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Professor Graham Cook and Dr Fiona Errington-Mais

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“We are looking into developing an immunotherapy for osteosarcoma…using viruses that attack cancer cells. “

Professor Graham Cook
Professor of Molecular and Cellular Immunology
University of Leeds, UK

Oncolytic virus-based activation of natural killer cells for the immunotherapy of osteosarcoma

Research Summary

Osteosarcoma is a rare and dangerous cancer of the bone and treatment has changed very little over the last 25 years. Our goal is to tackle the unmet need for new osteosarcoma treatments by developing osteosarcoma immunotherapy.

The immune system protects us against cancer as well as infections with microbes. However, cancers ultimately evade the attention of the immune system. The goal of immunotherapy is to reactivate the immune system, allowing it to attack the cancer.

Several common cancers, such as melanoma, respond well to immunotherapies which “wake up” the immune cells and allow them to attack the cancer. However, the immune response to osteosarcoma is weak to start with, making immunotherapy very challenging for this disease.

We have been investigating immunotherapy using so-called oncolytic (“cancer bursting”) viruses. These viruses kill the cancer directly and they alert the immune system and allow it to attack the cancer. Importantly, these viruses are very safe with only mild side effects observed in patients. We hypothesise that these viruses will enhance immunotherapy of osteosarcoma.

We will test the ability of different oncolytic viruses to kill osteosarcoma cells cultured in the laboratory and see if the viruses activate immune cells and allow them to kill osteosarcoma cells. We will use genetic data generated in other laboratories to investigate how osteosarcoma turns off the immune system in patients and use this information to design therapeutic approaches that combine viruses with drugs that prevent the cancer from escaping immune attack.

We will test these approaches using laboratory models of the cancer and use animal models that incorporate both human tumours and human immune cells.

Importantly, these oncolytic viruses are in clinical trials in other cancers. This greatly accelerates the progression of these viruses from the laboratory to clinical trials in osteosarcoma patients.

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