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(Photo: Marcelo Leal / Unsplash)
Researchers at the City of Hope National Medical Center in California have created a virus that kills cancer cells and its first human trial is officially underway.

The CF33-hNIS virus (called Vaxinia) is an oncolytic virus, a genetically engineered variety that commonly targets cancer cells while ignoring healthy cells. But in addition to infecting and killing cancer cells, Vaxinia works overtime delivery specially designed white blood cells, known as CAR T cells, to solid tumors. While CAR T cells are vital for helping the body’s immune system recognize cancer cells as a threat, solid tumors have an immunosuppressive microenvironment that acts as barriers, preventing CAR T cells from entering and doing their job. By infecting solid tumors, Vaxinia can deliver CAR T cells to this environment and help the immune system fight cancer in the way it is thought to, while proactively killing cancer cells along the way.

“Our City of Hope team designed this CF33 oncolytic virus to do what it does so well. It enters the cancer cell, uses its own machine to replicate, and designs cancer cells to express the well-known CAR T cell target, CD19, “said Dr. Yuman Fong, a professor of surgical oncology at the City of Hope. statement.

A group of T cells (green and red) surrounding a cancer cell (blue). (Photo: National Health Institutes / Wikimedia Commons)

City of Hope has been working with biotechnology company Imugene Limited to develop Vaxinia since late 2020. While the two organizations tested Vaxinia in mice, they have not witnessed how the virus works in the human body – so far. The first human trial began last month and will continue until the end of 2024.

A total of 100 participants will receive treatment during Phase I. trial. Although they will all receive Vaxinia on the first and eighth day of the first part of the trial, some will receive it through IV, while others will receive direct tumor injections. In addition, some participants will undergo what is called ‘combination’ treatment using a medicine called pembrolizumab, which has been used in the past to treat specific cancers.

The study will help calibrate the ideal dose for adult patients and determine if Vaxinia is safe for human use. If the experiment is successful, Vaxinia may be made available to larger groups of participants – and even to daycare providers – in the future.

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