‘Miracle’ herpes treatment eradicates tumours in terminally-ill cancer patients

Cancerous tumor
Terminally ill cancer patients have seen their tumors completely eradicated or shrunk after being treated with a genetically engineered version of the herpes virus.
Scientists at the Institute for Cancer Research in London have developed a new therapy that infects and destroys cancer cells while boosting the immune system.
In early studies evaluating the safety of the therapy, a quarter of patients with end-of-life cancer saw their tumors stop growing, shrink, or disappear entirely.
Krzysztof Wojkowski, 39, a west London construction worker who ran out of treatment options after developing a salivary gland tumor, has been cancer-free for two years since taking part in the study at London's Royal Marsden in 2020.
"I was told there were no more options for me and that I would receive end-of-life care," he said.
Krzysztof Wojkowski, 39, has been cancer-free for two years since taking part in the study
“I had injections every two weeks for five weeks which completely eradicated my cancer.
"I've been cancer free for two years now, it's a true miracle, there's no other word to describe it. I can work as a builder again and spend time with my family, there is nothing I cannot do.”
Virus causes cancer cells to burst
The genetically engineered virus - called RP2 - is injected directly into the tumor, where it multiplies and ruptures cancer cells from the inside.
It also blocks a protein called CTLA-4, which shuts down the immune system, giving the body more options to fight off the cancer. In addition, the virus also produces molecules that stimulate the immune system to act against cancer.
The therapy was tested on 39 patients with cancers, including skin, esophageal and head and neck cancer, who had exhausted all other treatments.
The results showed that about a quarter saw a benefit.
The herpes simplex virus is a common infection that many people already carry latently without problems.
The researchers examined patient biopsies before and after RP2 injections and found positive changes in the tumor's "immune microenvironment" - the area immediately surrounding the tumor. Injections led to more immune cells in the region, including CD8+ T cells, and "switched on" genes associated with the "anti-cancer" immune response.
The team found that most side effects of RP2 were mild — some of the most common were fever, chills, and fatigue. None of the side effects were severe enough to require medical intervention.
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 can exploit some of the properties that make them challenge opponents to infect and kill cancer cells.
"It's a small study, but the early results are promising. I really hope that as this research expands, patients will continue to benefit.”
Potential to become a new treatment option
Study leader Kevin Harrington, Professor of Biological Cancer Therapies at the Institute of Cancer Research, said: "Our study shows that a genetically engineered cancer-killing virus can deliver a double whammy against tumors - by destroying cancer cells directly from the inside, while also simultaneously turning on the immune system against them .
“It's rare to see such good response rates in early-stage clinical trials, as their main goal is to test treatment safety and they involve patients with very advanced cancers who are no longer working with current treatments.
“Our initial study results suggest that a genetically engineered form of the herpesvirus could potentially become a new treatment option for some patients with advanced cancer, including those who have failed other forms of immunotherapy.
"I'm excited to see if we continue to see benefits as we treat an increasing number of patients."
The research was presented at the 2022 European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress and the team hopes to move on to larger trials.

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