Myeloma is a cancer that develops in plasma cells – a type of blood cell made in the bone marrow. According to the American Cancer Society, the disease is relatively uncommon, and in the US, there is a 1 in 149 risk of developing it.
Myeloma can arise in any part of the body where there is bone marrow, including the spine, rib cage and pelvis. Multiple myeloma means it is occurring in more than one place.
The disease, which also causes skeletal or soft tissue tumors, usually responds to drugs that stimulate the immune system, but it eventually overcomes them and is rarely cured.
First use of highest possible dose of engineered measles virus
Dr. Russell and colleagues explain in their article that they chose to report these two cases in particular because they were the first patients they had studied who had received the highest possible dose, and with limited previous exposure to measles, so their immune systems did not have many antibodies to the virus. They had also exhausted other treatment options.
Senior author Dr. Angela Dispenzieri, an expert in multiple myeloma, says in very simple terms, the measles virus makes the cancer cells join together and explode. The treatment also appears to trigger another lasting benefit:
“There’s some suggestion that it may be stimulating the patient’s immune system to further recognize the cancer cells or the myeloma cells and help mop that up more effectively than otherwise.”
Having effectively completed a phase I clinical trial – to prove the concept that the measles virus can fight cancer – the team is now moving quickly into a phase II trial involving more patients.
They also intend to test the virus’s effectiveness as a tool to fight other cancers, such as head and neck, brain and ovarian cancers and mesothelioma. And they are engineering other viruses that may be able to kill cancer cells.
Dr. Russell says they have recently started to think along the lines of “a single shot cure for cancer, and that’s our goal with this therapy.”
He and two other authors of the study, as well as the Mayo Clinic, have declared a financial interest in the methods used in the study, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, Al and Mary Agnes McQuinn, The Harold W. Siebens Foundation and The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.