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Clinical trial will test a genetically modified measles virus on mesothelioma

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota have begun testing whether an engineered version of the measles virus can shrink tumors in mesothelioma patients.


The Phase I clinical trial will involve into two groups of patients. The experimental group will receive a dose of the virus, called MV-NIS, injected into their chest cavities through catheters. The researchers hope the initial experiments will determine the best dose of the virus and identify side effects.


If successful, the virus could be combined with chemotherapy, which suppresses the body’s immune response. The combination should give the virus more time to attack and kill cancer cells before the body’s defenses shut it down.


“We’ve taken a new viral agent, repositioned it for this disease and are advancing it toward the clinic as an entirely novel treatment,” says Stephen Russell, Director of Molecular Research at the Mayo Clinic.


The researchers say the virus should also trigger an anti-tumor immune response that will help destroy cancer cells. In tests using animal models, a single injection of the virus doubled the life span of mice infected with mesothelioma, and some mice appeared to have been cured.


The trial is open to 36 patients with stage I-IV mesothelioma and recurrent malignant mesothelioma. Patients will receive MV-NIS intrapleurally every 28 days for up to 6 courses, until the disease stops progressing or the treatments prove too toxic.


The Mayo Clinic has been testing the measles virus in human subjects since 2004, when it was injected into a woman with ovarian cancer. Since then, researchers have launched trials with two different genetically modified measles virus strains for patients with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive brain tumor, and multiple myeloma.


Robert A. Kratzke, associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, said he does not expect any surprises in the mesothelioma trial, based on the safety data the Mayo Clinic has already collected on MV-NIS in ovarian cancer patients.


“The only effects we don’t know would be anything specific to putting the virus into the chest cavity as opposed to the abdominal cavity,” he said.


Mesothelioma is of special interest in Minnesota, where a $4.9 million state-funded initiative has been studying the health hazards faced by taconite miners in the Iron Range region of the state. The Taconite Workers Health Study has identified more than 80 former Iron Range workers who have died of mesothelioma.


In 2003, Mayo and the university formed the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics to focus on developing cures and treatments for 16 health issues, including mesothelioma.