IND214: Conducting world-first clinical trial of novel viral cancer therapy

Canadian researchers have launched the world’s first clinical trial of a novel investigational therapy that uses a combination of two viruses to attack and kill cancer cells, and stimulate an anti-cancer immune response.

The Canadian Cancer Trials Group will oversee the trial.

"The Canadian Cancer Trials Group is very pleased to conduct this trial, which offers a potential new therapeutic approach for cancer patients that has been developed by Canadian researchers," said Dr. Janet Dancey, Director, Canadian Cancer Trials Group and professor in the Department of Oncology at Queen's University. Previous research by this team and others worldwide suggests that this approach could be very powerful, and could have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy and radiation, although it will take years to rigorously test through this trial and others.

The therapy was jointly discovered and is being developed by David Stojdl (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, University of Ottawa), Brian Lichty (McMaster University) and John Bell (The Ottawa Hospital, University of Ottawa), and their respective research teams and colleagues. The clinical trial, which is funded by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and co-ordinated by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, a national program of the Canadian Cancer Society, is expected to enroll up to 79 patients at four participating centres across Canada – Ottawa Hospital, Juravinski Cancer Centre, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and BCCA Vancouver. Up to 24 patients will receive one of the viruses and the rest will receive both, two weeks apart.

The idea of using viruses to treat cancer has been around for more than a century, with sporadic reports of cancer patients experiencing remarkable recoveries after viral infections. However, it is only in recent years that viral therapy has begun to be developed and tested in a rigorous way. Drs. Bell, Lichty and Stojdl began investigating viral therapies for cancer nearly 15 years ago when they worked together at The Ottawa Hospital.

“We found that when normal cells become cancerous, it’s like they are making a deal with the devil," explains Dr. Bell, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at the University of Ottawa. "They acquire genetic mutations that allow them to grow very quickly, but these same mutations also make them more susceptible to viruses."