Argentine scientists develop cancer-fighting virus to kill tumors. Liane Wimhurst reports.
Using a virus to fight cancer. Researchers in Argentina have developed a genetically-modified adenovirus. It's the kind that causes colds and conjunctivitis, but they've trained it to turn its viral strength on cancer It's called an oncolytic virus - a virus that seeks out and kills cancer cells. The idea isn't new; immunotherapy research has been around for more than a hundred years. But the scientists from the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Therapy in Buenos Aires believe they've made an important addition. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) DR. OSVALDO PODHJACER, CHIEF, LABORATORY OF MOLECULAR AND CELLULAR THERAPY AT FUNDACION INSTITUTO LELOIR IN BUENOS AIRES, SAYING: "We have prepared a virus with the ability to study everything that is characteristic of the tumour and to attack all the cells of the tumor. In other words, we have an approach different to what has been done to this day." Their virus, they say, attacks the surrounding stromal cells that support tumour growth. It's a development welcomed by fellow scientists. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR LAWRENCE YOUNG, PRO-VICE CHANCELLOR AT UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK, SAYING: "What they have done, however, which is a bit interesting is introduce a new bell or a new whistle, if you like, in terms of the virus, which is to also have an effect on some of the supporting cells. So one of the things that's very exciting about current cancer biology is an increased understanding of the fact that while you've got cancer cells and tumour cells, which are important targets; actually there's a lot of supporting cells around the cancer that also get modified in that environment and start to misbehave." New types of cancer therapies can spark a great deal of excitement This is important because it can translate into funds for further research But, scientists argue, new treatments such as immunotherapy should be greeted with caution. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR LAWRENCE YOUNG, PRO-VICE CHANCELLOR AT UNIVERSITY OF WARWICK, SAYING: "Some of those immune responses will target the tumour, some won't. And so the degree to which you can re-use these viruses is a problem because as you get an immune response to them, as soon as you then expose a patient to a second or third dose their immune system starts to think "wait a minute, we've seen that before, we're going to wipe it out". So these are very challenging therapies." In 2015 U.S. regulators and then the European Medicines Agency approved the use of a herpes virus to treat melanoma. It could pave the way for this breed of therapies to become part of mainstream cancer treatment.