A team of researchers successfully used genetically modified herpes, the type that usually causes sore blisters on the lips or on the genitals, to kill cancer cells and to hinder tumors from further growth.
As reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on Wednesday, this is the first time a study has reached last-phase trials with this new approach – virotherapy uses herpes virus to kill cancer cells.
If it receives FDA approval, scientists predict this drug could become widely available for cancer patients by 2016. The greatest advantage of virotherapy is that, unlike the procedure used in chemotherapy – killing all proliferating cells, not just the diseased one – it can target directly against cancer cells.
It doesn’t just offer a better and more effective chance in fighting the disease, but it also reduces significantly the unpleasant side-effects that come with destroying good cells. Instead, this treatment seems to be really appealing to researchers because it prompts the immune system to actively fight cancer.
What’s even more impressive, based on the results of the study, is that virotherapy would be efficient even when cancer has spread to more organs in the body. This means that it can offer hope to first-stage patients, as well as to those faced with the bleakest diagnoses.
More than 400 patients suffering from aggressive melanoma – skin cancer – participated in the trials. All of the subjects had been affected by either relapsed or metastatic melanoma, which is inoperable and for which there are no conventional treatment courses.
One in four patients responded well to the treatment, and 16 percent of those were still in remission at the six-month follow-up examination. Overall, approximately 10 percent of the patients treated remained in complete remission, as doctors could not detect any more cancerous cells in the body.
What happens is that the herpes contained in the drug multiplies fast inside a cancer cell, to the point where the cell splits open. In turn, the immune system triggers a secondary reaction against the cancerous tumor.
Lead investigator, Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research London, says it was fascinating to see how the patient’s immune system simply wakes up and starts attacking the cancer cells marked by the herpes.
All the treatment does is give the immune system a nudge, because then the immune system appears to be drastically enhanced in detecting and attacking cancer cells. It is yet unclear how this happens, but all the latest trials confirmed the effect.
Image Source: Public Health Watch