A new type of cancer treatment that is based on a common virus is being able to destroy cancer cells. The results of the first tests in humans are very promising, guarantee British researchers. In one patient the tumor appears to have disappeared, while in other cases there was regression.
The drug being administered is a weakened form of the herpes virus – herpes simplex – which has been modified to destroy cancer cells. Larger and more extensive studies will be needed, but experts say injecting this drug could bring new hope to patients with advanced cancer.
Krzysztof Wojkowski, 39, who lives in London, is one of the patients who participated in the phase 1 safety trials being carried out by the Cancer Research Institute of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in the UK.
Diagnosed in 2017 with salivary gland cancer, Krzysztof Wojkowski underwent surgery and other treatments, but the cancer cells continued to multiply.
“I was told that there were no other options for my case and that I was receiving end-of-life care. It was devastating and after that it was amazing to have the chance to participate in this study”said Krzysztof Wojkowski, quoted by the BBC.
Early in the therapy, based on a specially modified version of the herpes virus that normally causes cold sores, the tumor appears to have been eliminated.
“The injections I had every two weeks for five weeks completely eradicated my cancer. I’ve been cancer free for two years.”said Krzysztof Wojkowski.
In this therapy, injections are applied directly into the tumor and aim to attack the cancer in two ways – destroying the cancer cells causing them to destroy themselves and, on the other hand, activating the immune system.
About 40 patients have tried the treatment. Some took just the injection of the virus, called RP2. Others took yet another cancer drug called Nivolumab.
The preliminary results of this study, presented at a medical conference in Parisshow that:
– Three out of nine patients who took only RP2, including Krzysztof, saw their tumors shrink;
– Seven out of 30 who received combination treatment also benefited from the new therapy;
– Side effects such as tiredness were generally mild.
Kevin Harrington, the study’s principal investigator, told the BBC that the responses to treatment were “truly impressive” in a number of advanced cancers, including cancer of the esophagus and a rare type of eye cancer.
“It is rare to see such good response rates at an early stage of clinical trials, as the main objective is to test the safety of the treatment, and it involves patients with very advanced cancer for whom current treatments have stopped working.”explained Kevin Harrington.
“I look forward to seeing if we will continue to see benefits as we treat more patients.”
This isn’t the first time scientists have used a virus to fight cancer. A treatment for advanced skin cancer T-Vec has been used for a few years
based on the cold virus, which was deT-Vec, for advanced skin cancer.
Kevin Harrington calls RP2 a turbocharged version of the T-Vec: “There were other modifications to the virus so that, when it enters cancer cells, it effectively signs its death sentence.”
Experts consider the results to be very encouraging and could change the course of cancer treatment. On a small scale, this new therapy shows promise, it is now necessary for larger studies to be carried out to confirm the first conclusions of this investigation.