A team of Spanish scientists has developed a genetically modified virus that can fight advanced pancreatic cancer. Such an infectious agent is known as an oncolytic virus. In the first phase of the study with human volunteers, the therapy strategy proved to be safe and promising in combating this type of tumor.
Published in scientific journal Journal of ImmunoTherapy of Cancerthe study on the use of genetically modified viruses was developed by researchers from the Institute of Biomedical Research of Bellvitge (Idibell) and the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO), both in Spain.
Treatment with NCV-01 [nome oficial dos vírus] is feasible and has an acceptable safety”, the study authors explain. Now, it is necessary to verify the effectiveness of the treatment against pancreatic cancer in new stages of clinical studies.
How does the genetically modified virus work?
It is worth explaining that oncolytic viruses are infectious agents genetically modified to recognize and attack tumor cells. This is an innovative type of immunotherapy with an established history in the treatment of some types of cancer, but adapting it was a challenge against tumors in the pancreas.
This is because, when the cancer is already in the metastasis phase, it is necessary for the virus to be spread throughout the patient’s body. In these cases, the use of therapy is limited, as filtering in the liver and spleen can reduce the ability of the virus to act. In addition, widespread dissemination can lead to unwanted side effects.
Created in partnership with startup VCN Biosciences, the VCN-01 virus carries two important genetic modifications. First, it expresses a protein that prevents the virus from being retained in the liver and directs it to the tumor. Another advantage is a mutation that makes it “attracted” to the tumor and that ends up helping the immune system to defend the body.
Future of pancreatic cancer research
Currently, the prognosis—development of a condition—for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer is quite limited. According to the study authors, the median survival is less than one year. In this sense, new alternatives are needed, such as genetically modified viruses.
“The data obtained in this clinical trial show the safety and potential of immunotherapy with the NCV-01 virus,” explains Ramón Salazar, one of the authors of the study, in a statement. “These data have already been reviewed and a Phase 2 clinical trial with the same virus is expected to begin during the second half of 2022.”