The treatment, using a weakened form of the cold sore virus herpes simplex, works by injecting the modified virus directly into the tumour.The virus then multiplies inside cancer cells causing them to 'burst' while also blocking the protein CTLA-4 to activate the immune system.
In 2020, the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust ran an Oncolytic Virus Therapy clinical trial on 40 patients with advanced cancers. The patients had exhausted all treatment options and had various advanced cancers such as head, neck, oesophageal and skin cancer.
The encouraging findings showed:
- Three of nine patients given the injections saw their tumours shrink.
- Seven of 30 who received a combined treatment of the virus injections plus the cancer drug Nivolumab also appeared to benefit.
- In this group, four of nine patients with melanoma skin cancer, two out of eight patients with the eye cancer uveal melanoma, and one out of three patients with head and neck cancer saw their cancer’s growth shrink or halt.
- In this group, six remained progression-free at 14 months.
- Side effects were generally mild including, fever, chills and fatigue.
One of the three patients who saw their tumour shrink was receiving end of life care at the time. Since completing the course of injections every two weeks for five weeks, he has been cancer-free for two years.
Ultimately, more research is needed, but initial findings are encouraging. According to the lead scientist, the treatment responses have been truly impressive across a range of advanced cancers and may ultimately provide a lifeline to patients affected by delayed diagnosis of cancer.
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