My long-standing readers will know that for years I have taught with a passion that “smart therapies” are the way to go.
To summarily reject scientific and technical method and substitute prejudice and unfounded belief in folklore is just plain silly. We can all agree that the excesses of medical science are deplorable and dehumanizing. But newer and cleverer ways to beat cancer are what we need and many scientific breakthroughs are just around the proverbial corner.
The point is that, what really works is letting Nature lend a helping hand. That does NOT mean to eschew anything technical or from a lab and white-coated scientists. It means figuring out what Nature does best and copying that.
I have written many times that cancer is a natural process which has run amok. Tumors are not some alien growth that landed from outer space. A cancer is part of the patient’s own body. It only needs a clearer understanding of how it got that way and we can take sensible corrective measures.
Now here is a startling new breakthrough with enormous promise but from the very heart of advanced techno-medicine.
It centers around our understanding that cancer cells do not behave like normal cells. They don’t metabolize in the same way. Moreover, cancer cells lie outside the immune system borders. Cancer cells can’t actually defend themselves very well.
They are… well, vulnerable!
Now scientists have cottoned on to the idea of small cunning organisms which can attack cancer cells without attacking healthy tissue.
It exploits this loophole in cancer metabolism.
We now have what are called “oncolytic viruses”. You know what a virus is (a little piece of bad news, wrapped up in protein, as one wit put it!). Oncolytic means cancer-dissolving.
And that’s what happens. The viruses are allowed to invade the body; they attack and kill cancer cells but leave normal healthy cells unharmed.
The secret to this is that these strains of viruses do not replicate by getting into the DNA, as most viruses do, and where they can’t be dislodged. Instead they replicate in the cytoplasm of the cell and can be picked off by any competent immune function, such as is possessed by every healthy, normal cell.
Several types of oncolytic viruses have been developed to date. The most clinically advanced poxvirus is probably JX-594 — during a Phase II trial, 5 of 7 evaluable patients exhibited stable disease after taking JX-594 combined with the multikinase inhibitor Nexavar. A separate Phase III trial of the herpes virus OncoVEX GM-CSF found that 14 of 17 patients with head & neck cancer developed stable disease, and the same proportion of patients were alive and disease-free after more than two years of follow-up.
It’s true these are very small numbers. But what is exciting is that this process can take place at all, even in just one individual, never mind a few!
The most promising form of oncolytic virus is called reovirus. Reovirus is a virus with no known associated disease. Reovirus is found everywhere in nature and has been isolated from untreated sewage, river, and stagnant waters. Exposure to reovirus is common in humans, with half of all children by the age of twelve having been exposed and nearly 100 percent testing positive by adulthood.
As I said, reovirus replicates in the cytoplasm and therefore does not integrate into the cell’s DNA. The reovirus kills the host cell, thus releasing more new viruses to infect new cancer cells and the process can replicate over and over. But when normal cells are infected with reovirus, the immune system can neutralize the virus.
Not all human cancer cells are susceptible to the pathway used by the reovirus; but the majority are.
It has even been demonstrated in animal studies that reovirus is capable of treating metastatic cancer, providing the mouse immune system is functioning.
Now the view is to combine reovirus with chemotherapy (yes, I know: when will they dump the chemo part? No time soon, I fear) But it may be that the chemo does truly help, in that it prevents the cancer cells fighting back against the reovirus.
Calgary-based Oncolytics Biotech has developed this biologic agent, Reolysin, from naturally occurring reovirus, and it is showing extremely good results in human trials. Many head & neck cancer patients treated with a combination of Reolysin and chemotherapy to date have experienced dramatic and prolonged tumor shrinkage, without increasing adverse side effects.