As fans of the New York Mets know all too well, in recent years they’ve been all too easy to beat. However, another type of mets have remained somewhat harder to beat.
Metastatic cancer, more commonly referred to as “mets” is cancer that has spread from the place where it first started to another place in the body. The process by which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body is called metastasis.
Although some types of metastatic cancer can be cured, most cannot. In general, the best that can be done is to control the growth of the cancer or to relieve symptoms caused by it. In some cases, metastatic cancer treatments may help prolong life, but sadly, most people die of metastatic disease.
Now it seems there may be a way to beat the mets off the baseball field as well as on it.
Researchers are harnessing viruses to infect and subsequently destroy cancer cells without affecting normal tissue. Several types of viruses have been developed to date: adenovirus, poxvirus and picornavirus. Even the herpes simplex virus is under consideration.
As are reoviruses, which are currently being studied by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Early results indicate that reoviruses could be especially effective in treating metastatic cancers.
Reoviruses are found everywhere in nature. They have been isolated from untreated sewage, river and stagnant waters. These viruses choose to colonize certain types of mutated cancer cells while sparing normal cells that lack these mutations. Approximately two-thirds of human cancers have the mutation that makes them a prime target for reoviruses.
One of the new drugs based on reovirus is known as REOLYSIN®, an acronym for Respiratory Enteric Orphan Virus, which is widely found in the environment. By adulthood, most people have been exposed to this reovirus. As it is non-pathogenic, infections are typically asymptomatic.
REOLYSIN® was developed, based upon research conducted by Dr. Matt Coffey. He found that the reovirus was able to infect and selectively destroy cancer cells. When a normal cell is infected with the reovirus, an antiviral response is activated, which prevents the virus from replicating within the cell. However, inside a cancer cell with one or more mutations on a growth pathway called the Ras pathway, there is an aberrant antiviral response that is unable to prevent the virus from replicating. This abnormality allows the reovirus to multiply to an extent that is fatal to the cancer cell.
Additionally, reovirus appears to spread particularly easily to organs where metastasis is common, so a concentration of the drug can be built up in those regions of the body.
REOLYSIN is currently being studied in combination with the chemotherapy drugs in six of the ten most common cancers diagnosed in men and five of the ten most diagnosed in women, including patients with head and neck cancer, non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, castration-resistant prostate cancer, drug-resistant ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer. All of these indications are associated with metastatic disease.
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be more than 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States alone in 2012; more than 1,500 people a day are expected to die from the disease.
So, could a sewage water virus be the answer? SRxA’s Word on Health will be watching out for the results of these studies and let our readers know if they’ve truly found a way to “beat the mets.”