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Herpes virus could be used to treat cancer

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A genetically modified form of the herpes virus has been unveiled as the latest breakthrough in the battle against cancer.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research in London found that a specially engineered form of the virus destroyed tumours in 93 per cent of 17 patients suffering from head and neck cancer who had undergone surgery, with a further 82 per cent showing no traces of the disease more than two years after treatment.

Only two out of 13 patients relapsed following high dose treatment, the journal Clinical Cancer Research reported.

It is hoped the new treatment, which sees the virus used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, could be rolled out for other forms of the disease, including skin cancer, which affects an estimated 100,000 people in the UK every year.

Doctors have hailed the three-pronged approach of the virus, which multiplies inside tumour cells, destroying it as it goes, before boosting the patient’s immune system and then producing a protein which helps the body identify any remaining cancer cells.

Further trials have been planned for later in the year following the success of the initial pilot at the Royal Marsden Hospital.

Study leader Dr Kevin Harrington said that current treatment options were effective if symptoms of the disease are picked up early. However, the elusive nature of head and neck cancer means that many patients are only diagnosed when it has reached an advanced stage.

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