Using a cancer-killing virus to treat advanced prostate cancer

What you need to know

  • In a previous project, we funded Dr Halldén to develop a modified flu virus that specifically infects and kills prostate cancer cells.
  • Now, she’s researching how her virus can be delivered via the blood so it can reach all tumours in the body, including those that have spread outside the prostate.
  • If the project is successful, it could result in a new treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer that will provide long-term protection against the disease.  
Our modified flu-virus infects and kills cancer cells, sparing normal cells from any harm. By encapsulating the virus with proteins, we will be able to eliminate prostate cancer cells at all sites in the body, and promote long-term immunity to prostate cancer.
Dr Gunnel Halldén

This project, led by Dr Halldén, aims to develop a new treatment for advanced prostate cancer, where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is incurable.

Using a cancer-killing virus to enhance chemotherapy

Dr Halldén is building on previous work funded by Prostate Cancer UK, in which she developed a modified type of flu virus that specifically infects and kills cancer cells, but leaves non-cancer cells unharmed. She found that when the virus was injected directly into prostate cancer tumours in mice, along with standard chemotherapy drugs, it resulted in better killing of cancer cells and prevented the cancer from becoming resistant to chemotherapy, a common issue for men with advanced prostate cancer.

Protein-packaging to get the virus where it’s needed

For this project, Dr Halldén wants to find a way of delivering the virus via the blood, so that it can reach all tumours in the body, instead of being injected into just one. They have found this tricky, as the virus tends to stick to red blood cells, where it is quickly removed by the body before it has a chance to reach the prostate cancer.

The team hope to achieve this by ‘packaging’ the virus with specially designed proteins that will help the virus target cancer cells directly, and protect it as it travels in the blood stream. Ideally, the proteins will be able to degrade safely in the body to prevent side effects, and the team will try different combinations of proteins that have the best cancer-killing ability and the least side effects.

Potential for long-term prostate cancer protection

Dr Halldén will also modify the virus further so that it has the ability to alert the patient’s immune system to prostate cancer cells. This will allow the patient’s own body to continue to fight the prostate cancer over a long period and prevent relapse.

Hopes for a clinical trial

If the project is successful, they will test the virus in combination with chemotherapy in a clinical trial. Hopefully, this will result in a treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer, that will improve their quality and length of life.

The ultimate goal is to offer prostate cancer patients a novel therapy that will prolong life, decrease pain, eliminate tumours and increase the quality of life.
Dr Gunnel Halldén

Grant information

Reference - RIA17-ST2-003
Researcher - 
 Dr Gunnel Halldén
Institution -  Queen Mary University of London
- £244,620.00