A genetically engineered herpes virus is the new hope for beating cancer after scientists found that tumors in terminally ill patients had been eradicated or shrunk using the revolutionary new therapy.
A first trial at the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) in London found that a modified version of the herpes simplex virus showed signs of effectiveness in a quarter of cancer patients at the end of life.
The infection – which also causes mouth and sexually transmitted sores – acts on the cancer by producing molecules that trigger an immune system response and infect and destroy the cancer.
It was tested on 39 cancer patients, including people with tumors of the skin, esophagus, and head and neck.
A west London patient hailed it as a ‘true miracle’ after he was able to return to work as a bricklayer.
A genetically modified herpes virus is the new hope of beating cancer after scientists found that tumors in terminally ill patients had been eradicated with the new therapy. Pictured: stock image
Krzysztof Wojkowski, 39, was diagnosed with mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a type of salivary gland cancer, in May 2017 and after several surgeries he was told there were no more treatment options.
“I had injections every two weeks for five weeks, which completely eradicated my cancer,” he said. “I have been cancer free for two years now, it’s a real miracle, there is no other word to describe it.
‘I’ve been able to work as a bricklayer again and spend time with my family, there’s nothing I can’t do.’
Mr Wojkowski added: ‘I was told that I had no options left and that I was receiving end-of-life care, it was devastating so it was amazing to have the chance to participate at the trial at Royal Marsden, that was my last lifeline.’
It has been tested on 39 patients with cancers including skin, esophagus and head and neck, including a West London patient who hailed it as a ‘true miracle’ after being able to return to work as a builder (image of woman supporting patient)
The research team hopes to move on to larger trials after presenting the study at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress.
Study leader Professor Kevin Harrington, Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Our study shows that a genetically modified, cancer-fighting virus can deliver a punch against tumors – directly destroying cancer cells from within while appealing to the immune system against them.
Oral herpes can be transmitted by kissing or toothbrushing
Herpes 1, or oral herpes, is the most common viral strain, affecting around two-thirds of all people under the age of 50.
Oral herpes gets its name from the fact, of course, that it mainly causes sores or blisters around the lips.
However, over the past two decades, it has become more common for HSV 1 lesions to appear in the genital or anal regions.
HSV 2, or genital herpes, primarily affects these areas and is less common, affecting only about 16% of the population.
During outbreaks of either, the viruses are highly transmissible.
HSV 1 can be spread by kissing or sharing objects like utensils or toothbrushes.
In contrast, genital herpes can usually only be spread through sexual contact.
Once the HSV 2 virus is in a person’s body, it will remain there for many years or a lifetime, and there is no cure.
But antiviral drugs can limit outbreaks and reduce the risk of transmission.
Or at least they could, before HSV 2 and HSV 1 started having “sex”.
The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust consultant oncologist, added: ‘It is rare to see such good response rates in early stage clinical trials as their main aim is to test the safety of treatment and they involve patients with very advanced cancers for which current treatments have stopped working.
“Results from our early trials suggest that a genetically modified form of the herpes virus could potentially become a new treatment option for some patients with advanced cancers, including those who have not responded to other forms. of immunotherapy. I look forward to seeing if we continue to see benefits as we treat increasing numbers of patients.
The genetically modified RP2 virus, which is injected directly into tumors, is designed to have a dual action against tumors.
It multiplies inside cancer cells to burst them from the inside, and it also blocks a protein known as CTLA-4 – releasing the brakes on the immune system and increasing its ability to kill cancer cells.
Three out of nine patients treated for herpes benefited, with one patient with salivary gland cancer seeing his tumor disappear completely and remain cancer-free 15 months after starting treatment.
Seven of the 30 patients who received both RP2 and nivolumab immunotherapy also benefited from the treatment.
In the group, four out of nine patients with melanoma skin cancer, two out of eight patients with eye cancer uveal melanoma and one out of three patients with head and neck cancer saw the growth of their cancer stop or decrease.
Of the seven patients receiving the combination who saw benefit, six remained progression-free at 14 months.
Professor Kristian Helin, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: ‘Viruses are one of humanity’s oldest enemies, as we have all seen during the pandemic. But our new research suggests we can exploit some of the characteristics that make them tough adversaries to infect and kill cancer cells.
“This is a small study, but early results are promising. I sincerely hope that as this research develops, patients will continue to benefit from it.