But what about the next wave of science? At least for one company, it started back in 1983 at the University of Calgary. Three lab researchers discovered a virus that was able to kill cancer cells that had a particular pathway activated. They watched in amazement: The virus infected malignant tumors, replicated itself, and killed carcinogenic cells—and didn't stop killing until the cancer was gone.
Thompson could hardly refuse. He found the science impressive; the animal models, impeccable. Thompson also says the research reached him at a susceptible time in his life: In the span of 180 days, his mother and favorite uncle had died of cancer, and he had undergone major surgery to remove a melanoma from his leg. In 1999, Thompson formed Oncolytics Biotech based on the idea that it could turn this virus, called the reovirus, into a drug.
Thompson confesses that the science behind the virus (branded Reolysin) may seem "wonky," and indeed, for many in the industry, the concept of Oncolytics' therapy is hard to grasp. After all, researchers have become familiar with the complex engineering of adenoviruses and other vectors to carry a specific tumor-fighting gene—but many had never considered releasing the virus to attack cancer cells on its own.
Here, Brad Thompson talks to Pharm Exec about how the company got its start, and the virus that he thinks will change cancer care forever.
Where did the idea of using viruses to treat cancer originate?
It's an area of interest now, so there's a lot of dispute about who exactly discovered this. Of course, when something works, everybody then lays claim—success has many mothers, failure is an orphan.