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1.  Targeting of Interferon-Beta to Produce a Specific, Multi-Mechanistic Oncolytic Vaccinia Virus 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(12):e353.
Oncolytic viruses hold much promise for clinical treatment of many cancers, but a lack of systemic delivery and insufficient tumor cell killing have limited their usefulness. We have previously demonstrated that vaccinia virus strains are capable of systemic delivery to tumors in mouse models, but infection of normal tissues remains an issue. We hypothesized that interferon-beta (IFN-β) expression from an oncolytic vaccinia strain incapable of responding to this cytokine would have dual benefits as a cancer therapeutic: increased anticancer effects and enhanced virus inactivation in normal tissues. We report the construction and preclinical testing of this virus.
Methods and Findings
In vitro screening of viral strains by cytotoxicity and replication assay was coupled to cellular characterization by phospho-flow cytometry in order to select a novel oncolytic vaccinia virus. This virus was then examined in vivo in mouse models by non-invasive imaging techniques. A vaccinia B18R deletion mutant was selected as the backbone for IFN-β expression, because the B18R gene product neutralizes secreted type-I IFNs. The oncolytic B18R deletion mutant demonstrated IFN-dependent cancer selectivity and efficacy in vitro, and tumor targeting and efficacy in mouse models in vivo. Both tumor cells and tumor-associated vascular endothelial cells were targeted. Complete tumor responses in preclinical models were accompanied by immune-mediated protection against tumor rechallenge. Cancer selectivity was also demonstrated in primary human tumor explant tissues and adjacent normal tissues. The IFN-β gene was then cloned into the thymidine kinase (TK) region of this virus to create JX-795 (TK−/B18R−/IFN-β+). JX-795 had superior tumor selectivity and systemic intravenous efficacy when compared with the TK−/B18R− control or wild-type vaccinia in preclinical models.
By combining IFN-dependent cancer selectivity with IFN-β expression to optimize both anticancer effects and normal tissue antiviral effects, we were able to achieve, to our knowledge for the first time, tumor-specific replication, IFN-β gene expression, and efficacy following systemic delivery in preclinical models.
Stephen Thorne and colleagues describe, in a mouse model, an oncolytic vaccinia virus with interferon-dependent cancer selectivity that allows tumor-specific replication; it also expresses the IFN-β gene and hence has efficacy against tumors.
Editors' Summary
Normally, throughout life, cell division (which produces new cells) and cell death are carefully balanced to keep the body in good working order. But sometimes cells acquire changes (mutations) in their genetic material that allow them to divide uncontrollably to form cancers—disorganized masses of cells. Cancers can develop anywhere in the body and, as they develop, their cells acquire other genetic changes that enable them to move and start new tumors (metastases) elsewhere. Chemotherapy drugs kill rapidly dividing cancer cells but, because some normal cells are also sensitive to these drugs, it is hard to destroy the cancer without causing serious side effects. Consequently, researchers are trying to develop “targeted” therapies that attack the changes in cancer cells that allow them to divide uncontrollably but leave normal cells unscathed. One promising class of targeted therapies is oncolytic viruses. These viruses make numerous copies of themselves inside cancer cells (but not inside normal cells). Eventually the cancer cell bursts open (lyses), releases more of the therapeutic agent, and dies.
Why Was This Study Done?
Existing oncolytic viruses have two major disadvantages: they have to be injected directly into tumors, and therefore they can't destroy distant metastases; and they don't kill cancer cells particularly efficiently. In this study, the researchers have tried to adapt vaccinia virus (a virus that infects humans and which has recently been shown to kill tumor cells when injected into the bloodstream) in two ways: to both infect cancer cells selectively and then to kill them effectively.
They hypothesized that putting a gene that causes expression of a protein called interferon-beta (IFN-β) in a particular virus strain that is itself incapable of responding to IFN-β might achieve these aims. Human cells infected with viruses usually release IFNs, which induce an antiviral state in nearby cells. But vaccinia virus makes anti-IFN proteins that prevent IFN release. If the viral genes that encode these proteins are removed from the virus, the virus cannot spread through normal cells. However, many cancer cells have defective IFN signaling pathways so the virus can spread through them. IFN-β expression by the virus, however, should improve its innate anticancer effects because IFN-β stops cancer cells dividing, induces an antitumor immune response, and stops tumors developing good blood supplies.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers selected a vaccinia virus strain called WR-delB18R in which the B18R gene, which encodes an anti-IFN protein, had been removed from the virus. (WR is a wild-type virus.) In laboratory experiments, IFN treatment blocked the spread of WR-delB18R in normal human cells but not in human tumor cells. After being injected into the veins of tumor-bearing mice, WR-delB18R was rapidly cleared from normal tissues but persisted in the tumors. A single injection of WR-delB18R directly into the tumor killed most of the tumor cells. A similar dose injected into a vein was less effective but nevertheless increased the survival time of some of the mice by directly killing the tumor cells, by targeting the blood supply of the tumors, and by inducing antitumor immunity. Finally, when the researchers inserted the IFN-β gene into this WR-delB18R, the new virus—JX-795—was much better at killing tumors after intravenous injection than either WR or WR-delB18R.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that the vaccinia virus can be adapted so that it replicates only in tumor cells and kills these cells effectively after intravenous injection. In particular, they show that the strategy adopted by the researchers both optimizes the anticancer effects of the virus and minimizes viral replication in normal tissues. JX-795 is a promising oncolytic virus, therefore, particularly since vaccinia virus has been safely used for many years to vaccinate people against smallpox. Nevertheless, it will be some years before JX-795 can be used clinically. Vaccinia virus constructs like this need to be tested extensively in the laboratory and in animals before any attempt is made to test them in people and, even if they passes all these preclinical tests with flying colors, only clinical trials will reveal whether they can treat human cancer. Several related strains of vaccinia virus are currently undergoing clinical testing.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Cancer Institute provides information on all aspects of cancer (in English and Spanish)
CancerQuest, from Emory University, provides information on all aspects of cancer (in several languages)
The UK charity Cancerbackup also provides information on all aspects of cancer
Wikipedia has a page on oncolytic viruses (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
A short interview about oncolytic viruses with researcher Dr. John Bell is available on the Insidermedicine Web site
The Oncolytic virus Web page provides lists of oncolytic viruses classified by type
PMCID: PMC2222946  PMID: 18162040
2.  Immune Suppression during Oncolytic Virotherapy for High-Grade Glioma; Yes or No? 
Journal of Cancer  2015;6(3):203-217.
