A virus that can potentially be used to reverse untreatable tumours has offered new hope to terminal cancer patients.
Early evidence from a trial of the drug Reolysin suggests the treatment can be used in conjunction with radiotherapy to fight the disease.
The product contains traces of the harmless Reovirus, commonly found in the the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.
Scientists injected the drug into 23 patients with a range of solid tumours that had stopped responding to traditional therapies.
Each volunteer was given between two and six injections of Reolysin in escalating doses, combined with radiotherapy.
The results showed that the drug magnified the effects of the more traditional treatment, particularly with advanced cancers.
While the primary aim of the study was to test the safety profile of the product, the researchers found that the tumours got smaller or stopped growing in every case tested.
They shrank in two and stabilised in five patients who received low-dose radiotherapy. Of seven patients on high-dose radiotherapy, tumours shrank in five cases and stabilised in two.
The drug reduced the size of one tumour so much that doctors were able to surgically remove it.
Another patient who was close to death with a serious form of skin cancer was still alive 17 months after treatment started.
The results were achieved with mild side effects typical of radiotherapy treatment.
Writing in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, study leader Dr Kevin Harrington, from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: “The absence of any significant side effects in this study is extremely reassuring for future trials in patients receiving radiotherapy with the aim of curing their cancer.”
It is believed that the next phase of the study will investigate the effects of the treatment in patients with newly diagnosed cancers that would normally be treated with radiotherapy alone.
The trial was funded by Oncolytics Biotech.
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Clinical Cancer Research