Virus sent on seek-and-destroy mission against cancer

Drug-delivery technology is all about selectively killing disease while leaving healthy cells alone. Turns out, you can engineer a virus to do the same thing, according to a report in Technology Review. In an early-stage trial, 23 patients with metastatic cancers were injected with a new type of cancer-killing virus. Half of the patients saw their tumors stop growing, and a tumor even shrank in one patient. The results appear in the journal Nature.

The study seems to confirm viruses can selectively target cancer cells. The study was funded by Jennerex, a San Francisco biotech, which set out to find a virus that does not need to be injected directly into tumors, but can travel through the bloodstream on a seek-and-destroy mission. The result was JX-594, which is a strain of the vaccinia virus armed with GM-CSF, which triggers an immune attack against cancer cells. They also added a marker protein to track the virus's replication, Technology Review reports.

The effect, Jennerex CEO David Kirn told the magazine, was "a product that destroys tumors by multiple, complementary mechanisms." The technology is being tested in larger trials and recently completed a successful trial for liver cancer.

- read the report in Technology Review
- and the abstract in Nature