In a first, an experimental cancer-killing has been administered to a human patient. The scientists are hopeful that the testing will ultimately reveal evidence of new alternatives for successfully fighting cancer tumors in people’s bodies.
The drug candidate, CF33-hNIS also known as Vaxinia, is an oncolytic virus. According to the scientists, it is a genetically modified virus that is designed to selectively infect and kill cancer cells while sparing healthy ones.
The modified pox virus works by entering cells and duplicating itself. After the infected cell bursts, releasing thousands of new virus particles that act as antigens, it stimulates the immune system to attack nearby cancer cells. Meanwhile, earlier research in animal models has revealed that the drug can harness the immune system in this way to hunt and destroy cancer cells, but up until now, no testing has been done in humans.
The co-developers of the drug – the City of Hope cancer care and research center in Los Angeles, and Australia-based biotech company Imugene announced recently that the first clinical trial in human patients is underway.
“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. We believe CF33-hNIS has the potential to improve outcomes for our patients,” City of Hope oncologist and principal investigator Daneng Li said. However, the outcome of CF33-hNIS whether it is safe for people to take depends on the first phase of the trial focusing on the safety and tolerability of the drug.
Once enrolled in the trial, these participants will receive low doses of the experimental treatment via direct injection or intravenously. According to the scientists, if early results are successful and CF33-hNIS is considered to be safe and well-tolerated, additional tests will investigate how the drug pairs with pembrolizumab, an existing antibody treatment already used in cancer immunotherapy.
“If the drug does turn out to be safe and well-tolerated, we could be looking at a powerful new tool for fighting tumors, described as a “game-changer because of how potent it is and because of its ability to recruit and activate immune cells,” according to surgical oncologist Susanne Warner, who previously led a team studying the effects of CF33 on tumors in mice.
Reportedly, if CF33-hNIS is successful, it stands to become only the second FDA-approved oncolytic virus therapy for cancer, after Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC), a modified version of the herpes simplex virus, which is used in the treatment of melanoma.