Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cancer killing virus...Are you kidding me?!

I couldn't believe my eyes when I stumbled across this nugget online. Why on Earth hasn't this been plastered over the front page of every newspaper, the top of every science feed list or on billboards along the highway!
Before I get ahead of myself and incite an outrage, let me briefly tell you what I understood of the article.
At Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden, Prof Magnus Essand and his team have created a virus that eats cancerous cells. When a healthy cell is infected by a virus, it dies to prevent the spread of the virus to other cells. Cancerous cells change this behaviour and prevent their sacrifice (this is what make cancerous cells evil). But if a virus can be created to take advantage of this very feature of a cancerous cell, it would enter the cell, multiply uncontrollably and cause the cell to 'lyse' or explode, thereby spreading the cancer-munching virus (babies?) to other cancerous cells. This isn't a new idea apparently!
Oddly enough, in the 1890s, an Italian clinician found that prostitutes with cervical cancer showed alleviated symptoms when vaccinated against rabies. He then proceeded to roam the countryside injecting women with dog saliva. (Sigh!). In the 1900s, a 14 old year old boy with lymphatic cancer, found his swollen liver and spleen return to normal size after catch chicken pox. (and you never thought that you would find a bright side to chicken pox!).
The virus that Prof. Essand and his team have is said to attack neuroendocrine tumours (the same kind that assailed Steve Jobs). The virus, however, is in cold storage, refrigerated until it can go into human trials.
To be reasonable, the virus' success in rats doesn't necessarily translate into human viability, but that's what human trials are meant for! Money, is a blocker (surprise surprise). They need 1 million pounds to go through phase 1 and 2 of the trials and 2 million pounds to develop a better variety (I'm not really sure what this is even supposed to mean. Doesn't the virus either do its job or not? what does it get better at with an additional million pounds worth of research?) In any case, the virus remains unnamed and the team has agreed to name it after the person who donates a million pounds. I quote verbatim from the article
To donate money to Professor Magnus Essand's research on viral treatments for neuroendocrine cancer, send contributions to Uppsala University, The Oncolytic Virus Fund, Box 256, SE-751 05 Uppsala, Sweden, or visit Contributions will be acknowledged in scientific publications and in association with the clinical trial. A donation of £1 million will ensure the virus is named in your honour

I also found another rather interesting tidbit. The details of the virus have already been published. This no longer allows them to file a patent (who would have thunk!). Without a patent, a pharma company that would have ordinarily take over the expense of the 3rd phase of human trials in order to profit from subsequent manufacturing and distribution when the drug goes commercial, won't think of investing the money. Devoid of an avenue to accrue profits, pharma companies would shrink away into the darkness. Unless....unless the team makes a modification to the virus, and redoes the entire process, this time taking care to file a patent before a publication. Politics in a nasty business.
Here's hoping that the virus does succeed in human trials, that the team does get the money it seeks to continue their research and that patients with NETs (Neuroendocrine tumours) have a lantern bobbing brightly on the horizon.
If this were to succeed, I would be very excited to see how the results could be modified to deal with other kinds of cancers....could we truly be on the cusp of a breakthrough?
Cheering on the Uppsala team, here's wishing them all the very best of luck!