Shrinking or even eliminating cancerous tumors is the promise of a new treatment developed by researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research in London.
It is based on injecting a genetically modified version of the herpes virus, which appears to have the ability to invade and destroy cancer cells while activating the immune system.
In the first stage of trials to see how safe the treatment is, 1/4 of the participants with terminal cancer saw their tumors stop growing, shrink or even disappear altogether.
One of these patients, 39-year-old builder Christoph Voikofksi from west London, who had no other treatment options due to advanced salivary gland cancer, has now gone two years without the slightest trace of cancer. He was one of the first to take part in clinical trials at the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital in the British capital in 2020.
The genetically modified herpes virus, which often appears on the lips, is called RP2. It is placed through a series of injections directly into the cancerous tumor and there it multiplies, essentially eating the tumor from the inside.
At the same time, the treatment blocks the CTLA-4 protein which has the property of weakening the function of the immune system. In this way, the chances of successful cancer treatment increase.
In addition, the modified virus produces molecules that activate the immune system in the fight against cancer.
The treatment was tested on 39 patients suffering from skin, oesophagus, skull and neck cancers, among others. All of them had exhausted all other treatment options. Ten saw encouraging to fully successful results.
The side effects of RP2 on the body were mild, i.e. fever, chills or fatigue, but in no case did medical intervention be required.
Cancer Research Institute chief executive Christian Hellin said: “It’s a small study, but the initial findings are encouraging.”
Institute professor of biological anticancer therapies Kevin Harrington added that “it is rare to see such a good response in early stages of clinical trials.”
The research team’s next step is to scale up clinical trials with more patients.
The findings were presented through the European Society of Medical Oncology.