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Treatments on the Horizon for Cancers Linked to Epstein-Barr Viru

06-07-2019 04:27 am

When Dr. Pierluigi Porcu was attending the University of Torino Medical School in Italy in the 1980s, he developed a great interest in viruses and how they interact with cancer.

“I took a special class in medical school in virology in which we discussed all kinds of viruses, from HIV to hepatitis to the Epstein-Barr virus,” said Porcu.

He learned in that class that the Epstein-Barr virus can cause lymphoma.

Porcu, an oncologist who heads the blood cancer and stem cell transplant department at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center-Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, continued to study the virus-cancer connection throughout his career.

But he could not generate any interest in his research from pharmaceutical companies.

Meanwhile, Ivor Royston, an oncologist and pharmaceutical industry executive, was also busy studying the Epstein-Barr and lymphoma connection at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Royston eventually moved on to other disciplines, including immunology and monoclonal antibodies. He eventually became a biotechnology pioneer who founded and co-founded several cancer biotech companies, including Hybritech and Idec Pharmaceuticals.

But he never lost interest in finding a possible treatment for patients who have Epstein-Barr-associated lymphomas.

And when he learned of the so-called “kick and kill” treatment approach work of Dr. Douglas Faller,the former director of Boston University School of Medicine’s Cancer Center, Royston returned to his virology roots.

The “kick,” Royston explains, activates genes in the body that have been epigenetically suppressed by a virus or cancer.

The “kill,” he notes, activates a therapeutic method that selectively and directly kills virus-harboring cells or activates suppressed immune response genes.

Two years ago, Royston and Purco joined forces after Royston co-created a new biotech company, Viracta Therapeutics. The firm’s focus is on developing treatments for viral-based cancers.

Viracta officials asked Porcu if he was interested in working with them on an Epstein-Barr and lymphoma trial.

“Of course I jumped on board,” Porcu told Healthline.

Viracta initiated a clinical trial using the company’s nanatinostat, along with an antiviral drug, that has shown encouraging results in patients with a wide variety of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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