Retargeted bird virus could provide new treatment for prostate cancer

A potential treatment for prostate cancer has an unlikely origin--a zoonotic disease.

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Scientists from Virginia Polytechnic Institute are tapping a Newcastle disease virus that kills prostate cancer cells, including hormone-resistant cells, but leaves normal cells intact, as a potential new drug. Newcastle disease can kill chickens, but in humans it typically only causes mild flu-like symptoms.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men, behind lung cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that one in 6 men will be diagnosed with the disease in his lifetime.

The Virginia Tech researchers have modified the virus to test its use in preclinical animal models and eventually in a Phase I clinical trial. The Newcastle disease virus could provide a better alternative to traditional prostate cancer treatments since it does not attack healthy cells the way chemotherapy does, the researchers say.

Previous clinical trials have shown promising results in using the virus to treat different kinds of cancer, but to be effective these studies have required multiple injections of the virus in large quantities.

The problem, the researchers say, is likely because the therapy failed to reach solid tumors in appropriate quantities and spread poorly within the tumors. To address this, the scientists modified the virus's fusion protein, a molecule that enables a virus to enter the host cell because it fuses the virus envelope to the cell membrane. The retargeted virus only interacts with prostate cancer cells, reducing the amount of the virus needed for treatment.

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The study is forthcoming in the April issue of Journal of Virology.

- here's the press release
- check out the study abstract