Can measles cure cancer?

With measles viruses against cancer

After cardiovascular diseases, cancer is the second leading cause of death in Germany. Every year around 500,000 people in this country develop cancer and 224,000 die from it. Research is being carried out around the world on a wide variety of cancer control methods. Science sees great potential in so-called oncolytic viruses: measles, smallpox or polioviruses have certain mechanisms of action with which they can infect cancer cells and dissolve the tumor in a targeted manner. Patients who are treated with this new type of therapy could thus do without immuno-weakening chemotherapy.

The researchers also hope to use this method to find a treatment for previously incurable tumors. The first biopharmaceuticals based on these oncolytic measles viruses are currently being tested in clinical studies. However, the scientists had difficulties in making the viruses available in sufficient quantities.

Ten trillion viruses are required per dose

This is where the OnkoVir project, headed by Peter Czermak, comes in. The research group aims to improve the production of oncolytic measles virus in large quantities. Up to ten trillion viruses per dose are required for effective treatment. Previous methods used in vaccine production only produce comparatively low yields of up to ten million viruses.

Viruses rely on host cells to multiply. Czermak and his team are therefore examining different host cells in order to maximize the virus yield. In addition, they are developing novel processes to separate the viruses from other substances after production so that they meet the high standards and do not put additional stress on the mostly severely weakened patients.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is supporting the research project as part of the “Young Engineers” funding line of the “Research at Universities of Applied Sciences” program with around 432,000 euros.