Herpes is a curse to most — but maybe a blessing to some.
A new cancer therapy that employs a modified form of the virus to attack tumors has totally cleared a London man’s cancer of the salivary glands.
The drug, called RP2, was proven to have promising effects in early clinical trials overseas.
Krzysztof Wojkowski, the 39-year-old survivor, told the BBC that he was preparing to die when he heard of the experimental drug, which was available through a phase one safety trial at the Institute of Cancer Research in the UK.
He gave it a chance since his cancer continued to grow despite attempts at other treatments. Now, Wojkowski claims he’s been cancer-free for two years.
RP2 involves a weakened form of herpes simplex — the virus that causes cold sores — that has been modified to only infect tumors. Unlike other cancer drugs, it is injected directly into the tumor.
Once inside the body, the virus replicates itself until the cancer cell explodes. At the same time, it also rallies the immune system to attack what’s left, according to lead researcher Kevin Harrington.
RP2 works similarly to T-Vec, which is also engineered based on the herpes simplex virus. Approved to treat advanced skin cancer in 2015, this drug includes a gene that stimulates the production of immune cells that prepares the immune system to attack.
“When we have tumors that are heavily pretreated and they respond favorably — to RP2 or T-Vec — that’s even more food for thought, in the sense that now we have tumors that were resistant to treatment and are responding,” Jonathan Zager of the Moffitt Cancer Center, who was not involved in the trial, told Insider.
While Wojkowski is living a life without cancer, other patients in the UK trial had less dramatic results. Most saw their tumors shrink and only experienced mild side effects, such as tiredness.
Three out of nine participants who were given the trial drug alone, and seven of 30 who received a combined treatment, appeared to benefit from RP2.
“We’ll see some more studies done in the very near future, and I’m excited — certainly not disheartened or skeptical,” Zager added.