Experimental Brain Cancer Therapy Harnesses Stem Cells, Cold Virus

Clinical trials to begin for an investigational approach to treating glioma.

A phase 1 clinical trial is exploring an investigational neural stem cell therapy for the treatment of brain cancer. This approach combines stem cell therapy with a common cold virus and has been observed to target and kill aggressive brain cancer cells, according to a press release from Northwestern Medicine.

The drug is being explored for use in malignant glioma, which is known to recur after standard treatments. This form of cancer creates its own blood supply, which allows the tumors to grow rapidly and metastasize.

Each tumor infiltrates deep into the brain tissue, which makes complete removal of cancer cells impossible, according to the release. Cancerous cells left in the brain tissue result in a high recurrence of these tumors.

“We have discovered that combining stem cells with a virus causes the new drug to react like a cancer-seeking missile targeting cancerous cells in the brain” said principal investigator Maciej Lesniak, MD. “If it works in humans, it could be a powerful weapon against brain cancer and an option that our patients are desperate for.”

A driving factor behind recurring glioma is due to a small subpopulation located deep in brain tissue that is resistant to chemotherapy and radiation, according to the release.

Preclinical studies show that the experimental approach can target the drug-resistant cells to delay or prevent tumor recurrence.

The team of investigators in the current study are beginning to test the safety and optimal dosage of the experimental drug in patients.

The drug contains neural stem cells that deliver an oncolytic adenovirus. While the virus is responsible for the common cold, it has been engineered to attack brain cancer cells, according to the release. The experimental treatment works in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation to increase efficacy.

The investigators plan to enroll up to 36 newly-diagnosed patients with glioma in the clinical trial. Patients will be divided into cohorts by whether or not their tumors can be removed with surgery, according to the release.

Malignant glioma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. With more than 20,000 patients projected to develop this cancer in 2017, novel treatment approaches are necessary.

“We haven’t seen significant progress in the last decade for patients with a brain tumor, and that is why it’s crucial to do everything we can find a better treatment for brain tumors,” said co-investigator Roger Stupp, MD. “Combining novel therapy with medical expertise, we are able to get one step closer to eradicating this lethal disease.”