Oncolytic Viruses: A Promising New Option in Cancer Treatment


As part of its Speaking Out video series, Targeted Oncology spoke with Howard D. Edington, MD, about the benefits of using oncolytic viruses in cancer treatment.

The potential of oncolytic viruses as a novel approach to cancer treatment is exciting and offers a targeted approach that holds promise for overcoming treatment resistance and achieving durable responses in a range of malignancies.

Oncolytic viruses are an emerging class of cancer therapeutics that are specifically engineered viruses that infect and kill cancer cells. According to Howard D. Edington, MD, this technique offers patients a unique therapeutic option with several advantages over traditional methods.

“It is very well-tolerated. A number of patients that we have treated are not able to tolerate some of the other treatments that are currently available. So, in that regard, it allows them to get treatment that they can tolerate. That may or may not be the best treatment for what they have, but it may be the best option for what they have,” explained Edington, director of the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center at Allegheny Health Network.

Oncolytic viruses exert antitumor effects through a number of mechanisms of action, some of which include selective replication in tumor cells, induction of immunogenic cell death, and stimulation of host antitumor immunity.1

Unlike some treatments for cancer that come with harsh adverse effects, oncolytic viruses are often well-suited for patients who struggle with conventional therapies, making them a valuable option for elderly patients or those who are not the appropriate candidate for extremely aggressive treatments.

“We use it in conjunction with systemic therapy and in that instance, it may allow us to treat cancer that, surgically, would be very debilitating…It allows us to do stuff locally that surgery could not do, and also quite frankly, radiation could not do either,” said Edington.

Edington also discussed talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC), an injectable modified oncolytic herpes virus for intratumoral injection. T-VEC produces granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and enhances local and systemic antitumor immune responses.2

T-VEC was approved by the FDA on October 27, 2015, by the FDA, making it the first oncolytic virus therapy. The approval is indicated for the treatment of some patients with metastatic melanoma that cannot be surgically removed.

“The FDA-approved regimen that we currently use uses a virus that is a genetically engineered variant of the herpes type 1 virus. That particular virus is the one that is related to cold sores, which most of the North American population has been exposed to,” added Edington.

Edington shows the promise for using these genetically modified viruses in the future as they offer a well-tolerated treatment option for various cancer types as they can be used independently or given in combination with other treatments, including systemic therapy, to achieve better outcomes.

The field of oncolytic virus therapy is still developing. While Edington highlighted successful cases, he also explained that further research is needed to determine their long-term efficacy and potential challenges. Still, early results seem encouraging, suggesting that oncolytic viruses may become a powerful tool for the treatment of patients with cancer.

1. Macedo N, Miller DM, Haq R, Kaufman HL. Clinical landscape of oncolytic virus research in 2020. J Immunother Cancer. 2020;8(2):e001486. doi:10.1136/jitc-2020-001486
2. Ferrucci PF, Pala L, Conforti F, Cocorocchio E. Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC): An intralesional cancer immunotherapy for advanced melanoma. Cancers (Basel). 2021;13(6):1383. Published 2021 Mar 18. doi:10.3390/cancers13061383
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