Oncolytic viruses have been seriously considered for glioma therapy over the last 20 years. The oncolytic activity of several oncolytic strains has been demonstrated against human glioma cell lines and in in vivo xenotransplant models. So far, four of these stains have additionally completed the first phase I/II trials in relapsed glioma patients. Though safety and feasibility have been demonstrated, therapeutic efficacy in these initial trials, when described, was only minor. The role of the immune system in oncolytic virotherapy for glioma remained much less studied until recent years. When investigated, the immune system, adept at controlling viral infections, is often hypothesized to be a strong hurdle to successful oncolytic virotherapy. Several preclinical studies have therefore aimed to improve oncolytic virotherapy efficacy by combining it with immune suppression or evasion strategies. More recently however, a new paradigm has developed in the oncolytic virotherapy field stating that oncolytic virus-mediated tumor cell death can be accompanied by elicitation of potent activation of innate and adaptive anti-tumor immunity that greatly improves the efficacy of certain oncolytic strains. Therefore, it seems the three-way interaction between oncolytic virus, tumor and immune system is critical to the outcome of antitumor therapy. In this review we discuss the studies which have investigated how the immune system and oncolytic viruses interact in models of glioma. The novel insights generated here hold important implications for future research and should be incorporated into the design of novel clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC4317755  PMID: 25663937
glioblastoma; oncolytic virotherapy; antitumor immunity
3.  Oncolytic Effects of a Novel Influenza A Virus Expressing Interleukin-15 from the NS Reading Frame 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e36506.
Oncolytic influenza A viruses with deleted NS1 gene (delNS1) replicate selectively in tumour cells with defective interferon response and/or activated Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK signalling pathway. To develop a delNS1 virus with specific immunostimulatory properties, we used an optimised technology to insert the interleukin-15 (IL-15) coding sequence into the viral NS gene segment (delNS1-IL-15). DelNS1 and delNS1-IL-15 exerted similar oncolytic effects. Both viruses replicated and caused caspase-dependent apoptosis in interferon-defective melanoma cells. Virus replication was required for their oncolytic activity. Cisplatin enhanced the oncolytic activity of delNS1 viruses. The cytotoxic drug increased delNS1 replication and delNS1-induced caspase-dependent apoptosis. Interference with MEK/ERK signalling by RNAi-mediated depletion or the MEK inhibitor U0126 did not affect the oncolytic effects of the delNS1 viruses. In oncolysis sensitive melanoma cells, delNS1-IL-15 (but not delNS1) infection resulted in the production of IL-15 levels ranging from 70 to 1140 pg/mL in the cell culture supernatants. The supernatants of delNS1-IL-15-infected (but not of delNS1-infected) melanoma cells induced primary human natural killer cell-mediated lysis of non-infected tumour cells. In conclusion, we constructed a novel oncolytic influenza virus that combines the oncolytic activity of delNS1 viruses with immunostimulatory properties through production of functional IL-15. Moreover, we showed that the oncolytic activity of delNS1 viruses can be enhanced in combination with cytotoxic anti-cancer drugs.
PMCID: PMC3341362  PMID: 22563505
4.  Trial watch 
Oncoimmunology  2013;2(6):e24612.
Oncolytic virotherapy is emerging as a promising approach for the treatment of several neoplasms. The term “oncolytic viruses” is generally employed to indicate naturally occurring or genetically engineered attenuated viral particles that cause the demise of malignant cells while sparing their non-transformed counterparts. From a conceptual standpoint, oncolytic viruses differ from so-called “oncotropic viruses” in that only the former are able to kill cancer cells, even though both display a preferential tropism for malignant tissues. Of note, such a specificity can originate at several different steps of the viral cycle, including the entry of virions (transductional specificity) as well as their intracellular survival and replication (post-transcriptional and transcriptional specificity). During the past two decades, a large array of replication-competent and replication-incompetent oncolytic viruses has been developed and engineered to express gene products that would specifically promote the death of infected (cancer) cells. However, contrarily to long-standing beliefs, the antineoplastic activity of oncolytic viruses is not a mere consequence of the cytopathic effect, i.e., the lethal outcome of an intense, productive viral infection, but rather involves the elicitation of an antitumor immune response. In line with this notion, oncolytic viruses genetically modified to drive the local production of immunostimulatory cytokines exert more robust therapeutic effects than their non-engineered counterparts. Moreover, the efficacy of oncolytic virotherapy is significantly improved by some extent of initial immunosuppression (facilitating viral replication and spread) followed by the administration of immunostimulatory molecules (boosting antitumor immune responses). In this Trial Watch, we will discuss the results of recent clinical trials that have evaluated/are evaluating the safety and antineoplastic potential of oncolytic virotherapy.
PMCID: PMC3716755  PMID: 23894720
GM-CSF; HSV; immunotherapy; JX594; reolysin; talimogene laherparepvec
5.  Immune Recruitment and Therapeutic Synergy: Keys to Optimizing Oncolytic Viral Therapy? 
Oncolytic viruses consist of a diverse range of DNA and RNA viruses traditionally thought to mediate their effects by exploiting aberrations in tumor pathways, allowing preferential viral replication in, and killing of, tumor cells. Clinical development has progressed to late phase trials, potentially heralding their introduction into clinical practice. However, despite this promise, the activity of oncolytic viruses has yet to achieve the potential suggested in preclinical models. To address this disparity, we need to recognise the complex interaction between oncolytic viruses, tumor, chemotherapy, host immune system, and appreciate that direct oncolysis may not be the only factor to play an important role in oncolytic virus-mediated anti-tumor efficacy.
Although key in inactivating viruses, the host immune system can also act as an ally against tumors, interacting with oncolytic viruses under the right conditions to generate useful and long-lasting anti-tumor immunity.
