Researchers at McMaster University are creating an innovative prostate cancer therapy thanks to a $5 million grant from the Movember Foundation.
Led by associate professor, Brian Lichty, they are developing one of two viruses specially engineered to train the body to attack its own prostate cancer cells. It’s known as immunotherapy, one of the most promising recent developments in cancer research. Because our immune systems don’t do a very good job of killing cancer cells, doctors give them a boost using special viruses.
Lichty’s team is creating one of these special viruses that’s genetically engineered to seek out identifying markers on prostate cancer cells. The virus will find the cells and trigger the body to attack them without attacking healthy cells. Then, says Lichty, a second virus that’s being developed by a research team in Ottawa, will come in and finish the job, “That second virus is given systemically and it goes around and finds tumours wherever they are, infects them and destroys them, but also boosts the immune response against the tumour so that the patient doesn’t progress and relapse.”
The research is still in its early stages but because of the substantial grant, they will be able to carry it through to clinical trials. Lichty expects the treatment will be ready for testing with prostate cancer patients in the next three years, “that’s really quite rare. Not often can we take something literally from the bench behind me to the patient at the Juravinski or whatever other cancer centre.”
Lichty and his team are currently doing clinical trials with two very similar viruses that are engineered to target other types of cancer. So far, few side effects have been noted.