Canadian researchers have launched the world’s first clinical trial of a novel investigational therapy that uses a combination of two viruses to attack and kill cancer cells, and stimulate an anti-cancer immune response.
Previous research by this team and others worldwide suggests that this approach could be very powerful, and could have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy and radiation, although it will take years to rigorously test through this trial and others.
The therapy was jointly discovered and is being developed by Dr. David Stojdl (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, University of Ottawa), Dr. Brian Lichty (McMaster University) and Dr. John Bell (The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa), and their respective research teams and colleagues. The clinical trial, which is funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and coordinated by the NCIC Clinical Trials Group, is expected to enroll up to 79 patients at four hospitals across Canada. Up to 24 patients will receive one of the viruses and the rest will receive both, two weeks apart.
Christina Monker, 75, a former nurse from Rockland, Ontario, is one of the first patients treated in the trial. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and, despite six weeks of radiation therapy and two rounds of chemotherapy, the cancer spread to both her lungs. After completing another 30 rounds of chemotherapy, she enrolled in the trial at The Ottawa Hospital and was treated on June 2, 2015.
“The nausea of chemotherapy was worse than I ever could have imagined, but with the viral therapy I just felt like I had the flu for a couple of days, and the symptoms were easily managed,” said Ms. Monker. “It is too soon to know if I may have benefited from this therapy, but I’m very glad to contribute to this important research that could improve care for others.”
The idea of using viruses to treat cancer has been around for more than a century, with sporadic reports of cancer patients experiencing remarkable recoveries after viral infections. However, it is only in recent years that viral therapy has begun to be developed and tested in a rigorous way. Drs. Bell, Lichty and Stojdl began investigating viral therapies for cancer nearly 15 years ago when they worked together at The Ottawa Hospital.
“We found that when normal cells become cancerous, it’s like they are making a deal with the devil,” explained Dr. Bell, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. “They acquire genetic mutations that allow them to grow very quickly, but these same mutations also make them more susceptible to viruses.”
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