Head and neck cancer targeted in virus trial

In collaboration with the Press Association

Doctors at the Royal Marsden Hospital are trialling a possible new treatment for head and neck cancer, using a genetically modified virus which is injected directly into the patient's tumour.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, supported by Cancer Research UK, have modified a herpes virus so that it is attracted to growing cancer cells, but not to normal healthy tissue.

Dr Alison Ross, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "It's still early days but this is an exciting study, which highlights the potential of using genetically-modified viruses as a weapon against cancer.

"This is one of a number of similar approaches for treating cancer that Cancer Research UK is supporting. But it'll be a number of years before we'll find out whether this particular treatment is effective."

The modified virus is designed to enter cancer cells and quickly replicate until the cell bursts.

The researchers have also introduced genetic material which produces molecules that the immune system can use to recognise the tumour.

Lead researcher Dr Kevin Harrington told the BBC: "We think this is [an] enormously exciting opportunity to bring virus and gene therapy into front line treatment of cancer."

A number of other trials are also being conducted using viruses to target other types of cancer, including breast and lung cancer.