The fact that neutered viruses can be safely used as vectors to deliver drugs and genes has helped inspire a huge new wave of R&D in biopharma. And now investigators at Stanford say they were able to create a new-and-improved viral vector that could one-up everything now in the clinic.
They say they started out with the controversial idea of using the hepatitis B virus for their work, concentrating on the noninfectious middle layer called the capsid. The capsid is big enough to carry a significant therapeutic load, and the scientists say they reengineered the virus to make sure it was invisible to the immune system, hardy enough to survive a trip in the bloodstream and featured a surface that molecular tags could be hung on. Using the right tags would help spur a specific attack on cancer cells or enable it to deliver a targeted payload.
Or, presumably, help do both.
More work needs to be done in reengineering the virus, but the researchers say they are happy that after being turned down on their funding request, they have got as far as they have. And one of the top scientists in their field says their work, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is outstanding.
"This is terrific work, a beautiful paper," MIT's Robert Langer said. "Dr. Swartz and colleagues have done a remarkable job of stabilizing viruslike particles and re-engineering their surface."
"This was a proof-of-principle experiment so there's a lot of work to be done," said James Swartz, the professor of chemical engineering and of bioengineering at Stanford who led the study. "But I believe we can use this smart particle to deliver cancer-fighting immunotherapies that will have minimal side effects."
Swartz's primary colleague in this work was Yuan Lu, now a pharmacology researcher at the University of Tokyo.