Researchers Modify Common Flu Virus to Attack Pancreatic Cancer

Source: Queen Mary, University of London

Summary: According to an early study, a modified flu virus has now been used in experiments to successfully inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer.

Every year around 9,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The disease is particularly aggressive and has the lowest survival rate of all cancers – fewer than 5% of patients diagnosed survive for 5 years or more. The reasons behind the poor survival rates include late diagnosis of the disease and the cancer’s rapid development of resistance to current therapies. To avoid this drug resistance, the use of mutated viruses has emerged as a promising new strategy for attacking cancers in a more targeted way. According to an early study done by researchers from the Queen Mary, University of London, a modified common flu virus can be used in experiments to successfully inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer. The new modified virus specifically infects and kills pancreatic cancer cells, causing few side effects in nearby healthy tissue. The study is funded by the charity Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund. The research findings were published in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

Flu Virus Modified to treat pancreatic cancer

Dr. Gunnel Halldén, Queen Mary University of London Credit: Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund

The research team took advantage of a unique feature of pancreatic cancer cells – the presence of a specific molecule called alpha v beta 6 (αvβ6) on the surface (not found in normal cells). They modified the common flu virus to display an additional small protein on its outer coat that recognizes and binds to αvβ6 – molecules. Once the virus enters the cancer cell, the virus replicates, producing many copies of itself prior to bursting out of the cell and thereby destroying it in the process. The newly released viral copies can then bind onto neighboring cancer cells and repeat the same cycle, eventually removing the tumor mass altogether. The researchers tested the viruses on human pancreatic cancer cells, which had been grafted onto mice, and found that they inhibited cancer growth. Researchers suggest that this technique could become a promising new treatment for patients with the aggressive disease, and in combination with existing chemotherapy may improve survival rates.

Lead researcher Dr. Gunnel Halldén explains, “Currently, we are seeking new funds to support further development into clinical trials within the next two years. With this funding in place, early phase trials will usually take about five years to determine whether or not the therapy is safe and effective.”

More Information: Y. K. Stella Man et al, “The Novel Oncolytic Adenoviral Mutant Ad5-3Δ-A20T Retargeted to αvβ6 Integrins Efficiently Eliminates Pancreatic Cancer Cells”, Molecular Cancer Therapeutics (2018). DOI: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-17-0671

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