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Concept: Oncolytic virus


The field of oncolytic virus therapy, the use of live, replicating viruses for the treatment of cancer, has expanded rapidly over the past decade. Preclinical models have clearly demonstrated anticancer activity against a number of different cancer types. Several agents have entered clinical trials and promising results have led to late stage clinical development for some viruses. The early clinical trials have demonstrated that oncolytic viruses by themselves have potential to result in tumor regression. Engineering of viruses to express novel genes have also led to the use of these vectors as a novel form of gene therapy. As a result, interest in oncolytic virus therapy has gained traction. The following review will focus on the first wave of clinical translation of oncolytic virus therapy, what has been learned so far, and potential challenges ahead for advancing the field.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cancer, Oncology, Microbiology, Virus, Oncolytic virus, Viruses


With the recent regulatory approval of Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) for the treatment of advanced of melanoma in the United States, Europe and Australia, oncolytic virus immunotherapy has earned its place in the clinic. However, the adoption of T-VEC by the U.S. oncology community has been slow, and so far has been largely limited to specialized cancer centers. Limiting factors include the intratumoral route of administration, which is unfamiliar to medical oncologists, biosafety concerns related to the use of a live virus in the clinic, and the explosion of other therapeutic strategies now available for the treatment of advanced melanoma. Herein, we review the development of T-VEC, and suggest how it fits into the in the current clinical treatment paradigm, and provide pearls for drug preparation, administration, and monitoring of response to therapy.

Concepts: Medicine, Oncology, Microbiology, United States, Chemotherapy, Therapy, Oncolytic virus, Viruses


Oncolytic virus (OV) therapy is an emerging anti-cancer approach that utilizes viruses to preferentially infect and kill cancer cells, while not harming healthy cells. Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) is a prototypic non-segmented, negative-strand RNA virus with inherent OV qualities. Antiviral responses induced by type I interferon pathways are believed to be impaired in most cancer cells, making them more susceptible to VSV than normal cells. Several other factors make VSV a promising OV candidate for clinical use, including its well-studied biology, a small, easily manipulated genome, relative independence of a receptor or cell cycle, cytoplasmic replication without risk of host-cell transformation, and lack of pre-existing immunity in humans. Moreover, various VSV-based recombinant viruses have been engineered via reverse genetics to improve oncoselectivity, safety, oncotoxicity and stimulation of tumour-specific immunity. Alternative delivery methods are also being studied to minimize premature immune clearance of VSV. OV treatment as a monotherapy is being explored, although many studies have employed VSV in combination with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other OVs. Preclinical studies with various cancers have demonstrated that VSV is a promising OV; as a result, a human clinical trial using VSV is currently in progress.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Oncology, Microbiology, Virus, Chemotherapy, Oncolytic virus, Vesicular stomatitis virus


Functional genomic screening has emerged as a powerful approach for understanding complex biological phenomena. Of the available tools, genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) technology is unquestionably the most incisive, as it directly probes gene function. Recent applications of RNAi screening have been impressive. Notable amongst these are its use in elucidated mechanism(s) for signal transduction, various aspects of cell biology, tumourigenesis and metastasis, resistance to cancer therapeutics, and the host’s response to a pathogen. Herein we discuss how recent RNAi screening efforts have helped turn our attention to the targetability of non-oncogene support pathways for cancer treatment, with a particular focus on a recent study that identified a non-oncogene addiction to the ER stress response as a synergist target for oncolytic virus therapy (OVT). Moreover, we give our thoughts on the future of RNAi screening as a tool to enhance OVT and describe recent technical improvements that are poised to make genome-scale RNAi experiments more sensitive, less noisy, more applicable in vivo, and more easily validated in clinically relevant animal models.British Journal of Cancer advance online publication, 20 November 2012; doi:10.1038/

Concepts: Gene, Oncology, Molecular biology, Biology, Microbiology, Virus, RNA interference, Oncolytic virus


