For the first time, researchers have found that an engineered virus injected into the blood of cancer patients selectively targets tumor cells, while leaving healthy ones alone.
The small trial—involving only 23 patients—could be a first step in transforming cancer therapies.
Scientists at the University of Ottawa modified vaccinia, known to the world as the basis for the smallpox vaccine, and injected the new virus, called JX-954, into the bodies of patients whose cancer had spread to multiple organs.
In six of the eight patients who received the highest doses of JX-954, cancerous tumors either stabilized or shrunk, stopping them from spreading further.
Nick Lemoine of Cancer Research UK told the BBC:
"This new study is important because it shows that a virus previously used safely to vaccinate against smallpox in millions of people can now be modified to reach cancers through the bloodstream - even after cancer has spread widely through the patient's body."
Researchers are pinning their hopes on fine-tuning viral therapies for cancer because the chemotherapy treatments that are widely used today take a devastating toll on the patient’s body.
The study was first reported in the journal Nature.