Preclinical data also suggest that oncolytic viruses demonstrate synergy with standard therapies, which may offer improved clinical response rates. Here we explore clinical and preclinical data on clinically relevant oncolytic viruses, highlighting areas of progress, uncertainty and translational opportunity, with respect to immune recruitment and therapeutic synergy.
PMCID: PMC3131422  PMID: 21576084
Oncolytic virus; oncolysis; anti-tumor immune response; chemotherapy; synergy
6.  Oncolytic virus therapy: A new era of cancer treatment at dawn 
Cancer Science  2016;107(10):1373-1379.
Oncolytic virus therapy is perhaps the next major breakthrough in cancer treatment following the success in immunotherapy using immune checkpoint inhibitors. Oncolytic viruses are defined as genetically engineered or naturally occurring viruses that selectively replicate in and kill cancer cells without harming the normal tissues. T‐Vec (talimogene laherparepvec), a second‐generation oncolytic herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV‐1) armed with GM‐CSF, was recently approved as the first oncolytic virus drug in the USA and Europe. The phase III trial proved that local intralesional injections with T‐Vec in advanced malignant melanoma patients can not only suppress the growth of injected tumors but also act systemically and prolong overall survival. Other oncolytic viruses that are closing in on drug approval in North America and Europe include vaccinia virus JX‐594 (pexastimogene devacirepvec) for hepatocellular carcinoma, GM‐CSF‐expressing adenovirus CG0070 for bladder cancer, and Reolysin (pelareorep), a wild‐type variant of reovirus, for head and neck cancer. In Japan, a phase II clinical trial of G47∆, a third‐generation oncolytic HSV‐1, is ongoing in glioblastoma patients. G47∆ was recently designated as a “Sakigake” breakthrough therapy drug in Japan. This new system by the Japanese government should provide G47∆ with priority reviews and a fast‐track drug approval by the regulatory authorities. Whereas numerous oncolytic viruses have been subjected to clinical trials, the common feature that is expected to play a major role in prolonging the survival of cancer patients is an induction of specific antitumor immunity in the course of tumor‐specific viral replication. It appears that it will not be long before oncolytic virus therapy becomes a standard therapeutic option for all cancer patients.
PMCID: PMC5084676  PMID: 27486853
Clinical trial; G47∆; herpes simplex virus; oncolytic immunotherapy; oncolytic virus
7.  CRISPR-Cas9 as a Powerful Tool for Efficient Creation of Oncolytic Viruses 
Viruses  2016;8(3):72.
The development of oncolytic viruses has led to an emerging new class of cancer therapeutics. Although the safety profile has been encouraging, the transition of oncolytic viruses to the clinical setting has been a slow process due to modifications. Therefore, a new generation of more potent oncolytic viruses needs to be exploited, following our better understanding of the complex interactions between the tumor, its microenvironment, the virus, and the host immune response. The conventional method for creation of tumor-targeted oncolytic viruses is based on homologous recombination. However, the creation of new mutant oncolytic viruses with large genomes remains a challenge due to the multi-step process and low efficiency of homologous recombination. The CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 has hugely advanced the potential to edit the genomes of various organisms due to the ability of Cas9 to target a specific genomic site by a single guide RNA. In this review, we discuss the CRISPR-Cas9 system as an efficient viral editing method for the creation of new oncolytic viruses, as well as its potential future applications in the development of oncolytic viruses. Further, this review discusses the potential of off-target effects as well as CRISPR-Cas9 as a tool for basic research into viral biology.
PMCID: PMC4810262  PMID: 26959050
Oncolytic virus; CRISPR-Cas9; homologous recombination; Vaccinia virus; adenovirus; Herpes simplex virus
8.  MicroRNA-Detargeted Mengovirus for Oncolytic Virotherapy 
Journal of Virology  2016;90(8):4078-4092.
Mengovirus, a member of the Picornaviridae family, has a broad cell tropism and can cause encephalitis and myocarditis in multiple mammalian species. Attenuation has been achieved by shortening the polycytidine tract in the 5′ noncoding region (NCR). A poly(C)-truncated strain of mengovirus, vMC24, resulted in significant tumor regression in immunocompetent BALB/c mice bearing syngeneic MPC-11 plasmacytomas, but the associated toxicities were unacceptable. To enhance its safety profile, microRNA target sequences complementary to miR-124 or miR-125 (enriched in nervous tissue), miR-133 and miR-208 (enriched in cardiac tissue), or miR-142 (control; enriched in hematopoietic tissues) were inserted into the vMC24 NCRs. The microRNA-detargeted viruses showed reduced replication and cell killing specifically in cells expressing the cognate microRNAs, but certain insertions additionally were associated with nonspecific suppression of viral fitness in vivo. In vivo toxicity testing confirmed that miR-124 targets within the 5′ NCR suppressed virus replication in the central nervous system while miR-133 and miR-208 targets in the 3′ NCR suppressed viral replication in cardiac tissue. A dual-detargeted virus named vMC24-NC, with miR-124 targets in the 5′ NCR and miR-133 plus miR-208 targets in the 3′ NCR, showed the suppression of replication in both nervous and cardiac tissues but retained full oncolytic potency when administered by intratumoral (106 50% tissue culture infectious doses [TCID50]) or intravenous (107 to 108 TCID50) injection into BALB/c mice bearing MPC-11 plasmacytomas. Overall survival of vMC24-NC-treated tumor-bearing mice was significantly improved compared to that of nontreated mice. MicroRNA-detargeted mengoviruses offer a promising oncolytic virotherapy platform that merits further development for clinical translation.
IMPORTANCE The clinical potential of oncolytic virotherapy for cancer treatment has been well demonstrated, justifying the continued development of novel oncolytic viruses with enhanced potency. Here, we introduce mengovirus as a novel oncolytic agent. Mengovirus is appealing as an oncolytic virotherapy platform because of its small size, simple genome structure, rapid replication cycle, and broad cell/species tropism. However, mengovirus can cause encephalomyelitis and myocarditis. It can be partially attenuated by shortening the poly(C) tract in the 5′ NCR but remains capable of damaging cardiac and nervous tissue. Here, we further enhanced the safety profile of a poly(C)-truncated mengovirus by incorporating muscle- and neuron-specific microRNA target sequences into the viral genome. This dual-detargeted virus has reduced pathogenesis but retained potent oncolytic activity. Our data show that microRNA targeting can be used to further increase the safety of an attenuated mengovirus, providing a basis for its development as an oncolytic platform.
