That's been the work of Dr. William Wold and his colleagues at Saint Louis University School of Medicine for the last 30 years.
"The potential is understandably huge," said Wold, whose work has just received a U.S. patent after years of study.
Dr. Wold, chair of the department of molecular microbiology and immunology, and his colleagues Karoly Toth, Konstantin Doronin, Ann E. Tollefson, and Mohan Kuppuswamy have found a way to convert the relatively benign "adenovirus" that causes the common cold into an anti-cancer drug that attacks and destroys cancerous cells.
"Human cancer is currently treated with surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, depending on the cancer type," Wold said. "These treatments can be highly successful, but new therapies are required, especially for tumors that have become resistant to chemo- or radiation-therapy."
Wold's group has developed several new "adenovirus cancer gene therapy vectors," changing these genes so the virus will attack cancer cells.
"Some of our vectors are designed to destroy many different types of cancers, others are designed to be specific to colon or lung cancer. In preclinical testing these vectors were highly effective against cancerous tumors and did not harm normal tissues."
Wold and his colleagues have done this by modifying one gene so that the virus can grow in cancer cells but NOT normal cells and by boosting the activity of another gene that the virus normally uses to disrupt the cells it has infected. "When the virus infects cells, it takes the altered genes with it, and those genes attack cancer cells while leaving normal cells intact," Wold explained.
A U.S. patent (No. 6,627,190) was awarded this fall to Dr. Wold and his team of researchers. Pre-clinical testing is complete and is expected to move soon into clinical trials.
Now this patented technology has been issued and exclusively licensed to a company, Introgen Therapeutics, which made the announcement this morning. Introgen and VirRx, a biotechnology company founded by Wold and with a primary interest in cancer gene therapy, are collaborating on new therapies for cancer and other diseases.
"Our collaboration with Introgen has resulted in the pre-clinical development of an active anti-cancer product that we are eager to introduce into the clinic to further develop the technology," Wold said. "This patent demonstrates our innovation and the novelty of our approach.
"There is a long tradition of adenovirus research at Saint Louis University School of Medicine dating back to the 1950s, and it can be argued that SLU is the birthplace of adenovirus molecular virology," Wold said.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.