Could the polio virus help treat brain cancer?

Friday 29 June 2018

Results from a phase 1 clinical trial show that patients with recurrent glioblastoma treated with an inactive version of the polio virus live longer than those receiving standard treatment

Around 2,200 people are diagnosed every year with a glioblastoma – a highly lethal form of brain cancer.

Standard treatment consists of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, however most patients experience tumour recurrence and the average survival time is just 12–18 months following diagnosis.

It is therefore essential to find new ways to treat this devastating disease.

Results from a phase 1 clinical trial that took place in the United States were recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

In this trial, researchers tested a modified version of the polio virus vaccine on 61 people with recurrent glioblastoma.

The vaccine, which is infused directly into the brain, is designed to specifically target and attack the tumour cells, as well as activate the patient's own immune system to fight the tumour.

The results of this trial show 21% of patients who received the virus were still alive three years after diagnosis, compared to just 4% of patients who received the current standard of treatment.

“This is a devastating disease where the prognosis and outcome for patients is very poor, so for us to see long-term survivors with this new treatment is real and very encouraging,” said Dr Annick Desjardins, director of clinical research at Duke's brain tumour centre and an investigator in the poliovirus therapy study.

These results are encouraging and could have a positive impact on the management of brain tumours.

However, it is an early phase clinical trial and further investigation is needed to understand the full potential of this treatment.