PMCID: PMC4810567  PMID: 26865716
9.  Trial Watch: 
Oncoimmunology  2014;3:e28694.
Oncolytic viruses are natural or genetically modified viral species that selectively infect and kill neoplastic cells. Such an innate or exogenously conferred specificity has generated considerable interest around the possibility to employ oncolytic viruses as highly targeted agents that would mediate cancer cell-autonomous anticancer effects. Accumulating evidence, however, suggests that the therapeutic potential of oncolytic virotherapy is not a simple consequence of the cytopathic effect, but strongly relies on the induction of an endogenous immune response against transformed cells. In line with this notion, superior anticancer effects are being observed when oncolytic viruses are engineered to express (or co-administered with) immunostimulatory molecules. Although multiple studies have shown that oncolytic viruses are well tolerated by cancer patients, the full-blown therapeutic potential of oncolytic virotherapy, especially when implemented in the absence of immunostimulatory interventions, remains unclear. Here, we cover the latest advances in this active area of translational investigation, summarizing high-impact studies that have been published during the last 12 months and discussing clinical trials that have been initiated in the same period to assess the therapeutic potential of oncolytic virotherapy in oncological indications.
PMCID: PMC4091053  PMID: 25097804
adenovirus; ColoAd1; mesenchymal stem cells; MV-NIS; reolysin; talimogene laherparepvec
10.  Harnessing the Power of Onco-Immunotherapy with Checkpoint Inhibitors 
Viruses  2015;7(11):5889-5901.
Oncolytic viruses represent a diverse class of replication competent viruses that curtail tumor growth. These viruses, through their natural ability or through genetic modifications, can selectively replicate within tumor cells and induce cell death while leaving normal cells intact. Apart from the direct oncolytic activity, these viruses mediate tumor cell death via the induction of innate and adaptive immune responses. The field of oncolytic viruses has seen substantial advancement with the progression of numerous oncolytic viruses in various phases of clinical trials. Tumors employ a plethora of mechanisms to establish growth and subsequently metastasize. These include evasion of immune surveillance by inducing up-regulation of checkpoint proteins which function to abrogate T cell effector functions. Currently, antibodies blocking checkpoint proteins such as anti-cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4) and anti-programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) have been approved to treat cancer and shown to impart durable clinical responses. These antibodies typically need pre-existing active immune tumor microenvironment to establish durable clinical outcomes and not every patient responds to these therapies. This review provides an overview of published pre-clinical studies demonstrating superior therapeutic efficacy of combining oncolytic viruses with checkpoint blockade compared to monotherapies. These studies provide compelling evidence that oncolytic therapy can be potentiated by coupling it with checkpoint therapies.
PMCID: PMC4664987  PMID: 26580645
oncolytic viruses; checkpoint inhibitors; anti-PD-1; anti-CTLA-4; immunotherapy; oncoimmunotherapy; innate and adaptive immunity; immune-evasion
11.  Cell carriers for oncolytic viruses: current challenges and future directions 
Oncolytic Virotherapy  2013;2:47-56.
The optimal route for clinical delivery of oncolytic viruses is thought to be systemic intravenous injection; however, the immune system is armed with several highly efficient mechanisms to remove pathogens from the circulatory system. To overcome the challenges faced in trying to delivery oncolytic viruses specifically to tumors via the bloodstream, carrier cells have been investigated to determine their suitability as delivery vehicles for systemic administration of oncolytic viruses. Cell carriers protect viruses from neutralization, one of the most limiting aspects of oncolytic virus interaction with the immune system. Cell carriers can also possess inherent tumor tropism, thus directing the delivery of the virus more specifically to a tumor. With preclinical studies already demonstrating the success and feasibility of this approach with multiple oncolytic viruses, clinical evaluation of cell-mediated delivery of viruses is on the horizon. Meanwhile, ongoing preclinical studies are aimed at identifying new cellular vehicles for oncolytic viruses and improving current promising cell carrier platforms.
PMCID: PMC4918354  PMID: 27512657
oncolytic virus; cell carrier; systemic delivery; tumor targeting; cancer
12.  “Armed” oncolytic herpes simplex viruses for brain tumor therapy 
Cell Adhesion & Migration  2008;2(3):208-213.
Genetically engineered, conditionally replicating herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) are promising therapeutic agents for brain tumors and other solid cancers. They can replicate in situ, spread and exhibit oncolytic activity via a direct cytocidal effect. One of the advantages of HSV-1 is the capacity to incorporate large and/or multiple transgenes within the viral genome. Oncolytic HSV-1 can therefore be “armed” to add certain functions. Recently, the field of armed oncolytic HSV-1 has drastically advanced, due to development of recombinant HSV-1 generation systems that utilize bacterial artificial chromosome and multiple DNA recombinases. Because antitumor immunity is induced in the course of oncolytic activities of HSV-1, transgenes encoding immunomodulatory molecules have been most frequently used for arming. Other armed oncolytic HSV-1 include those that express antiangiogenic factors, fusogenic membrane glycoproteins, suicide gene products, and proapoptotic proteins. Provided that the transgene product does not interfere with viral replication, such arming of oncolytic HSV-1 results in augmentation of antitumor efficacy. Immediate-early viral promoters are often used to control the arming transgenes, but strict-late viral promoters have been shown useful to restrict the expression in the late stage of viral replication when desirable. Some armed oncolytic HSV-1 have been created for the purpose of noninvasive in vivo imaging of viral infection and replication. Development of a wide variety of armed oncolytic HSV-1 will lead to an establishment of a new genre of therapy for brain tumors as well as other cancers.
PMCID: PMC2634086  PMID: 19262110
oncolytic virus therapy; gene therapy; herpes simplex virus; viral vectors; G47Δ; G207; antitumor immunity
13.  Expression of RNA interference triggers from an oncolytic herpes simplex virus results in specific silencing in tumour cells in vitro and tumours in vivo 
BMC Cancer  2010;10:486.
