A genetically modified form of the Herpes virus has been successfully used to attack tumors in cancer patients. Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust created this unusual solution from the virus that causes the cold sore!
Even though this is in its early stages of development and requires many more follow up trials and studies, the initial results seem to be positive.
Krzysztof Wojkowski from West London was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland in 2017. “I was told there were no options left for me and I was receiving end-of-life care,” he explains. “It was devastating, so it was incredible to be given the chance to join the trial.”
The trial works by injecting the virus (RP2) directly into the tumor. The virus invades the cancer cells, causing them to burst and activating the patient’s immune system to help.
“I had injections every two weeks for five weeks which completely eradicated my cancer. I’ve been cancer-free for two years now.”
There were 40 participants in the trial – nine had the RP2 injections, while the rest had a combined treatment of RP2 and another drug called nivolamb. The tumors of three of the patients who had the RP2 injections shrunk after treatment.
Project lead researcher Kevin Harrington said, “It is rare to see such good response rates in early stage clinical trials, as their primary aim is to test treatment safety, and they involve patients with very advanced cancers for whom current treatments have stopped working.”
Using viruses to attack cancers isn’t actually a new treatment. In 2021 researchers from the University of Zurich modified a respiratory virus called adenovirus, to enter tumor cells and deliver genes that tricked tumor cells into producing therapeutic antibodies.
“We trick the tumor into eliminating itself through the production of anti-cancer agents by its own cells,” said Sheena Smith at University of Zurich.
Whilst traditional therapies such as Chemotherapy and radiotherapy attack the normal healthy cells in a patient’s body, this doesn’t happen when using viral based therapies. Interestingly the recent COVID vaccines utilize adenoviruses.