Kinder, Gentler Chemo That Works

The Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston is using a radical new technology to fight brain cancer.


Doctors at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center are injecting viruses directly into the brains of patients with aggressive tumors. It’s part of a clinical trial called Toca 5. Dr. David Cachia said that the treatment actually uses a genetically modified virus. The virus combines with an anti-fungal medication that’s also given to patients; then the virus and the anti-fungal medication react and shrink the tumor.


Phase 1 of the trial showed the treatment was safe and also produced longer survival rates. Now the medical university is entering Phase 2, which includes a larger number of patients. At least one patient is happy. Chris Mercer was diagnosed with brain cancer last year and said avoiding the side effects of chemotherapy was life-changing. “It’s so much easier doing this new treatment,” he said. Chris was able to enjoy his normal life and even go on a cruise with his family.


Dr. Cachia said that with the virus treatment only the cancer cells are affected and not all the cells in the body, as with regular chemotherapy. “You’re only getting chemotherapy in the brain, so you don’t get the side effects,” he explained.


Virus therapy may be the future in brain tumor treatment. The FDA recently approved continuing research of the modified polio virus for brain cancer after a Phase 1 clinical trial at Duke University was promising. This meant that development of the treatment could be expedited. The virus was found to be effective in fighting very aggressive cancers such as glioblastoma


Chris Mercer said about his treatment, “This is very, very predictable. That’s one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given.”