A new UC San Francisco study has shown that a cancer-killing (“oncolytic”) virus currently in clinical trials may function as a cancer vaccine – in addition to killing some cancer cells directly, the virus alerts the immune system to the presence of a tumor, triggering a powerful, widespread immune response that kills cancer cells far outside the virus-infected region.
Using novel approaches to examine exactly how oncolytic viruses attack tumors, the new study – published online in early form on December 19, 2017, and in print in the February 15, 2018, issue of Cancer Research – provided surprising insights about how a viral infection can cooperate with the immune system to attack cancer cells. The study highlights an opportunity to combine this form of therapy with cancer immunotherapy drugs such as checkpoint inhibitors, which unleash the immune system’s full cancer-fighting power, the researchers say.
The idea that viruses could fight cancer goes back to the early 20th century, when doctors noted that cancer patients sometimes experienced dramatic remission after getting viral infections. Researchers have been developing oncolytic viruses since the 1980s, but following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2015 approval of Amgen’s Imlygic (T-Vec) as the first oncolytic viral therapy
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