Delivery of small interfering RNA (siRNA) to tumours remains a major obstacle for the development of RNA interference (RNAi)-based therapeutics. Following the promising pre-clinical and clinical results with the oncolytic herpes simplex virus (HSV) OncoVEXGM-CSF, we aimed to express RNAi triggers from oncolytic HSV, which although has the potential to improve treatment by silencing tumour-related genes, was not considered possible due to the highly oncolytic properties of HSV.
To evaluate RNAi-mediated silencing from an oncolytic HSV backbone, we developed novel replicating HSV vectors expressing short-hairpin RNA (shRNA) or artificial microRNA (miRNA) against the reporter genes green fluorescent protein (eGFP) and β-galactosidase (lacZ). These vectors were tested in non-tumour cell lines in vitro and tumour cells that are moderately susceptible to HSV infection both in vitro and in mice xenografts in vivo. Silencing was assessed at the protein level by fluorescent microscopy, x-gal staining, enzyme activity assay, and western blotting.
Our results demonstrate that it is possible to express shRNA and artificial miRNA from an oncolytic HSV backbone, which had not been previously investigated. Furthermore, oncolytic HSV-mediated delivery of RNAi triggers resulted in effective and specific silencing of targeted genes in tumour cells in vitro and tumours in vivo, with the viruses expressing artificial miRNA being comprehensibly more effective.
This preliminary data provide the first demonstration of oncolytic HSV-mediated expression of shRNA or artificial miRNA and silencing of targeted genes in tumour cells in vitro and in vivo. The vectors developed in this study are being adapted to silence tumour-related genes in an ongoing study that aims to improve the effectiveness of oncolytic HSV treatment in tumours that are moderately susceptible to HSV infection and thus, potentially improve response rates seen in human clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC2944180  PMID: 20836854
14.  Expression of CCL19 from Oncolytic Vaccinia Enhances Immunotherapeutic Potential while Maintaining Oncolytic Activity12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2012;14(12):1115-1121.
Promising phase II clinical results have been reported recently for several oncolytic viral therapeutics, including strains based on vaccinia virus. One reason for this has been an increased appreciation of the critical therapeutic importance of the immune response raised by these viruses. However, the most commonly used approaches to enhance these immunotherapeutic effects in oncolytic viruses, typically though expression of cytokine transgenes, often also result in a reduction in oncolytic activity and premature clearance of the virotherapy from the tumor. Approaches that enhance the immunotherapeutic effects while maintaining oncolytic activity would therefore be beneficial. Here, it is demonstrated that the expression of the chemokine CCL19 (ELC) from an oncolytic vaccinia virus (vvCCL19) results in increased antitumor effects in syngeneic mouse tumor models. This corresponded with increased t cell and dendritic cell infiltration into the tumor. However, vvCCL19 persisted in the tumor at equivalent levels to a control virus without CCL19, demonstrating that oncolytic activity was not curtailed. Instead, vvCCL19 was cleared rapidly and selectively from normal tissues and organs, indicating a potentially increased safety profile. The therapeutic activity of vvCCL19 could be further significantly increased through combination with adoptive transfer of therapeutic immune cells expressing CCR7, the receptor for CCL19. This approach therefore represents a means to increase the safety and therapeutic benefit of oncolytic viruses, used alone or in combination with immune cell therapies.
PMCID: PMC3540938  PMID: 23308044
15.  Acute Myeloid Leukemia Targeting by Myxoma Virus In Vivo Depends on Cell Binding But Not Permissiveness to Infection In Vitro 
Leukemia Research  2012;36(5):619-624.
Some oncolytic viruses, such as myxoma virus (MYXV), can selectively target malignant hematopoietic cells, while sparing normal hematopoietic cells. This capacity for discrimination creates an opportunity to use oncolytic viruses as ex vivo purging agents of autologous hematopoietic cell grafts in patients with hematologic malignancies. However, the mechanisms by which oncolytic viruses select malignant hematopoietic cells are poorly understood. In this study, we investigated how MYXV specifically targets human AML cells. MYXV prevented chloroma formation and bone marrow engraftment of two human AML cell lines, KG-1 and THP-1. The reduction in human leukemia engraftment after ex vivo MYXV treatment was dose-dependent and required a minimum MOI of 3. Both AML cell lines demonstrated MYXV binding to leukemia cell membranes following co-incubation: however, evidence of productive MYXV infection was observed only in THP-1 cells. This observation, that KG-1 can be targeted in vivo even in the absence of in vitro permissive viral infection, contrasts with the current understanding of oncolytic virotherapy, which assumes that virus infection and productive replication is a requirement. Preventing MYXV binding to AML cells with heparin abrogated the purging capacity of MYXV, indicating that binding of infectious virus particles is a necessary step for effective viral oncolysis. Our results challenge the current dogma of oncolytic virotherapy and show that in vitro permissiveness to an oncolytic virus is not necessarily an accurate predictor of oncolytic potency in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3312971  PMID: 22341701
leukemia; oncolytic virotherapy; bone marrow; hematopoietic stem cell; animal models
16.  Stem Cell-Based Cell Carrier for Targeted Oncolytic Virotherapy: Translational Opportunity and Open Questions 
Viruses  2015;7(12):6200-6217.
Oncolytic virotherapy for cancer is an innovative therapeutic option where the ability of a virus to promote cell lysis is harnessed and reprogrammed to selectively destroy cancer cells. Such treatment modalities exhibited antitumor activity in preclinical and clinical settings and appear to be well tolerated when tested in clinical trials. However, the clinical success of oncolytic virotherapy has been significantly hampered due to the inability to target systematic metastasis. This is partly due to the inability of the therapeutic virus to survive in the patient circulation, in order to target tumors at distant sites. An early study from various laboratories demonstrated that cells infected with oncolytic virus can protect the therapeutic payload form the host immune system as well as function as factories for virus production and enhance the therapeutic efficacy of oncolytic virus. While a variety of cell lineages possessed potential as cell carriers, copious investigation has established stem cells as a very attractive cell carrier system in oncolytic virotherapy. The ideal cell carrier desire to be susceptible to viral infection as well as support viral infection, maintain immunosuppressive properties to shield the loaded viruses from the host immune system, and most importantly possess an intrinsic tumor homing ability to deliver loaded viruses directly to the site of the metastasis—all qualities stem cells exhibit. In this review, we summarize the recent work in the development of stem cell-based carrier for oncolytic virotherapy, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of cell carriers, especially focusing on why stem cells have emerged as the leading candidate, and finally propose a future direction for stem cell-based targeted oncolytic virotherapy that involves its establishment as a viable treatment option for cancer patients in the clinical setting.
