Herpes Virus Used to Treat Head and Neck Cancer

Doctors say they have used a genetically engineered herpes virus to treat successfully patients with head and neck cancer.

Doctors have revealed that with the help of genetically engineered herpes virus they were able to successfully cure patients with head and neck cancer. Photo: Reuters

Doctors have revealed that with the help of genetically engineered herpes virus they were able to successfully cure patients with head and neck cancer.

A London hospital trial of seventeen patients found that use of the virus alongside chemotherapy and radiotherapy helped kill the tumours in most patients. It works by getting into cancer cells, killing them from the inside, and also boosting the patient’s immune system.

Head and neck cancer, which includes cancer of the mouth, tongue and throat, affects up to 8,000 people every year in the UK.

Study leader Dr. Kevin Harrington, who is based at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said current treatments were effective if the cancer was picked up early but that many patients were not diagnosed until it was more advanced.

The herpes simplex virus, recognized as OncoVEX and owned by BioVex Inc, had been customized so it increases within cancer cells but unhealthy cells. It ruptures and kills tumors cells and, by articulating a human protein, it also assists arousal in patients’ immune systems.

Seventeen patients of cancer-affected lymph nodes in up to four doses were injected to the virus cancer-affected at the Royal Marsden Hospital, and they were also given radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Head and neck tumor reduction might be observed on scans for 14 patients (82.3%), while 93 per cent of patients had no hint of remaining cancer in their lymph nodes throughout succeeding surgery to eliminate them.After a regular report on time of 29 months (19 to 40 months), 82.4 per cent of patients had not yielded to the disease.

Simply two of 13 patients given the virus medications at a high dose reverted, the journal Clinical Cancer Research reported. There were no safety concerns with use of the virus, the researchers said, and it is hoped the virus could one day be used to fight other types of cancer.

“Around 35 to 55% of patients given the standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment typically relapse within two years, so these results compare very favourably,” said Dr Harrington.

He is now planning a trial comparing the viral treatment with the standard treatment in people newly diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

Dr Alison Ross, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said it would be some time before the treatment could be used in patients as it still needed to be tested directly against standard treatment. But she added: “This small study highlights the potential of using genetically modified viruses as a weapon to fight cancer.”

Dr. Kevin Harrington testifies that the oncolytic viruses can be harmless when used in combination of other cancer treatments for the cure of cancer patients.

About 650, 000 people were examined to have squamous cell cancer in the head and neck annually, and 350, 000 die every year worldwide. [via BBC News]

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