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A cancer treatment that hopefully goes viral

15 June 2022 7:15 PM
Digital technology

A cancer treatment that uses a virus to target and infect cancer cells

Vaxinia or CF 33 is a modified pox virus that is part of a new type of virus known as oncolytic virus. It targets colon, lung, breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

It will infect and then replicate itself inside a cancer cell before killing it. It also stimulates the immune system to identify the cancer cell as been one the body should destroy, so that even cells it does not infect will be targeted. Finally it makes the cancer cell absorb a tracer chemical, which allows for better imaging to spot where the cancer cells are in the body to track growth or decline and to allow for radiation therapy to be used if needed to better target the area that contains the tumour.

First human trials now underway

If a pox virus rings a bell, it's because it is from the family of viruses that were first used to create a vaccine that eventually led us to eradicate smallpox. A deactivated-virus vaccine is inert and intended to trigger the body to identify it so that should the actual virus infect the body it will be attacked. The new mRNA vaccines used for Covid use our healthy cells to create the markers of the corona virus to allow our body to identify and attack the actual virus.

This trial uses a virus that works like other viruses but have been modified to both target only cancer cells and do work to help the body identify other cancer cells.

One of the names to remember should this prove to be as encouraging as the early results suggest is Yuman Fong, his 30 years of research have led to this human trial. If successful the company Imugene will be a name to watch and a share to consider.

This comes after 30 years of research but it is a discovery that is over a century old. Doctors noted in the early 1900s that cancer patients with tumours that were unlucky enough to also contract a viral infection saw the tumours sometimes shrink as a consequence, the catch was that usually the cancer and the infection proved too much to allow patients to recover even though the cancer became less of an issue. The most unexpected case was a woman in Italy who was being treated for cancer but that had also been bitten by a dog with rabies. The rabies vaccine was given to treat the rabies infection but it also reportedly cleared her cervical cancer and remained that way for another eight years.

Medicine unfortunately has no shortage of stories of hope that turn out to be lucky only for some or hard to reproduce, it has taken till now for us to get to the point where we are ready for human trials.

Helping the body find Cancer cells

This is not the only encouraging cancer related news, another small study looking to treat rectal cancer used a drug that reacts to cancer cells to allow the patient’s own T cells to recognise the cancer cells and kill them. Only 18 patients took part who expected they may still need to get radiation, chemotherapy or surgery after the treatment, but after getting a dose about once a month for six months all reported that their cancer had reduced to being undetectable. It remains to be seen if it also keeps the cancer from returning but after two years it appears to still be successful.

Searching for bacterial infections and fighting cancer

Other research also looking to enable the body’s own T cells to better find and destroy cells that had become infected with bacteria allowed them to discover not only that the cells could find and detect the cells with bacteria but that they could find cancer cells too. Further research showed that those T cells could find many types of cancer cells and so there is ongoing research to better enable a person’s T cells to develop or replicate the cancer fighting abilities

Bacteria fighting cancers

We are covered inside and out with very important bacteria that help us thrive, but those that are deadly to us get most news coverage. Another set may also help in dealing with cancer. Using bacteria to target and infect cancer cells can use the cancer cells to reproduce and spread to other cancer cells.

Viruses that deliver hard to supply drugs

There are drugs that are either very useful or very toxic to certain cells, but are either hard to administer or harmful when applied indiscriminately. Virus may once again be the answer. By modifying the virus to only target a specific cell type, the virus could work as a tiny syringe, attaching itself to the cell and injecting the drug.

This range of developing therapies offer a boost to the current options that while attempting to be specific still affect healthy cells. Combining these options could not only make cancer treatment more effective it will hopefully also make treatment much less taxing for patients.

Good medicine does not always mean good business

If the trials prove successful, you can imagine that the interest in Imugene the company that has developed and patented these types of therapies will not only be set to rise quickly but possibly acquired by another company that would want to make the most from significant profits it could generate.

To be fair to who and why research is sponsored in the first place is that businesses hope to discover something that will earn a good return and make enough to fund the next area of research. Most research is expensive, time consuming and often does not result in anything that will recover the research costs let alone make a profit.

Should this be a gold mine, is it acceptable for the patent owner to look to make as much as it can from it?

Society will have some impact on this but ultimately regulators will need to determine the acceptable levels. A lot of research is being paid for by US companies in part because regulators allow businesses to earn the maximum they can from their patents.

Making a life saving treatment affordably available is not a simple calculation. Cancer doesn't discriminate between developed or developing economies and so raises the question if those in rich countries should pay more just because they can or what to do if someone decides to travel to a poor country that has low cost treatment to save money.

Like most solutions to long standing problems that face humanity, they tend to come with new challenges that are likely to be long standing problems facing humanity.

For those that can beat cancer as a consequence of this, they will gladly face those new challenges.

15 June 2022 7:15 PM
Digital technology

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