PMCID: PMC4690850  PMID: 26633462
cell carrier; oncolytic virus; stem cell
17.  Systemic Delivery of a Novel Liver-Detargeted Oncolytic Adenovirus Causes Reduced Liver Toxicity but Maintains the Antitumor Response in a Breast Cancer Bone Metastasis Model 
Human Gene Therapy  2011;22(9):1137-1142.
We are interested in developing oncolytic adenoviruses for the treatment of bone metastasis of cancer. A key limitation of systemic delivery of oncolytic adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) is that the majority of the virus is taken up by the liver, causing liver damage and systemic toxicity. Given that Ad5 hexon binding with blood coagulation factor X is a key factor in liver sequestration, and that a rare serotype, Ad48, has a diminished capacity to bind with factor X, we have generated mHAd.luc2, a novel hexon-chimeric oncolytic adenovirus. To create mHAd.luc2, seven hypervariable regions of Ad5 hexon were substituted with the corresponding regions from Ad48. Compared with Ad5-based oncolytic virus Ad.luc2, intravenous injection of mHAd.luc2 into nude mice resulted in significantly reduced liver uptake. A single high dose (1.0×1011 viral particles/mouse) of Ad.luc2 resulted in 100% animal death by day 3; whereas none of the mice died in the mHAd.luc2 group. Liver enzyme and liver pathology studies indicated that mHAd.luc2 induced significantly less liver toxicity compared with Ad.luc2. Both mHAd.luc2 and Ad.luc2 exhibited similar binding with breast tumor cells, whereas in the presence of factor X, mHAd.luc2 binding was reduced. Both mHAd.luc2 and Ad.luc2 had nearly equal replication potential in breast cancer cells in vitro. Intravenous injection of mHAd.luc2 and Ad.luc2 into nude mice bearing bone metastases resulted in uptake of the viruses into skeletal tumors, and induced significant inhibition of established bone metastases. Thus, liver-detargeted oncolytic adenovirus can be developed for the treatment of breast cancer bone metastasis.
Zhang and colleagues generate a novel hexon chimeric oncolytic adenovirus, mHAd.luc2, in which the hypervariable regions (HVRs) of adenovirus serotype 5 are substituted with those of Ad48, which is an adenoviral serotype that has reduced hexon-FX binding compared with Ad5. Compared with Ad5-based oncolytic virus Ad.luc2, intravenous injection of mHAd.luc2 into nude mice results in significantly reduced liver uptake and reduced systemic toxicity. Intravenous injection of mHAd.luc2 and Ad.luc2 into nude mice bearing bone metastases results in uptake of the viruses into skeletal tumors, and induces significant inhibition of established bone metastases.
PMCID: PMC3177947  PMID: 21480822
18.  Oncolytic Polio Virotherapy of Cancer 
Cancer  2014;120(21):3277-3286.
Recently, the century-old idea of targeting cancer with viruses (‘oncolytic viruses’) has come of age, with promise documented in early-stage and several late-stage clinical trials in a variety of cancers. While originally prized for their direct tumor cytotoxicity (‘oncolytic virotherapy’), recently, the pro-inflammatory and immunogenic effects of viral tumor infection (‘oncolytic immunotherapy’) have come into focus. Indeed, a capacity for eliciting broad, sustained anti-neoplastic effects stemming from combined direct viral cytotoxicity, innate antiviral activation, stromal pro-inflammatory stimulation and recruitment of adaptive immune effector responses is the greatest asset of oncolytic viruses. However, it also is the source for enormous mechanistic complexity that must be considered for successful clinical translation. Due to fundamentally different relationships with their hosts (malignant or not), diverse replication strategies and distinct modes of tumor cytotoxicity/ killing, oncolytic viruses should not be referred to collectively. These agents must be evaluated based on their individual merits. In this review, we highlight key mechanistic principles of cancer treatment with the polio:rhinovirus chimera PVSRIPO, and their implications for oncolytic immunotherapy in the clinic.
PMCID: PMC4205207  PMID: 24939611
poliovirus; oncolytic virus; IRES; Necl5; CD155; translation; innate antiviral response; interferon; eIF4G
19.  Fc-gamma receptor polymorphisms as predictive and prognostic factors in patients receiving oncolytic adenovirus treatment 
Oncolytic viruses have shown potential as cancer therapeutics, but not all patients seem to benefit from therapy. Polymorphisms in Fc gamma receptors (FcgRs) lead to altered binding affinity of IgG between the receptor allotypes and therefore contribute to differences in immune defense mechanisms. Associations have been identified between FcgR polymorphisms and responsiveness to different immunotherapies. Taken together with the increasing understanding that immunological factors might determine the efficacy of oncolytic virotherapy we studied whether FcgR polymorphisms would have prognostic and/or predictive significance in the context of oncolytic adenovirus treatments.
235 patients with advanced solid tumors were genotyped for two FcgR polymorphisms, FcgRIIa-H131R (rs1801274) and FcgRIIIa-V158F (rs396991), using TaqMan based qPCR. The genotypes were correlated with patient survival and tumor imaging data.
In patients treated with oncolytic adenoviruses, overall survival was significantly shorter if the patient had an FcgRIIIa-VV/ FcgRIIa-HR (VVHR) genotype combination (P = 0,032). In contrast, patients with FFHR and FFRR genotypes had significantly longer overall survival (P = 0,004 and P = 0,006, respectively) if they were treated with GM-CSF-armed adenovirus in comparison to other viruses. Treatment of these patients with unarmed virus correlated with shorter survival (P < 0,0005 and P = 0,016, respectively). Treating FFHH individuals with CD40L-armed virus resulted in longer survival than treatment with other viruses (P = 0,047).
