Oxford researchers pioneer new virus-based cancer treatment

Science and Technology University News

Image Credit: Steve Daniels

Oxford University researchers have recently pioneered a new technique in the fight against cancer.

They utilised a virus, called enadenotucirev, which was developed to fight carcinoma; cancer of the epithelial cells of the skin and organ lining.

The treatment’s innovation was to allow the virus to target not just the cancer cells themselves, but also the fibroblasts, which form the basis of tissues and can be made to support cancers.

When the virus binds, it incorporates new genetic material into the cancer cell, causing it to produce a protein that attaches by one end to nearby fibroblasts. The other end of the protein binds killer T-cells, which then induce cell death. The virus is also bred to kill cancer cells, leading to a root and branch removal of the cancer with its support. 

Due to the virus’s specificity to cancer cells, it doesn’t kill healthy fibroblasts in the rest of the body, a current drawback of similar treatments. The treatment has currently been tested in mice and humans, and if trials continue to be successful, then clinical trials may occur “as early as next year”. The study has been published in Cancer Research.

This latest development follows the announcement, earlier this year, that scientists in Oxford had developed a new chemotherapy procedure, which targeted chemotherapeutic agents to the cancer cells by incorporating them in lipid sacs, which break down when over 39.5 degrees Celsius. Ultrasound is used to heat tumours to above this temperature, delivering an increase in the concentration of these agents compared to  standard chemotherapy of 3.7 times on average.

Head of molecular and cellular medicine at the Medical Research Council (MRC), Dr Nathan Richardson said, in response to this new research, that “Immunotherapy is emerging as an exciting new approach to treating cancers.

“This innovative viral delivery system, which targets both the cancer and surrounding protective tissue, could improve outcomes for patients whose cancers are resistant to current treatments.

However, this technique is far from being made available as a treatment, with Richardson adding that “Further clinical studies will be crucial to determine that the stimulation of the patient’s immune system does not produce unintended consequences.”