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Cancer-Killing Virus: A Revolution in Oncology

Oncolytic Virology is a part of immunotherapy wherein viruses found in nature are genetically modified to selectively infect and destroy cancer cells and spare healthy cells in the human body. The treatment is known as oncolytic virus therapy. These cancer-killing viruses infect or invade the cells and subsequently use the cell’s genetic machinery for replication.

novel cancer-killing virus CF33-hNIS VAXINIA (developed by Imugene Limited and City of Hope) was recently injected into a medical trial participant suffering from an advanced solid cancer who had previously been treated with two different types of standard of care treatment. The oncolytic virus has been shown to shrink colon, breast, lung, pancreatic, and ovarian tumors in preclinical trials involving animal models in laboratory settings.

The multicenter Phase 1 trial aims to recruit 100 patients with metastatic or advanced solid tumors (MAST) across 10 sites in Australia and the United States (US) over two years. These patients will be injected with Vaxinia in combination with a monoclonal antibody, pembrolizumab. Reports have mentioned that the oncolytic virus can either be injected directly into the tumor or administered intravenously.

According to Imugene Limited, the Vaxinia treatment can aid in priming the immune systems of individuals and increase programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) expression in tumors. Thereby, increasing the effectiveness of immunotherapy and enhancing the host immune responses against cancer. The cancer-killing virus produces human sodium iodide symporter (hNIS), a protein that enables imaging and monitoring viral replication and facilitates the destruction of cancer cells by the adding radioactive iodine.

Daneng Li, M.D., the principal investigator of the study and Assistant Professor of City of Hope’s Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, said: “Our previous research demonstrated that oncolytic viruses can stimulate the immune system to respond to and kill cancer, as well as stimulate the immune system to be more responsive to other immunotherapies, including checkpoint inhibitors.” 

Now is the time to further enhance the power of immunotherapy, and we believe CF33-hNIS has the potential to improve outcomes for our patients in their battle with cancer,” he added.

Yuman Fong, M.D., the key developer of the genetically modified virus and the Sangiacomo Family Chair in Surgical Oncology at City of Hope said, “Interestingly, the same characteristics that eventually make cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy or radiation treatment enhance the success of oncolytic viruses, such as CF33-hNIS. We are hoping to harness the promise of virology and immunotherapy for the treatment of a wide variety of deadly cancers.”

Imugene CEO Leslie Chong, M.D., said, “The dosing of the first patient in our Vaxinia study is a significant milestone for Imugene and clinicians faced with the challenge of treatment for metastatic advanced solid tumors. Professor Yuman Fong and the City of Hope team have provided outstanding research. In addition to the positive preclinical results, we’re incredibly eager to unlock the potential of Vaxinia and the oncolytic virotherapy platform.”

The U.S. component of the clinical trial has been conducted under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigational new drug (IND) process after receiving FDA IND clearance in December 2021.


Pooja Toshniwal Paharia

Dr. Pooja Toshniwal Paharia is a Consultant Oral and Maxillofacial Physician and Radiologist, M.DS (Oral Medicine and Radiology) from Mumbai. She strongly believes in evidence-based radiodiagnosis and therapeutic regimens for benign, potentially malignant, or malignant lesions and conditions either arising from the oral and maxillofacial structures or manifesting in the associated regions.

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