It was a tough year for the world’s cancer research, as researchers faced a bleak outlook for their next major breakthrough.
As 2017 dawned, scientists scrambled to find new treatments that could halt the rapid spread of the disease, and they were quickly overwhelmed by the complexity and cost of the technology.
But as 2017 ended, there was a glimpse of hope: Scientists have been working on ways to reduce the risk of cancerous cells in patients’ bodies, and an idea has emerged that could eventually allow them to use a virus to deliver these treatments directly to tumors.
That’s the latest development in a long-running battle that began nearly a century ago, with a British scientist proposing the idea to his colleague Edward Jenner in the early 1900s.
The idea is the subject of a novel new book, The Next Step, by John O’Neill and Matthew Hirsch, which details the efforts to develop the virus-based delivery method.
“We knew we needed to look at the virus itself to see if it could be used to deliver a new treatment,” says O’Neil.
The virus was originally designed to treat polio.
It was then used to treat other infectious diseases, and a team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins University devised a virus that could deliver a cancer treatment in about two weeks, according to the book.
But in the 1920s, the research was halted because of a shortage of the virus’s main ingredient: the amino acid glycine.
That was a problem because the glycine was needed for the immune system to recognize and attack cancerous cell lines, and that’s where the problem started.
“The problem with glycine is that it’s a very cheap, abundant amino acid, so it was difficult to find enough of it,” O’Donnell says.
In the early 1930s, an Italian doctor named Giuseppe Di Filippo suggested the idea of using the virus to administer chemotherapy to cancer patients.
Di Filipe proposed using the glycin, which was the compound that was needed to make the virus and its components work.
Di filippo proposed a glycin-based therapy called an immunoassay that would work by detecting antibodies produced by cancer cells, and then deliver them into the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells.
The theory was that this way, the immune systems of patients would be stimulated to attack the cancerous tumor.
But the immuno-assay couldn’t detect the antibodies that the antibodies would be produced by the cancer cells themselves.
So the glycosaminoglycan, which is the main component of the vaccine, had to be developed to detect and destroy cancerous cancer cells in the body, and the glycine was the molecule that was necessary.
The vaccine would be delivered to patients through a tube that was inserted into their blood vessels, and its antibodies would bind to a specific tumor cells, making it easier for the antibodies to bind to the tumor cells and kill them.
“Giuseppe was a brilliant scientist,” says Dr. Mark A. Halsey, a cancer specialist at the University, of the Italian-born di Filippa.
“He worked on this incredibly elegant vaccine idea that had a very simple, yet very elegant mechanism for delivering the antibodies.”
In the 1930s and ’40s, di Filippo was awarded a Nobel Prize in medicine for his work.
But by the early ’50s, scientists were getting worried about the toxicity of the glycolic acid, and scientists began to wonder if the glycerol-like compound was harmful to the body.
“It turned out to be very benign in humans,” Halseys says.
“But then there were concerns that it would not be safe and that people who were taking it would develop cancer.”
But di Filli was convinced that the glycal-acid vaccine would work in the laboratory, and in 1953, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his vaccine research.
“So what happened in the ’50’s was, you know, the world was very much concerned about what was going on,” says Halseies.
“And it turned out that it was not only the Glycine, it was also the Glycerol that was the key.
It turned out the Glycolic Acid was safe, and it was safe enough that people would be taking it, and therefore it would be safe to be given to patients.”
But in 1962, researchers at Rockefeller University discovered a different way to deliver the glycoprotein, a molecule that makes up the immune cells’ own immune system.
Scientists used the same process that di Folippo had used to administer the glycanic acid to produce the vaccine and, in 1965, a researcher at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funded the research, developed a vaccine that worked by infecting a tumor and delivering the glycox