A leading scientist is pioneering an innovative new treatment which uses viruses to kill breast cancer cells. The research could lead to a promising ‘viro-immunotherapy’ for patients with triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of the disease that currently has no targeted treatment options.
Around 15 per cent of breast cancers – over 7,500 cases per year in the UK – are found to be triple-negative, a particularly aggressive type of the disease that is more likely to spread to other parts of the body than other types. Triple-negative breast cancer lacks the three molecules which are used to classify breast cancers, meaning it cannot be treated with targeted drugs commonly used to treat other types of breast cancer, such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors for ER and PR-positive breast cancer, or Herceptin for HER2-positive breast cancer.
Dr Yaohe Wang, based at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, believes that the way viruses attack the body could be exploited to develop a breast cancer treatment he calls ‘viro-immunotherapy’.
When viruses attack the body, they find and infect specific cells in order to reproduce, which ultimately kills the cell. Dr Wang has engineered viruses which specifically target and kill cancer cells. This also has the double effect of stimulating the immune system to attack any other cancer cells, which could prevent the cancer coming back or spreading throughout the body after treatment.
With around £200,000 funding from research charity Breast Cancer Campaign, Dr Wang will modify viruses he has previously developed to treat other cancers. These viruses include genes which make proteins that are commonly found on the surface of triple-negative breast cancer cells, so making this viro-immunotherapy specific for triple-negative breast cancer.
Katherine Woods, Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, says:
“More than 7,500 women in the UK alone are diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer every year and there is no targeted treatment available for them. These women are left with very few treatment options, namely chemotherapy in addition to surgery or radiotherapy, and therefore it is essential we find new ways to treat this aggressive type of the disease.
“Dr Wang’s pioneering research could lead to an effective and safe ‘viro-immunotherapy’ treatment for triple-negative breast cancers, providing a much-needed new option to treat this form of the disease. This could ultimately save thousands of lives and bring us closer to our goal that by 2025, improved and more personalised treatments will reduce mortality from breast cancer by half.”
Dr Wang will start the three-year project by developing the bespoke viruses, after which they will be tested on lab-grown triple-negative breast cancer cells, as well as mice implanted with triple-negative breast cancer cells.
Source: Breast Cancer Campaign