Our data are compatible with the hypothesis that individual differences in effector cell functions, such as NK cell-mediated antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) and tumor antigen presentation by APCs caused by polymorphisms in FcgRs could play role in the effectiveness of oncolytic virotherapies. If confirmed in larger populations, FcgR polymorphisms could have potential as prognostic and predictive biomarkers for oncolytic adenovirus therapies to enable better selection of patients for clinical trials. Also, putative associations between genotypes, different viruses and survival implicate potentially important mechanistic issues.
PMCID: PMC3765225  PMID: 23965133
Fc gamma receptor (FcgR); Oncolytic virus; NK cell; GM-CSF; CD40L
20.  Mitophagy Enhances Oncolytic Measles Virus Replication by Mitigating DDX58/RIG-I-Like Receptor Signaling 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(9):5152-5164.
The success of future clinical trials with oncolytic viruses depends on the identification and the control of mechanisms that modulate their therapeutic efficacy. In particular, little is known about the role of autophagy in infection by attenuated measles virus of the Edmonston strain (MV-Edm). We investigated the interaction between autophagy, innate immune response, and oncolytic activity of MV-Edm, since the antiviral immune response is a known factor limiting virotherapies. We report that MV-Edm exploits selective autophagy to mitigate the innate immune response mediated by DDX58/RIG-I like receptors (RLRs) in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells. Both RNA interference (RNAi) and overexpression approaches demonstrate that autophagy enhances viral replication and inhibits the production of type I interferons regulated by RLRs. We show that MV-Edm unexpectedly triggers SQSTM1/p62-mediated mitophagy, resulting in decreased mitochondrion-tethered mitochondrial antiviral signaling protein (MAVS) and subsequently weakening the innate immune response. These results unveil a novel infectious strategy based on the usurpation of mitophagy leading to mitigation of the innate immune response. This finding provides a rationale to modulate autophagy in oncolytic virotherapy.
IMPORTANCE In vitro studies, preclinical experiments in vivo, and clinical trials with humans all indicate that oncolytic viruses hold promise for cancer therapy. Measles virus of the Edmonston strain (MV-Edm), which is an attenuated virus derived from the common wild-type measles virus, is paradigmatic for therapeutic oncolytic viruses. MV-Edm replicates preferentially in and kills cancer cells. The efficiency of MV-Edm is limited by the immune response of the host against viruses. In our study, we revealed that MV-Edm usurps a homeostatic mechanism of intracellular degradation of mitochondria, coined mitophagy, to attenuate the innate immune response in cancer cells. This strategy might provide a replicative advantage for the virus against the development of antiviral immune responses by the host. These findings are important since they may not only indicate that inducers of autophagy could enhance the efficacy of oncolytic therapies but also provide clues for antiviral therapy by targeting SQSTM1/p62-mediated mitophagy.
PMCID: PMC3993837  PMID: 24574393
21.  Immunoglobulin-like transcript 2 (ILT2) is a biomarker of therapeutic response to oncolytic immunotherapy with vaccinia viruses 
Oncolytic viruses represent a novel form of cancer immunotherapy. Vaccinia viruses encoding human T cell co-stimulatory molecules have demonstrated clinical activity in phase I clinical trials in patients with advanced melanoma. However, predictive biomarkers of therapeutic response have not yet been identified.
A customized microarray was performed to identify changes in peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) gene expression upon exposure to recombinant oncolytic vaccinia viruses. Up-regulated and down-regulated genes were identified and selected for further analysis using PBMC samples from normal donors and oncolytic virus-treated patients before and after viral injection. Quantitative PCR and flow cytometry of defined T cell subsets was performed to evaluate expression patterns and clinical correlations.
The microarray identified 301 genes that were up-regulated and 960 genes that were down-regulated in T cells after exposure to oncolytic vaccinia virus. The B7.1 gene was highly up-regulated and the immunoglobulin-like transcript 2 (ILT2) gene was highly down-regulated by vaccinia-B7.1, which was consistent with the known inverse regulation of these two genes. We observed an inverse association between ILT2 expression in the tumor microenvironment and clinical response and further identified ILT2 as a marker of regulatory CD4+ and suppressor CD8+ T cell responses and whose down-regulation was predictive of therapeutic responses in patients treated with oncolytic virus immunotherapy.
ILT2 is a new putative biomarker of T cell and clinical response in patients treated with oncolytic vaccinia virus immunotherapy. Further confirmation of ILT2 as a biomarker requires prospective validation in a larger series of clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC4019911  PMID: 24829758
Immunoglobulin-like transcript 2; Biomarker; Vaccinia; Oncolytic virus; Immunotherapy; T cells; Cancer vaccines
22.  Ultrasound-mediated oncolytic virus delivery and uptake for increased therapeutic efficacy: state of art 
Oncolytic Virotherapy  2015;4:193-205.
The field of ultrasound (US) has changed significantly from medical imaging and diagnosis to treatment strategies. US contrast agents or microbubbles (MB) are currently being used as potential carriers for chemodrugs, small molecules, nucleic acids, small interfering ribonucleic acid, proteins, adenoviruses, and oncolytic viruses. Oncolytic viruses can selectively replicate within and destroy a cancer cell, thus making them a powerful therapeutic in treating late-stage or metastatic cancer. These viruses have been shown to have robust activity in clinical trials when injected directly into tumor nodules. However limitations in oncolytic virus’ effectiveness and its delivery approach have warranted exploration of ultrasound-mediated delivery. Gene therapy bearing adenoviruses or oncolytic viruses can be coupled with MBs and injected intravenously. Following application of US energy to the target region, the MBs cavitate, and the resulting shock wave enhances drug, gene, or adenovirus uptake. Though the underlying mechanism is yet to be fully understood, there is evidence to suggest that mechanical pore formation of cellular membranes allows for the temporary uptake of drugs. This delivery method circumvents the limitations due to stimulation of the immune system that prevented intravenous administration of viruses. This review provides insight into this intriguing new frontier on the delivery of oncolytic viruses to tumor sites.
