This week’s scientists dosed the first patient in a small clinical trial of an experimental cancer treatment that relies on a new kind of ally. The therapy uses a virus to selectively kill cancer cells while boosting the body’s immune response to cancer. The hope is that this therapy can help people with advanced solid tumor cancer when combined with other existing drugs.
The CF33-hNIS virus, also known as Vaxinia, was created by researchers at the City of Hope National Medical Center in California. It is now being jointly developed with the company Imugene Limited.
Vaxinia is billed as an oncolytic virus, preferentially targeting and infecting tumor cells. Scientists have been hopeful about using these types of viruses to kill cancer cells for over a century directly, but so far, with limited success. In recent years, some teams have decided to explore a slightly different plan of attack. This genetically modified virus not only infects and damages cancer cells but also forces these cells to become more recognizable to the immune system.
In early animal and laboratory experiments, the virus has been shown to reduce the size of colon, lung, breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer tumors. The researchers hope this strategy will allow other treatments that boost our immune response to cancer cells to be more effective, particularly against hard-to-target solid tumors. These treatments are known collectively as immunotherapy.
“Now is the time to extend the power of immunotherapy further, and we believe CF33-hNIS has the potential to improve outcomes for our patients in their fight against cancer,” said lead researcher Daneng Li, an assistant professor of the study. City of Hope’s Department Department. of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, in a statement.
Vaxinia will be tested in a Phase I study of 100 cancer patients with metastatic or advanced solid tumors who have tried at least two other treatments. Groups receive Vaxinia alone or in combination with pembrolizumab, an immunotherapy drug.
Phase I trials explicitly test an experimental treatment’s safety and optimal dose, not to prove that a therapy works definitively. But the researchers will track over the next few years whether patients appear to be responding to Vaxinia, whether their cancers are progressing, and their survival rate over the next few years — data that will make or break plans for further clinical research. The trial is expected to be completed in early 2025.
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Editor’s Note: The release dates in this article are based in the US but will be updated with local Australian dates as we learn more.