Back in the early 1990s, I was in Calgary living a ‘former life’ and came across an incredible researcher named Patrick Lee. This researcher had quite possibly the most insane idea I’d heard of…using germs to cure cancer.
Well, it’s 20 years later and Dr. Lee’s idea has turned into a multi-million dollar company that may hold the key to making some cancers a thing of the past…using ironically, viruses.
As my new movement is showing – it’s very much true that #germsarethefuture
I was fortunate enough to gain access to the current CEO of the company, Dr. Brad Thompson and asked him to tell me in his own words what the future holds. Here is his reply in full. It’s a little more intense than my usual posts…but well worth the read.
The Future of Cancer Clinical Trials Holds Promise Thanks To Viruses
by Brad Thompson, PhD
Chemotherapy has always and continues to be our first line of defense against cancer, but is not for the faint of heart. Some form of chemotherapy is still routinely prescribed for most types of the disease. The treatment works by targeting fast-growing cells, like those typically found in rapidly growing tumors. But while chemotherapy can shrink tumors, they often grow back and become resistant to treatment.
To combat this resistance, chemotherapy is now often used in combination with other treatments that have different mechanisms for attacking and killing cancer cells. Doctors must be cautious when combining treatments to ensure that the regimen does not become too toxic for patients to tolerate. The goal is to introduce drugs that can be used with chemotherapy, not only to extend life, but also to improve quality of life while undergoing treatment.
One approach that has proven quite promising is harnessing viruses to infect, multiply within and subsequently destroy cancer cells; the virus targets tumors without affecting normal tissue.
Several types of these viruses have been developed to date, with names like adenovirus, poxvirus, and picornavirus. Even the herpes simplex virus is under consideration for this type of use.
Some researchers consider a different class of viruses, known as reoviruses, to be the most promising for the task of battling cancer cells. Reoviruses are found everywhere in nature and have been isolated from untreated sewage, river and stagnant waters. These viruses choose to colonize cancer cells that exhibit a common mutation, while sparing normal cells. (Normal cells are unaffected by the reovirus because our immune systems can neutralize the virus.) Approximately one-third of human cancers have the mutation that makes them a prime target for reoviruses.
Studies have shown that reovirus, used in conjunction with immune suppressive drugs, can effectively prolong the survival of various cancer-stricken animals in the laboratory.
This suggests that immune suppressive drugs can be combined with reovirus in the treatment of human cancers.
My own company, Calgary-based Oncolytics Biotech Inc., has developed a drug, Reolysin, from reovirus. In preclinical studies using a wide variety of cancer cell lines, investigators found that when used together, reovirus and chemotherapy resulted in more efficient anti-cancer activity than when each agent was used on its own.
These combinations are showing extremely good results in human trials, particularly in head and neck cancer patients. Many of these patients treated with a combination of Reolysin and chemotherapy to date have experienced dramatic and prolonged tumor shrinkage, without increasing adverse side effects.
Just recently, Dr. Kevin Harrington and his colleagues at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden Hospital, published results of a clinical trial testing intravenous Reolysin in combination with chemotherapeutics carboplatin and paclitaxel in 31 patients with advanced cancers who had stopped responding to standard treatments.
An initial Phase I study was carried out in patients with a range of advanced cancers, which showed the drug combination was safe. Side effects were found to be generally mild, and consistent with chemotherapy alone.
Patients with head and neck cancers were found to have the best responses, so a Phase II expansion study at The Royal Marsden Hospital, London, and St James’s Hospital, Leeds, was therefore targeted to patients with these types of cancers.
Cancers shrank for about one-third of the patients who could be evaluated, and disease stabilized for a further third. For one patient, all signs of their cancer disappeared.
It is difficult to provide a crystal-clear economic forecast for oncolytic viruses. However, demand for new and effective cancer treatment remains strong, giving confidence that Reolysin could be embraced if it performs well in further testing. Global pharmaceutical firms may be keen to partner with Oncolytics once additional head and neck cancer data involving the drug are available, if not before, and capital markets are exhibiting optimism in Reolysin’s medical prospects.
As we have seen, there are a number of viruses that have shown potential use in cancer treatment, and demand for more effective agents is strong. Future research studies will give us an even clearer perspective on which, if any, of these viruses offer the most effective route toward a reliable and commercially viable complement to chemotherapy for oncologists and their patients.