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Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

Posted October 29, 2015 8:40 AM by Bayes

There has been a growing trend in medicine of using modified viruses to fight cancer. I came across a recent article and thought I'd pass it along. Enjoy!

Cancer-fighting viruses win approval

US regulators clear a viral melanoma therapy, paving the way for a promising field with a chequered past.

An engineered herpesvirus that provokes an immune response against cancer has become the first treatment of its kind to be approved for use in the United States, paving the way for a long-awaited class of therapies. On 27 October, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a genetically engineered virus called talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) to treat advanced melanoma. Four days earlier, advisers to the European Medicines Agency had endorsed the drug.

With dozens of ongoing clinical trials of similar 'oncolytic' viruses, researchers hope that the approval will generate the enthusiasm and cash needed to spur further development of the approach. "The era of the oncolytic virus is probably here," says Stephen Russell, a cancer researcher and haematologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "I expect to see a great deal happening over the next few years."

Many viruses preferentially infect cancer cells. Malignancy can suppress normal antiviral responses, and sometimes the mutations that drive tumour growth also make cells more susceptible to infection. Viral infection can thus ravage a tumour while leaving abutting healthy cells untouched, says Brad Thompson, president of the pharmaceutical-development firm Oncolytics Biotech in Calgary, Canada.

Early attempts

The strategy builds on a phenomenon that has been appreciated for more than a century. Physicians in the 1800s noted that their cancer patients sometimes unexpectedly went into remission after experiencing a viral infection. These case reports later inspired doctors, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, to raid nature's viral cupboard. Clinicians injected cancer patients with a menagerie of viruses. Sometimes the therapy destroyed the tumour, and sometimes it killed the person instead. Unlike the wild viruses used in those mid-twentieth-century experiments, some of today's anti-cancer viruses are painstakingly engineered. T-VEC, for example, has been altered to drastically reduce its ability to cause herpes. Researchers also inserted a gene encoding a protein that stimulates the immune system, which makes the virus even more potent against cancer.

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#1

Re: Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

10/29/2015 1:24 PM

It seems likely that our best approaches for treating these kinds of diseases will be biological, not chemical. This is promising.

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#2

Re: Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

10/29/2015 1:37 PM

That certainly brings new meaning to the phrase: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend"!

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#3

Re: Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

10/29/2015 7:48 PM

This seems like a good idea, especially for cases where other treatment has been ineffective. It may explain the miracle cases of spontaneous remission.

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#4

Re: Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

10/30/2015 2:05 AM

I've heard Monsanto ready have about 1,000 patients and another 2,000 pending GMG's (Genetically Modified Germs)

All joking aside, this would be a major break through in fighting cancer

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#5

Re: Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

10/30/2015 10:45 AM

I am really scared when that thing turns around by mere, nope most likely mutation- that is when we should not play with natural selection.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

10/30/2015 1:17 PM

Are you afraid of a Zombie attack?

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#7
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Re: Engineering Viruses to Fight Cancer

10/30/2015 4:55 PM

Probably, yes. It's not far from reality now.

Sometimes a small changes of a thing will lead to unanticipated chaos effect, especially when disturbing the niches in the ecological pyramid.

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