Yorkshire cancer patients to get virus amid trial hope

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researchPATIENTS suffering from cancer in Yorkshire are set to be infected with a common virus in a new trial which could herald a revolution in treatment for the disease.

Laboratory tests have shown the viral infection, which is harmless to humans, has a dramatic impact in killing cancer cells.

A group of patients at St James's Hospital in Leeds will have the virus injected directly into tumours and undergo a course of radiotherapy to examine the impact on the disease.

The study is one of a number around the world which could lead to a new generation of treatments using viruses and the body's own immune system to tackle cancer.

Along with gene therapy, the approach could offer the first significant breakthrough against the disease since the development of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The work is a collaboration involving other hospitals in the country, including the Royal Marsden in London, together with a Canadian biotechnology firm, Oncolytics.

Brad Thomson, chief executive officer of Oncolytics, said the work stemmed from the discovery in the laboratory that cancer cells were susceptible to the reovirus, which is commonly found in water and infects most people during childhood, giving them immunity against it.

Initial trials involving 100 patients, including some from St James's, had shown the virus, which is specially grown in the laboratory, was safe with few side effects other than mild flu-like symptoms.
But there was surprise when it appeared to have a significant impact on tumours.

"With low dosages, you don't expect to see clinical responses but they were very strong, with 70, 75, 80 per cent tumour regression in some cases. That's pretty exciting," he said.

Evidence suggested that not all cancers would respond to the virus but it was hoped it would help most patients.

In the second phase trials, patients will be given two injections of the virus and low-dose radiotherapy on five consecutive days. It is hoped the treatment will not only target the cancer but also carry fewer side effects than traditional therapies.

"I am absolutely convinced this virus and others will be widely used for the treatment of cancer. It will make a very large impact," he said.

Dr Thomson, who has suffered from skin cancer, said: "Having been through traditional chemotherapy myself, I know patients will do almost anything to avoid the side effects. The opportunity to have this kind of therapy will be grasped by patients and doctors."

Alan Melcher, who treats cancer patients in Leeds and carries out laboratory research in a post funded by the charity Cancer Research UK, said it was planned to test the virus against a range of cancers including those of the skin, bowel, head and neck. Normal human cells repel the virus but research has showed cancer cells lack a defence against it, giving doctors a pathway to kill them.
It is expected the virus will stay in the tumour but there is a possibility it could "switch on" the body's immune system. This fails to act against cancer cells but if activated by the virus it could attack tumours in parts of the body where the virus cannot be injected."The idea is that our immune system has evolved to recognise and attract viruses and this might wake it up and attack the cancer cells which it would otherwise ignore," he said.

If the trial proves successful, further studies will be carried out but it is estimated the treatment could be available in clinics within five years.

In the same field, the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis is already used to treat early bladder cancer while some drugs have also been developed to stimulate an immune response although these are currently a crude tool.

The drug Herceptin is an antibody which binds to a protein feeding some types of breast cancer, preventing the disease from recurring.

source - Yorkshire Today 

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