Australian scientists create virus that kills cancer
EXCLUSIVE: It ended the scourge of smallpox 200 years ago now the cowpox virus is being used to kill cancer.
Scientists have engineered a new virus based on cowpox that is able to kill every known type of cancer cell in a petrie dish.
The treatment called CF33 has been found to shrink tumours in mice and it is hoped it will be trialled on Australian breast and other cancer patients early next year.
Engineered by US cancer expert Professor Yuman Fong, the treatment is being developed by Australia biotech company Imugene, which has licensed the innovation.
Professor Fong is in Australia this week to meet Imugene representatives and plan the clinical trials.
The so-called "basket study" to be run in Australia and other countries will enrol patients with triple negative breast cancer, melanoma, lung cancer, bladder, gastric and bowel cancer.
Researchers believe this will show where the treatment is most effective faster than just testing in one cancer.
Just because the treatment works in mice does not mean it will be successful in humans and early phase human trials are known as the valley of death for many medical breakthroughs.
However, Professor Fong is hopeful because a series of other more specific cancer killing viruses are already proving effective in fighting cancer in humans.
US scientists have turned the virus that causes the common cold into a treatment to kill brain cancer - in some patients the cancer disappeared for years before returning, in others it shrank the tumours considerably.
A modified form of the herpes or cold sore virus called Imlygic or T-Vec is being used to treat melanoma. It helps the body's immune system recognise and destroy tumours and then finds other melanoma cells throughout the body and kills them.
Australian Researcher Associate professor Tom John from the Olivia Newton John Cancer Research Institute recently tested another virus treatment in combination with immunotherapy Keytruda on 11 lung cancer patients and 3 patients saw their tumours shrink.
"The whole field is an amazing place to be," he said.
"There was evidence that viruses could kill cancer from the early 1900s when people vaccinated against rabies had their cancer disappear, they went into remission," Professor Fong said.
Previous research using viruses to kill cancers failed because the viruses used were too toxic, other treatments are only able to deal with cancers in specific cells like skin or liver tissue.
"The problem was if you made the virus toxic enough to kill cancer you were worried it would also kill man," he said.
Professor Fong's said cowpox was known to be harmless in humans and he mixed it with various other viruses that testing showed could kill cancer.
The breakthrough treatment will see cancer patients have the engineered virus injected directly into their tumours where it is expected to infect the cancer cells and explode them.
The virus is then expected to alert the immune system that there are cancer cells in the body and prompt it to seek out and kill other diseased cells.
Sydney social worker Jess Braude was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in July 2017 and she says the potential new treatment will give new hope for those with the cancer.
This cancer strikes younger women and survival rates are low.
"Three of the people I was going through treatment with have passed away because there is no targeted treatment," Ms Braude said.
Ms Braude was lucky because she knew she carried the cancer causing BRACA2 gene and was having regular check-ups which found her disease early and she's now in remission.
"It's critical to find new treatments, there are too many young women passing away from this disease," she said.
The idea of using a virus to kill cancer was "amazing", she said.
Brisbane woman Natalie Flynn received the "absolutely devastating" news she had stage three, grade three breast cancer just two months ago.
Since having a double mastectomy, lymph node removal and going through the "brutal" regime of chemotherapy, Ms Flynn said "anything would be better than this hell".
She said she would "absolutely" volunteer for the cowpox virus trial, in the hopes that it may be a cure.