Trial of Cancer-Killing Virus Shows Promise

A modified herpes virus has shown promise in destroying dangerous cancer cells in initial stages of a clinical trial, with one patient having their cancer disappear altogether.

Run by the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, the new cancer therapy trial sees a weakened form of the cold-sore virus, herpes simplex, which has been altered to wipe out tumours, injected into participating patients.

Despite trials of the therapy currently being in early stages of research, scientists are hopeful that this injection could provide a lifeline for those suffering with advanced cancers.

Approximately 40 patients with advanced cancers have been involved in the trial, which sees them injected with the virus, called RP2, directly into their tumours, with some also additionally administered with nivolumab, another form of cancer treatment.

Once inside the cancer cells, the virus it proliferates to disrupt them, and also prevents production of a protein titled CTLA-4, unchaining the immune system and strengthening its capability to destroy cancer cells.

Initial results, revealed at the 2022 ESMO Congress, found that three of the nine patients administered with the RP2 virus only saw their tumours shrink, and seven of the 30 provided with both treatments experienced benefits, with six of those remaining progression-free at 14 months.

Encouraging Signs

Professor of biological cancer therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research and study leader, Professor Kevin Harrington, says it is rare to see such a positive response during early-stage clinical trials and is encouraged that the injection could become a form of legitimate treatment in the future.

“Our study shows that a genetically engineered, cancer-killing virus can deliver a one-two punch against tumours – directly destroying cancer cells from within while also calling in the immune system against them.

“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.

“Our initial trial findings suggest that a genetically engineered form of the herpes virus could potentially become a new treatment option for some patients with advanced cancers – including those who haven’t responded to other forms of immunotherapy.

“I am keen to see if we continue to see benefits as we treat increased numbers of patients.”

‘True Miracle’

One of the patients taking part in the trial was 39-year-old builder Krzysztof Wojkowski from West London. In 2017, he was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary glands and despite numerous efforts to prevent the cancer from worsening, his cancer has persistently grown. As a result, since there wasn’t a treatment available that was making a difference, he was provided with the chance to take part in this trial in 2020 and has revealed the positive change it has made to his life.

“I was told there were no options left for me and I was receiving end of life care, it was devastating, so it was incredible to be given the chance to join the trial at The Royal Marsden, it was my final lifeline,” he said.

“I had injections every two weeks for five weeks which completely eradicated my cancer. I’ve been cancer free for two years now, it’s a true miracle, there is no other word to describe it.

“I’ve been able to work as a builder again and spend time with my family, there’s nothing I can’t do.”

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