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Trial Testing Engineered Virus as Cancer Treatment

Vesicular stomatitis virus

Vesicular stomatitis virus (CDC.gov)

16 August 2017. A clinical trial is underway testing a genetically engineered virus to kill cancer cells, then stimulate the immune system to treat solid tumor cancers. The study’s first site is Sanford Health, a health care system in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and other states and cities.

The clinical trial is testing a therapy developed by biopharmaceutical company Vyriad in Rochester, Minnesota. Vyriad is a spin-off enterprise from the Mayo Clinic, founded by physicians and researchers from the institution. The company licenses discoveries from Mayo Clinic by molecular medicine professor Stephen Russell — a company founder and its CEO — and colleagues, including treatments for cancer derived from the vesicular stomatitis virus, a virus shaped something like a bullet that affects cattle, but can also infect human cells.

In its natural state, the vesicular stomatitis virus rarely causes serious illnesses in humans, but the Vyriad technology engineers the organism, adding two genes to turn the virus into a cancer therapy. One of the genes adds a natural anti-viral protein to protect healthy human cells from infection, while the second gene adds a protein from the thyroid gland that allows physicians to track the virus as it works in tumor sites.

Vyriad says the engineered virus works first by infecting and killing some tumor cells, then inducing the immune system to kill the remaining cells. The virus initially seeds an infection in the tumor that infects and kills some of the cancer cells. As the infected tumor cells die, they invoke the immune system to respond, attacking any remaining uninfected tumor cells. The virus is also engineered to spread to other tumor sites, where the process is repeated.

The early-stage clinical trial, conducted by Vyriad, is primarily testing the safety of the treatments, including tolerated dosage levels. The study team is recruiting 42 individuals diagnosed with malignant solid tumors that are not responding to conventional cancer treatments. Participants will receive a single dose of the engineered virus, injected into the tumor, and will be tracked for 6 weeks, monitoring any reactions to the virus as well as clinical benefits. In addition to Sioux Falls, the trial is being held at sites in Miami and Dallas.

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