PMCID: PMC4918399  PMID: 27512682
microbubbles; ultrasound; ultrasound-contrast agent; oncolytic virus; adenovirus; gene therapy
23.  Permissiveness of Human Cancer Cells to Oncolytic Bovine Herpesvirus 1 Is Mediated in Part by KRAS Activity 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(12):6885-6895.
Oncolytic viruses (OVs) are attractive avenues of cancer therapy due to the absence of toxic side effects often seen with current treatment modalities. Bovine herpesvirus 1 (BHV-1) is a species-specific virus that does not induce cytotoxicity in normal primary human cells but can infect and kill various human immortalized and transformed cell lines. To gain a better understanding of the oncolytic breadth of BHV-1, the NCI panel of established human tumor cell lines was screened for sensitivity to the virus. Overall, 72% of the panel is permissive to BHV-1 infection, with corresponding decreases in cellular viability. This sensitivity is in comparison to a sensitivity of only 32% for a herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1)-based oncolytic vector. Strikingly, while 35% of the panel supports minimal or no BHV-1 replication, significant decreases in cellular viability still occur. These data suggest that BHV-1 is an OV with tropism for multiple tumor types and is able to induce cytotoxicity independent of significant virus replication. In contrast to other species-specific OVs, cellular sensitivity to BHV-1 does not correlate with type I interferon (IFN) signaling; however, mutations in KRAS were found to correlate with high levels of virus replication. The knockdown or overexpression of KRAS in human tumor cell lines yields modest changes in viral titers; however, overexpression of KRAS in normal primary cells elicits permissivity to BHV-1 infection. Together, these data suggest that BHV-1 is a broad-spectrum OV with a distinct mechanism of tumor targeting.
IMPORTANCE Cancer remains a significant health issue, and novel treatments are required, particularly for tumors that are refractory to conventional therapies. Oncolytic viruses are a novel platform given their ability to specifically target tumor cells while leaving healthy cells intact. For this strategy to be successful, a fundamental understanding of virus-host interactions is required. We previously identified bovine herpesvirus 1 as a novel oncolytic virus with many unique and clinically relevant features. Here, we show that BHV-1 can target a wide range of human cancer types, most potently lung cancer. In addition, we show that enhanced KRAS activity, a hallmark of many cancers, is one of the factors that increases BHV-1 oncolytic capacity. These findings hold potential for future treatments, particularly in the context of lung cancer, where KRAS mutations are a negative predictor of treatment efficacy.
PMCID: PMC4054371  PMID: 24696490
24.  Inducible Gene Expression in Tumors Colonized by Modified Oncolytic Vaccinia Virus Strains 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(19):11556-11567.
Exogenous gene induction of therapeutic, diagnostic, and safety mechanisms could be a considerable improvement in oncolytic virotherapy. Here, we introduced a doxycycline-inducible promoter system (comprised of a tetracycline repressor, several promoter constructs, and a tet operator sequence) into oncolytic recombinant vaccinia viruses (rVACV), which were further characterized in detail. Experiments in cell cultures as well as in tumor-bearing mice were analyzed to determine the role of the inducible-system components. To accomplish this, we took advantage of the optical reporter construct, which resulted in the production of click-beetle luciferase as well as a red fluorescent protein. The results indicated that each of the system components could be used to optimize the induction rates and had an influence on the background expression levels. Depending on the given gene to be induced in rVACV-colonized tumors of patients, we discuss the doxycycline-inducible promoter system adjustment and further optimization.
IMPORTANCE Oncolytic virotherapy of cancer can greatly benefit from the expression of heterologous genes. It is reasonable that some of those heterologous gene products could have detrimental effects either on the cancer patient or on the oncolytic virus itself if they are expressed at the wrong time or if the expression levels are too high. Therefore, exogenous control of gene expression levels by administration of a nontoxic inducer will have positive effects on the safety as well as the therapeutic outcome of oncolytic virotherapy. In addition, it paves the way for the introduction of new therapeutic genes into the genome of oncolytic viruses that could not have been tested otherwise.
PMCID: PMC4178832  PMID: 25056902
25.  Dissecting the roles of E1A and E1B in adenoviral replication and RCAd-enhanced RDAd transduction efficacy on tumor cells 
Cancer Biology & Therapy  2014;15(10):1358-1366.
Oncolytic viruses have recently received widespread attention for their potential in innovative cancer therapy. Many telomerase promoter-regulated oncolytic adenoviral vectors retain E1A and E1B. However, the functions of E1A and E1B proteins in the oncolytic role of replication-competent adenovirus (RCAd) and RCAd enhanced transduction of replication defective adenoviruses (RDAd) have not been addressed well. In this study, we constructed viruses expressing E1A alone, E1A plus E1B-19 kDa, and E1A plus E1B-19 kDa/55 kDa. We then tested their roles in oncolysis and replication of RCAd as well as their roles in RCAd enhanced transfection rate and transgene expression of RDAd in various cancer cells in vitro and in xenografted human NCI-H460 tumors in nude mice. We demonstrated that RCAds expressing E1A alone and plus E1B-19 kDa exhibited an obvious ability in replication and oncolytic effects as well as enhanced RDAd replication and transgene expression, with the former showed more effective oncolysis, while the latter exhibited superior viral replication and transgene promotion activity. However, RCAd expressing both E1A and E1B-19 kDa/55 kDa was clearly worst in all these abilities. The effects of E1A and E1B observed through using RCAd were further validated by using plasmids expressing E1A alone, E1A plus E1B-19 kDa, and E1A plus E1B-19 kDa/55 kDa proteins. Our study provided evidence that E1A was essential for inducing replication and oncolytic effects of RCAd as well as RCAd enhanced RDAd transduction, and expression of E1B-19 kDa other than E1B-55 kDa could promote these effects. E1B-55 kDa is not necessary for the oncolytic effects of adenoviruses and somehow inhibits RCAd-mediated RDAd replication and transgene expression.
PMCID: PMC4130729  PMID: 25019940
tumor; adenoviral vector; replication defective adenovirus; replication competent adenovirus; tumor gene therapy; gene transduction; gene expression

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