Enemy Turns Friend Polio Virus Helps Fight Aggressive Brain Tumors, Study
Duke Scientists Develop a Breakthrough Therapy for Deadly Brain Tumors

Most of us have long believed that virus, the little creation of nature is a pathogen that does no good but only causes illnesses. How many of you know that this guy also does good on this planet? No one? Well, it’s true and I’ll tell you about it.

A recent study says that one of the world’s most dreaded viruses, the poliovirus may be now an unexpected ally to those struggling against one of the deadliest brain cancers or tumors called glioblastoma. In other words, the virus may be used to fight this deadly tumor.

Researchers at the Duke University Medical Center, where the therapy was developed, say that the treatment seems to have increased the survival days in a small group of patients with recurrent glioblastoma who underwent standard treatment but saw no results.

The initial study was performed on 61 patients with glioblastoma who received a genetically modified poliovirus or a harmless form of poliovirus. Their results were compared to the records of previous patients who had received standard treatment. 21% were still alive three years later, compared with just 4% of those who underwent standard therapy.

The researchers first removed one of the polio virus’s genes to prevent it from causing polio. They then replaced that with one of the harmless viruses called rhinovirus, which is known to cause  common cold. This engineered, or genetically modified virus was then directly injected into tumors in the patients’ brains via a tube inserted through a hole in the skull. It was found to infect and kill brain tumor cells and trigger the patient’s own immune system cells to attack the tumors, thereby helping some patients live for years longer than they normally would have.

“Glioblastoma remains a lethal and devastating disease, despite advances in surgical and radiation therapies, as well as new chemotherapy and targeted agents. There is a tremendous need for fundamentally different approaches,” said Dr. Darell D. Bigner, emeritus director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke and senior author of the study. “With the survival rates of this early phase of the poliovirus therapy, we are encouraged and eager to continue with the additional studies that are already underway or planned,” he added.

The findings from the phase 1 trial were published on June 26, 2018, in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the International Conference on Brain Tumor Research and Therapy in Norway on the same day. Currently, a phase 2 study is going on where the scientists are testing a combination of the poliovirus therapy and chemotherapy to improve the response rates. The Duke team is also testing the therapy in treating brain tumors in children. Furthermore, the therapy is also being planned to be tested on patients with breast cancer and melanoma skin cancer.

The poliovirus therapy was designated a “breakthrough therapy” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.