The man’s cancer disappeared after he was injected with the weakened herpes virus

  • A new cancer therapy uses the herpes virus to fight harmful cells.
  • The modified virus infects cancer cells, causing them to explode, while alerting the immune system.
  • The therapy is in the early stages of testing but shows great promise, according to cancer researchers.

A new cancer therapy that uses a modified herpes virus to attack tumor cells showed promise in early clinical trials overseas.

The drug, called RP2, completely eliminated one patient’s oral cancer. The 39-year-old told the BBC he had salivary gland cancer, which continued to grow despite attempts at treatment.

He was preparing for the end of his life when he learned about the experimental drug, which was available through a phase 1 safety trial at the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK.

After a short course of the drug, the patient, Krzysztof Wojkowski from west London, has been cancer-free for two years and counting, he told the BBC.

Other patients in the trial saw their tumors shrink, although most had no significant change: three out of nine patients who received the trial drug alone and seven out of 30 who received a combination treatment, appeared to benefit from the experimental therapy. .

Although more research is needed to see how RP2 compares to known therapies, the drug appeared to help some patients and caused only mild side effects, such as fatigue. These early results are promising, said Jonathan Zager of the Moffitt Cancer Center, who was not involved in the trial.

“We’re going to see some more studies done in the very near future, and I’m excited, certainly not discouraged or skeptical,” Zager told Insider.

A modified virus gives cancer cells a “one-two punch”.

The experimental therapy involves a weakened form of herpes simplex, the virus that causes cold sores, which has been modified to infect only tumors.

According to results presented at a medical conference in Paris, the viral therapy is designed to selectively enter cancer cells while leaving normal cells alone. It is injected directly into a tumor, whereas most other cancer drugs work systemically.

Once infiltrated, the virus replicates until the cancer cell explodes. What’s unique about RP2 is that it delivers “a punch” against tumors, not only destroying the cells, but rallying the immune system to attack what’s left, lead researcher Kevin Harrington said in a statement of press

The drug works similarly to T-Vec, a viral therapy that was approved to treat advanced skin cancer in 2015. T-Vec was also designed from a herpes simplex virus and modified to include a gene that stimulates the production of immune cells, essentially preparing the immune system to attack.

These viral therapies hold great promise for treating multiple forms of cancer, with “truly impressive” treatment responses seen in patients with advanced esophageal cancer and a rare type of eye cancer, Harrington told the BBC.

The results are even more impressive considering that patients recruited for clinical trials have typically tried several other treatments and surgeries to eliminate their cancers. Many, like Wojkowski, were out of options when they heard about RP2.

“When we have tumors that are heavily pretreated and they respond favorably (to RP2 or T-Vec), that’s even more food for thought, in the sense that we now have tumors that were resistant to the treatment and are responding,” said Vager, who has treated hundreds of of T-Vec patients since it was approved.

According to Harrington, RP2 may perform even better than T-Vec, if early results are any indication.

“It has had other modifications to the virus, so when it gets into cancer cells it effectively signs its death warrant,” Harrington told the BBC.

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