Second mitochondrial activator of caspase (Smac)-mimetic compounds and oncolytic viruses were developed to kill cancer cells directly. However, Smac-mimetic compound and oncolytic virus therapies also modulate host immune responses in ways we hypothesized would complement one another in promoting anticancer T-cell immunity. We show that Smac-mimetic compound and oncolytic virus therapies synergize in driving CD8(+) T-cell responses toward tumors through distinct activities. Smac-mimetic compound treatment with LCL161 reinvigorates exhausted CD8(+) T cells within immunosuppressed tumors by targeting tumor-associated macrophages for M1-like polarization. Oncolytic virus treatment with vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV(ΔM51)) promotes CD8(+) T-cell accumulation within tumors and CD8(+) T-cell activation within the tumor-draining lymph node. When combined, LCL161 and VSV(ΔM51) therapy engenders CD8(+) T-cell-mediated tumor control in several aggressive mouse models of cancer. Smac-mimetic compound and oncolytic virus therapies are both in clinical development and their combination therapy represents a promising approach for promoting anticancer T-cell immunity.Oncolytic viruses (OV) and second mitochondrial activator of caspase (Smac)-mimetic compounds (SMC) synergistically kill cancer cells directly. Here, the authors show that SMC and OV therapies combination also synergize in vivo by promoting anticancer immunity through an increase in CD8(+) T-cell response.

Concepts: Immune system, Cancer, Oncology, Microbiology, T helper cell, Oncolytic virus, Viruses, Vesicular stomatitis virus


Purpose We evaluated the combination of talimogene laherparepvec plus ipilimumab versus ipilimumab alone in patients with advanced melanoma in a phase II study. To our knowledge, this was the first randomized trial to evaluate addition of an oncolytic virus to a checkpoint inhibitor. Methods Patients with unresectable stages IIIB to IV melanoma, with no more than one prior therapy if BRAF wild-type, no more than two prior therapies if BRAF mutant, measurable/injectable disease, and without symptomatic autoimmunity or clinically significant immunosuppression were randomly assigned 1:1 to receive talimogene laherparepvec plus ipilimumab or ipilimumab alone. Talimogene laherparepvec treatment began in week 1 (first dose, ≤ 4 mL × 10(6) plaque-forming units/mL; after 3 weeks, ≤ 4 mL × 10(8) plaque-forming units/mL every 2 weeks). Ipilimumab (3 mg/kg every 3 weeks; up to four doses) began week 1 in the ipilimumab alone arm and week 6 in the combination arm. The primary end point was objective response rate evaluated by investigators per immune-related response criteria. Results One hundred ninety-eight patients were randomly assigned to talimogene laherparepvec plus ipilimumab (n = 98), or ipilimumab alone( n = 100). Thirty-eight patients (39%) in the combination arm and 18 patients (18%) in the ipilimumab arm had an objective response (odds ratio, 2.9; 95% CI, 1.5 to 5.5; P = .002). Responses were not limited to injected lesions; visceral lesion decreases were observed in 52% of patients in the combination arm and 23% of patients in the ipilimumab arm. Frequently occurring adverse events (AEs) included fatigue (combination, 59%; ipilimumab alone, 42%), chills (combination, 53%; ipilimumab alone, 3%), and diarrhea (combination, 42%; ipilimumab alone, 35%). Incidence of grade ≥ 3 AEs was 45% and 35%, respectively. Three patients in the combination arm had fatal AEs; none were treatment related. Conclusion The study met its primary end point; the objective response rate was significantly higher with talimogene laherparepvec plus ipilimumab versus ipilimumab alone. These data indicate that the combination has greater antitumor activity without additional safety concerns versus ipilimumab.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Clinical trial, Randomized controlled trial, Chemotherapy, Dose, Randomness, Oncolytic virus, Ablative brain surgery


