It’s easy to get excited about an experimental new cancer drug that delivers tumor shrinkage for 95 percent of the patients who tried it.
It may take many years for a pharmaceutical company to bring a new drug to market, but the financial markets respond quickly to clinical trials that produce those kind of results.
Oncolytics Biotech Inc., a small publicly traded company based in Calgary, Canada, has seen a dramatic surge in value and stock price since releasing results of recent clinical trials involving its lead product Reolysin, which has been especially effective in killing cancer cells.
It could be especially promising for patients with lung cancer and even pleural mesothelioma, the cancer involving the thin membrane surrounding the lungs. Mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos.
Reolysin is based upon a common, and otherwise harmless virus, but it shows powerful and uncommon results when altered and used intravenously in conjunction with chemotherapy.
“Reolysin works freakishly well in combination with typical first-line and second-line chemotherapeutic products,” Oncolytics CEO Brad Thompson told The Canadian Blueprint. “Most good science is found by accident.”
Thompson believes that Reolysin could revolutionize the way many cancers are treated. The latest phase II trial, whose results were released last week, involved squamous cell carcinoma of the lung and the chemotherapy regimen of carboplatin and paclitaxel.
Positive results involving Reolysin and colorectal cancer were presented in January at the ASCO Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium in San Francisco. In December 2012, the company released results from a phase III study of patients with head and neck cancers. And in October, it completed enrollment in another phase II trial involving pancreatic cancer.
It has shown effectiveness with a broad range of cancers, which could make it particularly valuable. Oncolytics has no drugs on the market yet, but its stock price has more than doubled in the last three months, an indication that big investors believe in the potential of Reolysin.
“Based on these (latest) findings, we intend to continue to look at Reolysin as a treatment for cancers of the lung and cancers that metastasize to the lung,” Thompson said. “It’s exciting to have 95 percent of patients in this study exhibit tumor shrinkage, and these results further suggest that Reolysin may have potential in pre-surgical settings.”
Reolysin is based around the Respiratory Enteric Orphan Virus (reovirus), which is relatively harmless and produces few symptoms. Most people are exposed to it as children. And while the body’s own immune system can stop the Reolysin from replicating in healthy cells, it can be designed to infect and destroy cancer cells with specific mutations.
The latest study included 20 patients, and 19 of them exhibited overall tumor shrinkage. An earlier study showed an overall progression-free survival of 7.4 months. One of the biggest benefits of Reolysin is the lack of side effects, especially compared to other cancer therapies.
The concept of using a virus to help kill cancer cells is not new. Viruses can be engineered to selectively infect and reproduce in tumor cells, effectively killing cancer cells. Viruses are playing a big role in novel gene therapy.
Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, are studying a genetically altered measles virus to test its effectiveness against pleural mesothelioma.
Oncolytics Biotech has been focusing on the development of viruses as potential treatment options for a broad range of cancers. Reolysin is its lead product.