Researchers in Canada have used a genetically-modified virus to selectively kill cancer cells in humans without harming healthy tissue.
The idea of using viruses to fight cancer has interested scientists for decades. That interest has intensified as recent advances in genetic engineering have made it possible to custom design viruses that target cancer tumors.
The experimental viral therapy was administered in a single intravenous treatment in five dose strengths to 23 patients with a variety of advanced cancers. Scientists, including teams from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the University of Ottawa, and the private biotechnology company, Jennerex, say the engineered virus, called JX-954, replicated itself in the patient's tumors, but left normal, healthy tissues unaffected in seven of the eight patients in the two highest-dose groups.
Six of the patients in these high-dose groups saw their tumors stabilize or shrink. None of the patients experienced any side effects worse than mild-to-moderate flu-like symptoms that lasted for less than one day.
The researchers say viral therapies like JX-954 stand apart from other cancer treatments because they can attack tumors in multiple ways, they can be customized easily for different types of cancer, and they cause minimal side effects.
The Canadian scientists say much more research is needed, but they predict that the early successes with intravenous viral therapy will lead to a whole new generation of targeted cancer treatments.
The new study is published in the journal, Nature.