Infecting Just One Tumor with a Virus Could Boost the Systemic Effectiveness of Cancer Immunotherapy

“A Ludwig Cancer Research study suggests that the clinical efficacy of checkpoint blockade, a powerful new strategy to harness the immune response to treat cancers, might be dramatically improved if combined with oncolytic virotherapy, an investigational intervention that employs viruses to destroy tumors.

“Published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the study evaluated a combination therapy in which the Newcastle disease virus (NDV), a bird virus not ordinarily harmful to humans, is injected directly into one of two melanoma tumors implanted in mice, followed by an antibody that essentially releases the brakes on the immune response. The researchers report that the combination induced a potent and systemically effective anti-tumor immune response that destroyed the non-infected tumor as well. Even tumor types that have hitherto proved resistant to checkpoint blockade and other immunotherapeutic strategies were susceptible to this combined therapy.”

Editor’s Note: This story is about research that was performed in mice. For that reason, we cannot assume that similar results would happen for humans. However, viruses like the one explored here are already being used in people. To learn more about immunotherapy—cancer treatments that use the immune system to fight tumors—visit our Melanoma Basics.

New Therapies Targeting Cancer could Change Everything

“In the summer of 2012, a year after his wife had died of lung cancer, Michael Harris scraped open an old mole on his back and it would not stop bleeding. The doctors said he had stage 4 melanoma, with a virtually inoperable tumor, and that patients in his condition typically lived about eight months. By last June, the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs.

“At that point Harris joined a clinical trial at Georgetown University, one of scores that have sprung up around the country to test a new class of cancer drugs called immune-checkpoint inhibitors. Two weeks after his first infusion, Harris’s primary tumor was fading, along with the black cancerous beads around it. A month later, his liver and lungs were clean.”

Decade-Long Survival Possible after Ipilimumab

“A pooled analysis of data from studies of ipilimumab in patients with advanced melanoma shows that the immune checkpoint inhibitor can induce lengthy responses, with some patients still alive after nearly 10 years.”