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Herpes Virus Breakthrough in Mouth Cancer Treatment

Researchers have used a genetically engineered herpes virus to help treat patients suffering from mouth, neck, and head cancer. In a trial run by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, 17 patients were given injections of the virus, as well as being treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
     The cold sore virus, known as OncoVEX, was modified to multiply inside cancer cells but not in healthy ones. It would then burst and kill tu­mor cells, as well as releasing a human protein that would help stimulate patients’ im­mune systems. The virus was injected into cancer-affected lymph nodes of the patients, in up to 4 doses. Tumor shrinkage could be seen on scans for 14 pa­tients, and more than three quarters of the participants showed no trace of re­sidual cancer in their lymph nodes during subsequent surgery to remove them. More than 2 years later, more than three quarters of the patients in­volved in the study had not succumbed to the disease.
     ICR’s principle investigator Dr. Kevin Harrington said, “Around 35% to 55% of pa­tients given the standard che­motherapy and radiotherapy treatment typically relapse within 2 years, so these re­sults compare very favorably…this was a small study so the results should be interpreted with caution; however the very high rates of tumor response have led to the decision to take this drug into a large scale phase 3 trial.” The treatment’s side effects were mild to moderate, and most were thought to be the cause of the chemotherapy and ra­diotherapy.
(Source: British Dental Health Foundation, August 4, 2010)

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