Modified herpes virus shows promise killing off cancer cells as London patient sees disease vanish

A close up of cancer cells (Stock image) (Getty Images)
A close up of cancer cells (Stock image) (Getty Images)

A modified herpes virus has shown promise in killing off cancer cells in early stage clinical trials, as one London patient claimed the treatment completely cured the disease.

Scientists say the injection, which contains a weakened form of the herpes simplex virus, could offer a lifeline to people with advanced cancers.

Three out of nine patients treated with the injection, known as RP2, saw their tumours shrink.

A further seven out of 30 who received both Rp2 and the immunotherapy nivomulab also benefitted from treatment. Of the seven who saw a benefit, six remained progression-free at 14 months.

Krzysztof Wojkowski, 39, a builder from West London, was among the patients who took part in the ongoing phase one safety trial. He was diagnosed with type of salivary gland cancer in May 2017.

After multiple surgeries, he was told that there were no treatment options left, before being given the opportunity to join the trial at The Royal Marsden in 2020.

He said: "I was told there were no options left for me and I was receiving end of life care, it was devastating, so it was incredible to be given the chance to join the trial at The Royal Marsden, it was my final lifeline.

"I had injections every two weeks for five weeks which completely eradicated my cancer. I've been cancer free for two years now, it's a true miracle, there is no other word to describe it.

"I've been able to work as a builder again and spend time with my family, there's nothing I can't do."

The genetically engineered virus is injected directly into tumours and works to multiply cancer cells to burst them from within. It also blocks a protein knows as CTLA-4, enhancing the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells.

All patients involved in the trial had very advanced cancers which had failed to respond to, or were not eligible for, standard of care options.

Study leader Professor Kevin Harrington, professor of biological cancer therapies at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and consultant oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said the treatment could deliver a “one-two punch” against cancers by destroying them from within and enabling the immune system to fight them.

“Our initial trial findings suggest that a genetically engineered form of the herpes virus could potentially become a new treatment option for some patients with advanced cancers – including those who haven’t responded to other forms of immunotherapy.

“I am keen to see if we continue to see benefits as we treat increased numbers of patients.”