Washington University receives $3 million to design cancer-killing viruses

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have received a $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop a triple threat in the fight against cancer: a single virus equipped to find, image and kill cancer cells, all at once.

Led by David T. Curiel, MD, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Radiation Oncology, the program will build on his group’s expertise with adenovirus, a virus that causes the common cold and has shown promise in cancer therapeutics and imaging.

“This is a virus that we know a lot about,” says Curiel, director of the Biologic Therapeutics Center at Washington University. “Our research seeks ways to use the virus like a nanoparticle and capitalize on all the unique capacities of the virus and our ability to manipulate it.”

Developing a three-pronged attack on cancer cells is in line with the NCI’s pursuit of a new paradigm in cancer research. Known as theragnostics, the concept is to combine therapy and diagnostics into one targeted attack on a specific cancer.

“We would like to understand the patient’s biology and direct therapy on that basis,” Curiel says. “And ideally, such a personalized treatment agent should include everything you would want it to do — it would be targeted specifically to the cancer and avoid healthy cells, it would deliver therapeutic drugs, and it would have a method to image the tumor to monitor the outcome of therapy.”