Oncolytic virotherapy is rapidly progressing through clinical evaluation. However, the therapeutic efficacy of oncolytic viruses in humans has been less than expected from preclinical studies. We describe an anticancer drug screen for compounds that enhance M1 oncolytic virus activity in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). An inhibitor of the valosin-containing protein (VCP) was identified as the top sensitizer, selectively increasing potency of the oncolytic virus up to 3600-fold. Further investigation revealed that VCP inhibitors cooperated with M1 virus-suppressed inositol-requiring enzyme 1α (IRE1α)-X-box binding protein 1 (XBP1) pathway and triggered irresolvable endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, subsequently promoting robust apoptosis in HCC. We show that VCP inhibitor improved the oncolytic efficacy of M1 virus in several mouse models of HCC and primary HCC tissues. Finally, this combinatorial therapeutic strategy was well tolerated in nonhuman primates. Our study identifies combined VCP inhibition and oncolytic virus as a potential treatment for HCC and demonstrates promising therapeutic potential.

Concepts: Protein, Oncology, Microbiology, Virus, Endoplasmic reticulum, Oncolytic virus, Viruses, Vesicular stomatitis virus


We reported earlier the delivery of antiangiogenic single chain antibodies by using oncolytic vaccinia virus strains to enhance their therapeutic efficacy. Here, we provide evidence that gene-evoked production of melanin can be used as a therapeutic and diagnostic mediator, as exemplified by insertion of only one or two genes into the genome of an oncolytic vaccinia virus strain. We found that produced melanin is an excellent reporter for optical imaging without addition of substrate. Melanin production also facilitated deep tissue optoacoustic imaging as well as MRI. In addition, melanin was shown to be a suitable target for laser-induced thermotherapy and enhanced oncolytic viral therapy. In conclusion, melanin as a mediator for thermotherapy and reporter for different imaging modalities may soon become a versatile alternative to replace fluorescent proteins also in other biological systems. After ongoing extensive preclinical studies, melanin overproducing oncolytic virus strains might be used in clinical trials in patients with cancer.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Oncology, Microbiology, Virus, Pre-clinical development, Oncolytic virus, Viruses


Several immunomodulatory checkpoint inhibitors have been approved for the treatment of patients with advanced melanoma, including ipilimumab, nivolumab and pembrolizumab. Talimogene laherparepvec is the first oncolytic virus to gain regulatory approval in the USA; it is also approved in Europe. Talimogene laherparepvec expresses granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), and with other GM-CSF-expressing oncolytic viruses in development, understanding the clinical relevance of this cytokine in treating advanced melanoma is important. Results of trials of GM-CSF in melanoma have been mixed, and while GM-CSF has the potential to promote anti-tumor responses, some preclinical data suggest that GM-CSF may sometimes promote tumor growth. GM-CSF has not been approved as a melanoma treatment. We undertook a systematic literature review of studies of GM-CSF in patients with advanced melanoma (stage IIIB-IV). Of the 503 articles identified, 26 studies met the eligibility criteria. Most studies investigated the use of GM-CSF in combination with another treatment, such as peptide vaccines or chemotherapy, or as an adjuvant to surgery. Some clinical benefit was reported in patients who received GM-CSF as an adjuvant to surgery, or in combination with other treatments. In general, outcomes for patients receiving peptide vaccines were not improved with the addition of GM-CSF. GM-CSF may be a valuable therapeutic adjuvant; however, further studies are needed, particularly head-to-head comparisons, to confirm the optimal dosing regimen and clinical effectiveness in patients with advanced melanoma.

Concepts: Medicine, Oncology, Microbiology, Systematic review, Immunology, Oncolytic virus, Viruses, Vesicular stomatitis virus


Combining immunotherapeutic agents with different mechanisms of action may enhance efficacy. We describe the safety and efficacy of talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC; an oncolytic virus) in combination with ipilimumab (a cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 checkpoint inhibitor) in patients with advanced melanoma.

Concepts: Microbiology, Interferon, Cytotoxic T cell, Oncolytic virus, Viruses