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Clinical trials are underway on a cancer-killing virus

Colon, lung, breast, ovarian, pancreatic — almost a million people will be diagnosed with one of these cancers in the coming year. Can a virus fight them?

LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Calif. — Almost everyone knows someone who has battled cancer. Standard care involves chemo and radiation, medication, and immunotherapies. Now, for the first time ever, clinical trials are underway testing a new virus that targets deadly cancer cells and wipes them out.

Colon, lung, breast, ovarian, pancreatic — almost a million people will be diagnosed with one of these cancers in the coming year.

“People over the decades have been trying to find viruses to kill certain types of cancers for a long time," said City of Hope surgical oncologist,  Yuman Fong, MD. "What we decided was that rather than doing that, why don't we just find viruses that kill any type of cancer?”

Dr. Fong has been working for decades to find a virus that stimulates the immune system to track down all types of cancer. Now, he thinks he’s created it.

“We actually created a panel of brand-new viruses and then, we screened it against the NCI 60 – that stands for the National Cancer Institute panel of 60 cancers that generally, any new cancer therapies are screened against,” Dr. Fong explained.

The virus, called Vaxinia, also makes the cancer cells more recognizable to the immune system, making it easier for immunotherapies to target the invading cancer cells.

“We are convinced that by having this virus, we will not only be able to directly attack the cancer and stimulate our immune system, but we will be able to partner with other agents that also do that and together, grow therapies for cancers that, until now, have no treatment," Dr. Fong said. 

The phase one trial, focused on safety, is now underway in City of Hope institutions across the country. At the time of this interview, six patients with metastatic or advanced solid tumors had been given a low dose of the virus. This phase of the study aims to recruit a hundred patients who have had a least two prior lines of standard care treatment, such as chemo and radiation, but have not seen any positive results from those standard treatments.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Ann Sterling at ann.sterling@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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