Researchers have used a genetically engineered virus (cold sore) for treatment of head and neck cancer in patients during a Phase I/II clinical trial test by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.
Owned by BioVex, OncoVEX, the herpes simplex virus, was modified so it can multiply while inside cancer cells while not affecting health cells. The virus bursts inside the cancer cells to kill tumor cells and expresses a human protein to stimulate the immune system of patients.
During this study, 17 patients had this virus injected into their cancer-affected lymph nodes. The patients received a maximum of four doses, and they also received chemo- and radiotherapy. Tumor shrinkage in both head and neck were visible on 14 of 17 patients, and 93% of patients witnessed no trace of residual cancer in lymph nodes. Following up after 29 months, only 2 of 13 patients who were given a high dose of this treatment had relapsed.
Experts explain a normal relapse rate for chemotherapy and radiotherapy is around 35-55 percent, so a 15 percent rate in this study is very promising. One issue realized with this sample, however, was the small size as statistical significance could not be reached.
Throughout this clinical study, side-effects were explained as mild, and believed to be largely due to original treatments (chemotherapy and radiotherapy).
This study proved that viruses can be used safely when combined with other cancer treatments to help cure patients.
Each year, around 650,000 people are diagnosed with head and neck squamous cell cancer throughout the world. The diseases causes around 350,000 deaths each year.