A genetically engineered herpes virus is the new hope for beating cancer after scientists discovered that tumors in terminally ill patients had been eradicated or shrunk using the groundbreaking new therapy.
An early trial at the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) in London revealed that a modified version of the herpes simplex virus showed signs of effectiveness in a quarter of end-of-life cancer patients.
The infection — which also causes mouth and sexually transmitted ulcers — acts on cancer by producing molecules that trigger an immune system response to infect and destroy the cancer.
It was tested in 39 cancer patients, including those suffering from skin, esophageal and head and neck tumors.
A patient from West London has hailed it as a ‘true miracle’ after returning to work as a construction worker.
A genetically engineered herpes virus is the new hope for beating cancer after scientists found that tumors had been eradicated in terminally ill patients using the new therapy. Pictured: Stock Image
Krzysztof Wojkowski, 39, was diagnosed with mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a type of salivary gland cancer, in May 2017, and after multiple surgeries was told there were no more treatment options.
“I had injections every two weeks for five weeks that completely eradicated my cancer,” he said. “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 contractor again and spend time with my family, there’s nothing I can’t do.”
Mr Wojkowski added: “I was told there were no more options for me and I was getting care at the end of my life, it was devastating so it was incredible to have the chance to participate in the trial at The Royal Marsden, it was my last lifeline.’
It was tested on 39 patients with cancers, including skin, esophageal and head and neck cancers, including a patient from West London who hailed it as a ‘true miracle’ after being able to return to work as a construction worker patiently)
The research team hopes to move to larger trials after they present the study at the European Society for Medical Oncology Congress (ESMO).
Study leader Professor Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: ‘Our study shows that a genetically engineered, cancer-destroying virus can deliver a one-two punch against tumors – directly destroying cancer cells from within while also protecting the immune system against them is turned on.
Oral herpes can be spread through kissing or toothbrushes
Herpes 1 or oral herpes is the most common viral strain, affecting about two-thirds of all people under the age of 50.
Oral herpes gets its name from the fact that it naturally mainly causes sores or blisters around the lips.
In recent decades, however, it has become increasingly common for HSV 1 sores to appear in the genital or anal areas.
HSV 2 or genital herpes mainly affects these areas and is less common, affecting only about 16 percent of the population.
During outbreaks of both, the viruses are highly transmissible.
HSV 1 can be spread by kissing or sharing objects such as kitchen utensils or toothbrushes.
In contrast, genital herpes can usually only be spread through sexual contact.
Once the HSV 2 virus is in a person’s body, it stays there for many years or all of his life, and there is no cure.
But antivirals can minimize outbreaks and reduce the risk of transmission.
Or at least they could, before the HSV 2 and HSV 1 started having ‘sex’.
The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust’s oncologist consultant added: ‘It is rare to see such good response rates in early stage clinical trials as their primary aim is to test the safety of the treatment and it involves to patients with very advanced cancers for whom current treatments no longer work.
“Our initial research results suggest that a genetically engineered form of the herpes virus could potentially become a new treatment option for some patients with advanced cancers – including those who have failed to respond to other forms of immunotherapy.” I’m curious to see if we continue to see benefits as we treat more and more patients.’
The genetically engineered RP2 virus, injected directly into the tumors, is designed to have a dual action against tumors.
It multiplies in cancer cells to burst them from the inside, and it also blocks a protein known as CTLA-4, which slows down the immune system and increases its ability to kill cancer cells.
Three out of nine patients treated with herpes benefited from one patient with salivary gland cancer who saw his tumor completely disappear and remained cancer-free 15 months after starting treatment.
Seven of 30 patients who received both RP2 and the immunotherapy nivolumab also benefited from treatment.
In the group, four out of nine patients with melanoma saw skin cancer, two out of eight patients with eye cancer saw uveal melanoma, and one in three patients with head and neck cancer saw the growth of their cancer stop or shrink.
Of the seven patients who received the combination and saw a benefit, six remained progression-free after 14 months.
Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: ‘Viruses are one of humanity’s oldest enemies, as we have all seen during the pandemic. But our new research suggests we may be able to leverage some of the functions that make them challenge adversaries to infect and kill cancer cells.
‘It is a small study, but the initial findings are promising. I sincerely hope that as this research expands, we see patients continue to benefit from it.”