Sheffield team research virus to treat mesothelioma

 By Kathy Cooke.    21st December 2013

A research team at the Sheffield Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre at Weston Park have completed the first phase of a clinical drug trial in the management of malignant pleural mesothelioma. The ongoing study, due to be completed in April 2014, aims to evaluate the safety and biological effects of single and multiple administrations of modified herpes simplex virus HSV1716HSV1716 in the treatment of mesothelioma.

mesothelioma herpes virus

Pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive form of lung cancer arising from the mesothelial cells that cover the lungs and line the internal chest wall. It usually develops following a latent period from exposure to asbestos.

Prognosis for this disease is poor as the current treatment options are limited and tend to be of palliative intent as they are unable to stop disease progression.

Experts around the world are working hard to overcome the difficulties associated with current mesothelioma treatments and a pioneering team of cancer experts in Sheffield are furthering a promising experimental treatment for the disease based on the same virus that causes herpes.

The modified herpes virus has been shown in laboratory studies to be effective at shrinking tumours in mesothelioma and other cancers while causing limited toxicity in surrounding cells. The virus was also shown to increase survival rates among mice with human cancers.

To date three people with mesothelioma have been given doses of the modified herpes simplex virus HSV1716 manufactured in the laboratory with the aim of specifically targeting the tumour cells and potentially leaving normal cells unharmed. About one third of mesothelioma patients require a tube to be inserted and left in the pleural cavity for the drainage of pleural effusions. In this group of patients, the indwelling tube or 'catheter' can be used to deliver a dose of HSV1716 directly to the pleural space. The new drug was delivered using the chest cavity drain in these 3 patients, allowing it to ‘wash over’ any tumours stemming from the mesothelial cells.

Having completed the first phase of the trial process, the research team at the Sheffield Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre at Weston Park, hope the trial can be expanded to find the optimum treatment dose of the virus and to investigate if this novel treatment can shrink mesothelioma tumours in humans thereby extending patients’ lives or even provide a cure for mesothelioma.

For more information about the trial please see the Cancer Research UK website to find 'A study looking at HSV1716 to treat mesothelioma'.

Asbestos Use in South Yorkshire

The area around South Yorkshire has long been linked with heavy industry and many such workers have been exposed to asbestos at some point through their working lives. About 100 patients with mesothelioma are treated in Sheffield every year using current first line treatment options.

The first patient to take part in the modified herpes virus study though was a 79 year old retired head teacher who is thought to have been exposed to asbestos in the basement of his old primary school. Approximately 7 out of 10 school buildings contain asbestos somewhere either in walls, pipes or ceilings and over recent years there have been a number of mesothelioma cases in school workers and past pupils. For more information on asbestos in schools please read:

Other projects at Sheffield looking at mesothelioma treatments include use of radiotherapy and a new type of surgery.

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