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Innovations in Oncology 2021

Can viruses help treat cancer?

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Niphon Khiawprommas

Adam Randall

Oncology Convention

Looking at the history of medicine, there have been many anecdotal stories of people with cancer having their cancer cured, or put into remission, after they have contracted a virus.

Despite the long history of anecdotal evidence, it’s only recently that medical professionals have started to make some real progress in the field.

Speaking on the latest episode of the Biotech 2050 podcast, Alice Bexon, the Chief Medical Officer for Vyriad, discussed the history of oncologic viruses and recent developments she had been involved in.

We reached out to Alice to find out what role she imagined oncologic viruses playing in the future of oncology and she commented:

“We certainly envision a future where oncolytic virotherapy is a standard treatment for all kinds of cancers. Based on the natural diversity of viruses and our ability to engineer them, we believe that different viruses could be deployed as multiple lines of therapy and against a range of indications.

“This is likely to happen disease by disease, as we have better efficacy data in some tumours than others, but as we develop more and more effective viruses that get better at reversing resistance to immune therapy, I could envisage a future where every checkpoint inhibitor has a partner oncolytic.”

Advancing existing research methods

Historically, a lot of the oncologic virus research that has been done has been related to “safe” viruses, such as the common cold. However, the problem with this approach is that the average person has an immune system which will attack and kill the virus. For this reason, Alice has decided to expand her area of research to incorporate more exotic viruses. It is believed that they may have advantages for cancer care which others do not.

We certainly envision a future where oncolytic virotherapy is a standard treatment for all kinds of cancers.

These viruses treat the cancer in one of three ways:

  • They can target the cancer
  • They can kill the cancer outright
  • They can help the immune system to start attacking the cancer cells

Today, other viruses have been engineered for oncological purposes, such as Indiana Vesiculovirus (VSV) which is a valuable asset because there is little immunity to this virus among the general population.

The potential future of cancer treatment

We asked Alice whether she thought these viruses might have the potential to be used as a preventative cancer treatment in future and she said: “For a virus to be protective it would have to have a different mechanism since there would be no cancer cells to lyse at the time of vaccination, but this is also something we could do. Basically, you take proteins specific to a certain type of cancer and plug their coding DNA or RNA into the virus. The virus then spreads in the body and makes the cancer proteins, which generate an immune response.

“Later, if that person develops a cancer that contains those proteins, their immune system will attack it. This has been tried a few times, but our knowledge of the cancer-specific proteins has not been sufficient to make this work consistently so far. I’m sure we will get there.”

Alice and her team have recently been developing treatments for bladder cancer, with the virus being injected directly into the bladder. Though the study is currently only small in scale, the results have been most promising, with the virus able to shrink the size of tumours in bladders.

Alice concluded: “Vyriad’s pipeline of oncolytic viruses and novel immunotherapies are potentially the next step forward in our treatment of cancer.”

At Oncology Convention, we are always keen to give a platform to those who are laying the groundwork for new and innovative cancer treatments.

Join us on the 15th and 16th of September at the NEC, Birmingham to hear from industry thought leaders while earning free CPD points. Register now.

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