Modified Herpesvirus Shows Promising Cancer Cell Killing In One Patient Seeing Disease Go Away | UK News


A modified herpesvirus has shown promise for killing cancer cells – in a patient seeing the disease go away completely.

Patients were injected with a drug that was a weakened form of the cold sore virus — herpes simplex — modified to kill tumors.

Although more research is needed, it could provide a lifeline for those living with advanced cancer.

Krzysztof Wojkowski, 39, a building contractor from West London, went from end-of-life care to a cancer-free person after taking part in the study.

In May 2017, Mr. Wojkowski was diagnosed with mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a form of salivary gland cancer.

Despite multiple surgeries, he was told there were no more treatment options before being offered the opportunity to enroll in the RP2 trial at The Royal Marsden in 2020.

He said: “I was told there were no more options for me and I was given end of life care, it was devastating so to be given the chance to attend the hearing at the Royal Marsden was incredible, it was mine last lifeline.

“I had injections every two weeks for five weeks that completely wiped out my cancer. I’ve been cancer free for two years now, it’s a true miracle, there’s no other word to describe it.

“I’ve been able to work as a builder again and spend time with my family, there’s nothing I can’t do.”

The genetically engineered virus, which is injected directly into tumors, is said to have a dual effect – it multiplies in cancer cells to make them burst from the inside, and it also blocks a protein known as CTLA-4, thereby releasing the brakes on the immune system and increasing its ability to kill cancer cells.

Image: Salivary gland carcinoma. Image credit: Nephron, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Seldom seen so promising in early studies

Tumors shrank in three out of nine patients treated with RP2.

Seven out of 30 patients who received both RP2 and the immunotherapy nivolumab also benefited from the treatment.

In this group, four out of nine patients with melanoma skin cancer, two out of eight patients with uveal melanoma eye cancer, and one out of three patients with head and neck cancer saw their cancer growth stop or shrink.

Of the seven patients who received the combination and saw benefit, six remained progression-free at 14 months.

Such a good response rate is rarely seen in early-stage clinical trials, according to study leader Professor Kevin Harrington, Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Consultant Oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

He said: “Our study shows that a genetically engineered cancer-killing virus can deliver a double whammy against tumors – by destroying cancer cells directly from the inside while simultaneously using the immune system against them.

“It’s rare to see such good response rates in early-stage clinical trials because their main goal is to test treatment safety and they involve patients with very advanced cancer who are no longer treated by current treatments.

“Our initial study results suggest that a genetically engineered form of the herpesvirus could potentially become a new treatment option for some patients with advanced cancer, including those who have failed other forms of immunotherapy.

“I’m excited to see if we continue to see benefits as we treat an increasing number of patients.”

Exploiting the properties of viruses

Professor Kristian Helin, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said it was possible to exploit some of the properties of viruses.

They 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 traits that make them challenge opponents to infect and kill cancer cells.

“It’s a small study, but the early results are promising. I really hope that as this research expands, patients will continue to benefit.”

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