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Old 06-07-2009, 07:34 PM   #1
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Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 589
Drug made from virus extends patients' lives

A common virus which causes stomach upsets is giving hope to cancer patients - by boosting their immune system and blasting away tumours.
Almost 80 patients with advanced forms of liver cancer, head and neck tumours and breast cancer are taking part in trials using a drug made from the reovirus.

A number, who have struggled to benefit from chemotherapy, have seen astonishing results, with tumours shrinking and in one case disappearing altogether.

Experts say it is too soon to say if Reolysin is the 'magic bullet' that will kill off cancer, but they believe it may offer a way of extending the life of patients given a short time to live.

Reolysin appears to kill off cancer cells by rupturing their walls, creating a chain reaction of 'explosions' which rip through tumours. As the tumours shrink they become less harmful and more easily treatable by chemotherapy.

At the same time, Reolysin seems to 'wake up' the immune system so it can recognise cancer cells as invaders, prompting the body to mount an attack on harmful cells.

One liver cancer patient, Andrew McManus, 65, said last night: 'To put it bluntly, I could well be dead by now without this treatment.'

Reovirus infection occurs often in humans, but most cases are mild - causing a stomach upset. Its role in human disease is uncertain.

Canadian firm Oncolytics Biotech Inc, which created Reolysin, is working on trials with researchers from St James's Hospital in Leeds, the Royal Marsden Hospital in London and the Royal Surrey County Hospital.

The drug is administered intravenously via a drip, with a patient receiving eight fiveday courses of treatment spread over six months. The only side-effects appear to be a flu-like ache and a raised temperature.

Lead researcher Professor Alan Melcher said: 'We have had a few dramatic responses to Reolysin but we still have to be very cautious about getting up too much hope. We cannot say people have been cured. However, it is exciting and has got real potential.'

One man, Henry Nelson, 74, of Halifax, with cancer of the head and neck saw a lump the size of a tennis ball in his neck almost disappear after chemotherapy plus Reolysin.
Professor Melcher said: 'It is a completely different approach to treating cancer. It is not just another drug. It is a virus and it seems to be very well tolerated in combination with chemotherapy.

'There is no magic bullet with cancer, but these combinations seem to be working.'
Experts say larger trials are needed before Reolysin can be widely available to patients. That could take up to five years.

In UK trials, 15 head and neck cancer patients have been treated so far. Of 12 for whom results were available, five have had a partial shrinkage of their tumours and in four the disease stabilised for between two to six months.

Oncolytics also announced positive results from its other UK trials, for patients who have tumours which have failed to respond to standard therapy. Of 17, 15 experienced stable disease or better.

Liz Woolf, of Cancer Research UK, said 'If it proves successful in larger trials, the reovirus could one day become an effective new treatment to be used alongside chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery to benefit people with some types of cancer.
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