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Scientists target cancer with virus

6th September 2011

For the first time ever, researchers have genetically engineered an injectable virus which appears to target and destroy tumour cells.

cancercell

The researchers gave the virus, dubbed JX-294 and derived from smallpox, to patients with advanced cancer.

Apart from flu-like symptoms that lasted about 24 hours, the study subjects did not report any side effects.

The patients who received the highest doses of the virus also showed the greatest tumour shrinkage.

Jennerex, a biotech company primarily funded by investors from Canada and South Korea, developed the virus.

John Bell, chief scientific officer at Jennerex and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, said that using JX-594 for treatment avoided all the drastic side effects associated with chemotherapy.

Scientists have long been intrigued by the idea of genetically engineered viruses that benefit human health.

Recently, the idea of using viruses to aid human health has become more feasible, due to advances in genetic engineering technology.

For the study, the researchers recruited 23 patients with advanced cancer, aiming to gauge the safety of JX-594.

In nearly 90% of all the study subjects, the virus only infected tumour cells, as intended.

In such cases, the tumour cells would then fall within the range of vision of the immune system, allowing the body to cure itself of cancer.

Bell said that the next trial his team planned would involve 120 liver cancer patients, since early trials of JX-594 showed the virus to be efficacious against liver cancer.

He said that JX-594 was pretty safe, since all of the genetic information required for it to mutate had been deleted.

There are other examples of genetically engineered viruses being tested against cancer.

However, JX-594 is the first of its kind in that it can be injected directly into the bloodstream.

Jennerex achieved this by giving the virus the ability to produce a protein called GM-CSF, which causes the immune system to attack cancer cells.

By contrast, some other genetically engineered viruses do not automatically point out the location of tumours to the immune system, and therefore need to be injected directly into the tumour in order to have any effect.

In Europe, Transgene has already licensed the rights to JX-594.

In China, Lee's Pharmaceutical Ltd holds the rights to the virus, and in Korea, Green Cross Corp holds them.

Jennerex has not licensed rights for JX-594 in the United States or Japan.

 

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