Using an infant virus to fight cancer

School of Medicine researchers’ discovery proves effective as cancer treatment


Discoveries in science sometimes come by serendipity, when hard and consistent work done in one area of interest leads to a stunning discovery in a related or even unrelated area. Santanu Bose, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at the Health Science Center, knows by experience that this can happen.

Dr. Bose was studying the immune response of normal and cancerous cells to RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which causes respiratory infections in infants and young children. Without specifically looking for a cancer treatment, he saw that the virus was “oncolytic” – it preferentially infected and damaged cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone. This propelled a new line of research. Dr. Bose teamed with Bandana Chatterjee, Ph.D., of the Long School of Medicine and the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, to test RSV in her mouse model of prostate cancer. Those results again showed a robust anti-cancer effect of RSV. Mice with prostate tumors were treated with the virus and within a week the tumors were gone. “We kept the mice for four months, and the tumors never came back,” Dr. Bose said.

Now Dr. Bose is the inventor on a pending U.S. patent of RSV as an oncolytic therapy. This represents a new use for the virus. Dr. Chatterjee, professor of molecular medicine, is the co-inventor. CZ BioMed Corp. of Tampa, Fla., licensed the oncolytic use of RSV in an agreement with South Texas Technology Management (STTM), a regional University of Texas technology-transfer office managed by the Health Science Center. RSV is already showing effectiveness in human trials abroad, according to a company statement.

Dr. Bose, whose work is funded by the National Institutes of Health, said, “This is an exciting development because this is a homegrown invention that is being tested in humans, and therefore this scientific discovery has direct clinical, translational relevance.”

“We are pleased that CZ BioMed has agreed to work with us to commercialize Dr. Bose’s and Dr. Chatterjee’s exciting discovery to efficiently target and treat different forms of cancer,” said STTM Executive Director Arjun Sanga, J.D., assistant vice president for technology transfer at the Health Science Center.

Dr. Chatterjee said it is significant that the virus killed tumors even in mice with competent immune systems. This mirrors human patients who have functioning immune defenses. RSV also worked whether it was injected directly into the tumor or systemically through the abdomen. “This is important because there are some tumors to which you can inject the drug directly, whereas others you can’t and a drug must work systemically,” Dr. Chatterjee said.

Her work on the RSV project is funded by a Merit-Review grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a VA Senior Research Career Scientist Award, and a grant to Drs. Bose and Chatterjee from the National Cancer Institute.

RSV is expected to be safe because it is a children’s virus – it does not infect adults.
It also only infects the lungs. “Normal cells have weapons to shoot down viruses, but cancer cells have lost their anti-viral arsenal,” Dr. Bose explained. “For this reason viruses can establish themselves in a tumor, grow and induce cell death.”

A press release from CZ BioMed said: “Results from human trials overseas have been extremely successful and exciting to date, with minimal side effects as compared to traditional chemo or radiation therapies.” The company’s statement also indicates its plan to conduct a clinical trial with oncolytic RSV in the U.S.

Grants from the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute and the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio also supported this research.

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