Cancer-killing virus shows promising signs in clinical trials, say experts

Cancer-killing virus shows promising signs in clinical trials, say experts
Cancer-killing virus shows promising signs in clinical trials, say experts

A new type of cancer therapy that uses a common virus to infect and destroy harmful cells has shown great promise in the first human trials, UK scientists revealed this Friday – cancer in one patient disappeared, while that others have seen their tumors shrink. The drug used is a weakened form of the cold sore virus – herpes simplex – which has been modified to kill tumors.

More studies are needed, but experts point out that injecting the virus could offer a lifeline to more people with advanced-stage cancers. Clinical trials, run by the Cancer Research Institute of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in Great Britain, have provided a short course of therapy for the virus, a specially modified version of the virus that normally causes cold sores, and appears to have eliminated the cancer.

The injections, given directly into the tumor, attack it in two ways – by invading cancer cells and causing them to explode, or by activating the immune system.

About 40 patients tried the treatment as part of the clinical trial: some received the injection of the virus, called RP2. Others were also given another cancer drug called nivolumab. The results, presented at a medical conference in Paris, showed:

– three out of nine patients who received only RP2 saw their tumors shrink;
– seven out of 30 who received combination treatment also appeared to benefit;
– side effects such as tiredness were generally mild.

Kevin Harrington, principal investigator, assured the BBC’s Britons that the observed treatment responses were “truly impressive” in a wide range of advanced cancers, including cancer of the esophagus and a rare type of eye cancer. “It’s rare to see such good response rates in early-stage clinical trials, as the main objective is to test the safety of the treatment and involve patients with very advanced cancers for which current treatments have stopped working,” he said. “I look forward to seeing if we continue to see benefits as we treat increasing numbers of patients.”

Marianne Baker from Cancer Research UK said the findings could change the course of treatments. “Scientists discovered that viruses can help treat cancer 100 years ago, but harnessing them safely and effectively has been a challenge. This new viral therapy shows promise in an initial small-scale trial – now we need more studies to find out how it works. Research suggests that combining multiple treatments is a powerful strategy, and virus therapies like this one could become part of our toolkit for beating cancer.”

The article is in Portuguese

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