replicating. However, Oncolytics’ research found that this doesn’t happen when the reovirus infects a cancer cell. Instead, the reovirus replicates like crazy — and that ultimately kills the cancer cell.

A late-stage trial for Reolysin in treating head and neck cancers is under way. Oncolytics announced positive preliminary results in December from this study. The company has also seen positive results from mid-stage trials for Reolysin focusing on the treatment of lung cancer andcolorectal cancer.

Meanwhile, Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN) thinks it might be on track to fight cancer using another virus. Talimogene laherparepvec is an experimental drug currently being studied for the treatment of melanoma. The drug uses the herpes simplex virus, or HSV, tag-teamed with a GM-CSF cytokine to harness the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells. Amgen, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMGN) expects to announce late-stage results this year.

2. From World War I to the war on cancer
The German army introduced the use of mustard gas during World War I. Several years later, though, scientists researched the possibility for the alkylating agents previously used for mustard gas to treat cancer. This work paid off with several chemotherapies ultimately stemming from the research over the next few decades.

One of the latest cancer drugs to emerge from research on alkylating agents is ZIOPHARM Oncology Inc. (NASDAQ:ZIOP)‘s  palifosfamide. Like other alkylating agents, palifosfamide works by interfering with the DNA of cancer cells. Alkylating agents have proven to be quite effective but also can be extremely toxic. A key advantage for palifosfamide is that the drug was designed to be much more tolerable than other similar chemotherapies.

Ziopharm has two late-stage clinical studies in progress for palifosfamide. The study farthest along targets treatment of metastatic soft tissue sarcoma using palifosfamide in combination with doxorubicin. ZIOPHARM Oncology Inc. (NASDAQ:ZIOP) expects to announce initial results from this study within the next few weeks. The other phase 3 trial focuses on using palifosfamide in combination with carboplatin and etoposide as a treatment for patients with extensive-stage small cell lung cancer. Patient enrollment is under way for this study.

3. Cancer, take your vitamins
Have you taken your vitamins today? A major pharmaceutical firm thinks that enabling cancer cells to take a vitamin just might help keep the rest of the body healthy.

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