In a historic first, an experimental cancer-killing drug has been administered to the first human test subject ever, with the aim of finding if it's safe for use in humans, and effective in killing off cancerous tumours.
The drug, tentatively named CF33-hNIS is a genetically engineered virus that targets and kills cancer-causing cells and tumours. The name of the drug candidate is Vaxinia.
CF33-hNIS is an "oncolytic virus" which was genetically modified to target, infect, and kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched.
CF33-hNIS is classified as a "chimeric vaccinia poxvirus" and it was developed by Professor Yuman Fong, Chairman of the Sangiacomo Family in Surgical Oncology at the City of Hope hospital in the United States of America.
Oncolytic viruses, by design, target and selectively kill tumour cells, while simultaneously stimulating the immune system to act against cancerous tissue.
How Does The Cancer-Killing Drug Work?
In the case of CF33-hNIS, the modified pox virus works by entering cells and duplicating itself. Eventually, the infected cell bursts, releasing thousands of new virus particles that act as antigens, stimulating the immune system to attack nearby cancer cells.
The efficacy of CF33-hNIS has been proven in animal testing, according to the City of Hope Hospital.
The drug has been proved to use the body's own defenses - the immune system - to seek and destroy cancer cells. The drug was cleared for human trials in December 2021, under the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The drug was developed at the City of Hope cancer care and research center in Los Angeles, USA in tandem with efforts from Australian biotech company Imugene.
According to Daneng Li, oncologist at the City of Hope hospital, oncolytic viruses can stimulate the immune system to kill cancer cells as well as to provide improved response to other immunotherapy treatments.
When Will The Drug Be Available For Cancer Patients?
Not for another two years, at least. The human trials are currently at their early stage, and the trials are aimed at first determining whether the drug is safe for use in humans, and only second if they can be used to actively kill cancer cells.
The trial is expected to take at least two years, and will be spread over many test sites. The trial will adminster CF33 to over 100 patients suffering from cancer who have tried at least TWO other standard treatment procedures.
Lab tests on mice have returned promising results according to Dr. Susanne Warner, who led a team testing CF33 on mice.
If replicated in humans, the virus will recruit the immune system to fight against existing cancer cells and be prepared to kill any new cancer cells that may pop up.
If the early-stage test results are positive, with no adverse effects on patients from CF33-hNIS, the virus will be paired with pembrolizumab, an existing antibody treatment that's used in immunotherapy.
The virus also produces human sodium iodide symporter (hNIS), a protein that lets researchers image, monitor, and track its replication. This also provides doctors a means to damage cancer cells further by adding radioactive iodine.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)