Researchers at the University of Surrey in England found that a certain strain of the cold virus — coxsackievirus, or CVA21 — is capable of destroying cancer cells in the bladder, The Telegraph reported.
Fifteen patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer were injected with CVA21 through a catheter one week before surgery to remove tumors.
Post-surgery tissue analysis showed that the virus not only targeted and killed cancer cells — but reproduced itself, making it even more powerful.
“The virus gets inside cancer cells and kills them by triggering an immune protein and that leads to signaling of other immune cells to come and join the party,” said Hardev Pandha, principal investigator of the study and professor of medical oncology at the University of Surrey.
Urine samples taken from the treated patients also showed “shedding” from the virus, meaning once the infected cancer cells died, the replicated virus continued attacking cancerous cells.
None of the patients involved in the study suffered serious side effects.
“Reduction of tumor burden and increased cancer cell death was observed in all patients, and removed all traces of the disease in one patient following just one week of treatment, showing its potential effectiveness,” Pandha said.
Bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the U,S. and the 10th in the United Kingdom.
Researchers plan on conducting another trial with more patients that couples the common cold virus with a targeted immunotherapy drug, known as a checkpoint inhibitor, which stops the immune system from attacking cancer cells.
They called the findings of the limited study potentially breakthrough.
“We are very excited about it. The virus gets into the cancer and replicates, like a little factory of viruses,” said Pandha. “It heats up the tumor environment, and is very specific in targeting the cancer. It had the least toxicity I have seen for years.”
Bladder cancer is typically treated by transurethral resection, an invasive procedure.
But this study suggests the common cold virus could one day revolutionize the way bladder cancer is treated.
It “could transform the way we treat cancer and could signal a move away from more established treatments such as chemotherapy,” said Dr. Nicola Annels, a University of Surrey research fellow.