The Cancer Foundation supports a project on cancer virotherapy of a newly created research group at LIH and DKFZ

2017 - 03 - 09

The Cancer Foundation supports a project on cancer virotherapy of a newly created research group at LIH and DKFZ

Luxembourg’s Cancer Foundation (Fondation Cancer) funds a research project that allows the optimal launch of a new research group created at LIH’s Department of Oncology beginning of this year. It is a binational group resulting from an agreement signed in December 2016 between LIH and the renowned German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ).

The group named LOVIT, standing for “Laboratory of Oncolytic-Virus-Immuno-Therapeutics” will focus - as the name suggests - on the development of innovative oncolytic virus therapeutics for cancer patients. The project, co-financed by the two institutes, is generously supported by the Cancer Foundation. On 9th March 2017, Dr Carlo Bock, President of the Cancer Foundation, and Lucienne Thommes, Director of the Cancer Foundation, handed over a check of 426,000 € to the group leader Dr Antonio Marchini, in the presence of Karl-Heinz Dick, CFAO of LIH. Oncolytic viruses are promising anticancer agents because they selectively infect and kill cancer cells by lysis, and elicit robust anti-cancer immune responses. With the recent approval of the first oncolytic virus for treatment of metastatic skin cancer by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, oncolytic virotherapy is gaining momentum quickly, with a number of oncolytic viruses being tested in various clinical trials for the treatment of different tumours.

LOVIT aims to combine two oncolytic viruses and investigate the therapeutic potential of adenovirus-parvovirus (Ad-PV) chimeras to provide preclinical evidence of their superior anticancer activity. One oncolytic parvovirus, the rat parvovirus H-1PV, has been recently evaluated in a first clinical trial in patients with recurrent glioblastoma (brain tumour), proving its safety and showing first signs of efficacy. To enhance parvovirus efficacy, a prototype of Ad-PV chimeras has been developed at DKFZ by inserting an engineered version of the H-1PV genome into the adenovirus Ad5 genome. In a proof of concept study the chimeras efficiently infected cancer cells and produced fully infectious viral particles. These viral particles can infect neighbouring cancer cells, kill them and induce secondary rounds of lytic infection, thereby amplifying the initial cytotoxic activity of the chimera.

‘This is a new concept in the oncolytic virus field’, says Dr Marchini. ‘It combines the advantages and circumvents the limitations of two distinct oncolytic viruses. The Ad-PV chimera offers a large number of research opportunities to further improve anticancer potential. Therapeutic transgenes can be inserted into the chimeric genome, and LOVIT is also looking into combination strategies between the chimeras and other anticancer treatments. Our goal is to develop a second generation of Ad-PV chimeras as well as combination treatments and test promising candidates. We aim to launch our first clinical trial in Luxembourg by the end of a five year period.’

The new research group, with laboratory space at both LIH and DKFZ, will start with seven or eight team members. At LIH, LOVIT will collaborate with the other teams of the Department of Oncology, in particular with the NorLux Neuro-Oncology Laboratory working on glioblastoma.

‘At the beginning’, continues Dr Marchini, ‘we will target glioblastoma and pancreatic cancer which are among the most fatal malignancies still lacking of effective therapies. In the future we plan to extend our research to other cancer types, such as lung cancer. Our aim is to establish additional collaborations inside and outside Luxembourg for the sake to expedite cancer research and make it count for patients. We are particularly indebted to the Foundation Cancer for supporting our research program and for sustaining LOVIT in its fight against cancer. We will work hard and to our best with the hope to provide cancer patients new therapeutic options.’ 

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From left to right: Karl-Heinz Dick (CFAO of LIH), Dr Carlo Bock (President of the Cancer Foundation), Dr Antonio Marchini (principal investigator of LOVIT at LIH), and Lucienne Thommes (Director of the Cancer Foundation)

A press release from the Cancer Foundation is available in French and German.