Scientists from the University of Surrey and Royal Surrey County Hospital took a naturally-occurring strain of the common cold, coxsackievirus (CVA21), and used it on 15 cancer patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC). The disease is the 10th most common cancer in the UK.
The patients were given CVA21 through a catheter in their bladders a week before they were scheduled to undergo surgery to remove their tumors.
Examining the samples after surgery, the scientists could see that the virus only targeted the cancerous cells, infecting them and then replicating itself, causing the cancer cells to rupture and die. Urine samples taken during the trial showed ‘shedding’ from the virus, which demonstrates that the replicated virus continued to target and attack other cancerous cells in the body.
NMIBC currently requires intrusive and lengthy treatment that is “ineffective and toxic in a proportion of patients,”study lead Hardev Pandha explained.
The cold virus appears to inflame the tumor, which prompts immune cells to target and kill the cancer cells. Normally, bladder tumors don’t have immune cells so the body’s immune system doesn’t attack the cancer.
The majority of the patients’ tumors were found to have cell death, and in one patient, there was no trace of the cancer found during surgery after just one week of treatment. No significant side effects were found in any of the patients.
“Oncolytic viruses such as the coxsackievirus could transform the way we treat cancer and could signal a move away from more established treatments such as chemotherapy,” Nicola Annels, Research Fellow at the University of Surrey, said.