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Tailor-made viruses for enhanced cancer therapy

No. 23 | 02/05/2017 | by Koh

Scientists collaborating in a new bi-national research unit that was officially inaugurated on May 2 in Luxemburg aim to develop a second-generation viral therapy for cancer. The two partners in the new alliance are the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg and the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH). The researchers plan to develop a method that combines the benefits of oncolytic viruses and of gene therapy. One goal is to treat brain cancer more effectively.

Computer-generated image of a parvovirus
© Antonio Marchini, DKFZ

Scientists at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) have been studying the use of viruses to treat cancer for several decades. DKFZ researchers were the first to discover the oncolytic (cancer-destroying) potential of parvoviruses, a class of viruses that normally infect rodents while not causing any disease symptoms in humans. A parvovirus therapy developed at the DKFZ to treat advanced glioblastoma, an extremely aggressive type of brain cancer, has already been tested with very promising results in a clinical trial. The newly founded bi-national research unit called Laboratory of Oncolytic Virus Immuno-Therapeutics, or LOVIT, aims to further develop and expand this therapy concept.

"First we have to further enhance the therapeutic effect of the viruses, particularly in order to prevent the cancer from returning in the wake of initially successful treatment, said DKFZ's Antonio Marchini, who is the head of LOVIT. "The strategy that we have developed to this end is to fuse two different viruses that each have specific advantages: Adenoviruses, with their large genome, are suitable for transporting therapeutic genes, for example, to boost the immune response against cancer. Parvoviruses infect cancer cells and kill them. This means we plan to develop a second-generation cancer virotherapy that comprises gene therapy and immunotherapy."

"Together with our partners from the Luxembourg Institute of Health, our strong endeavor will be to test the new therapy concepts as swiftly as possible in clinical trials," said Michal Baumann, DKFZ's Chairman and Scientific Director. "This is fundamental for advancing medical progress. Particularly in cancer research, collaborations across national borders are considered an ideal possibility to generate trials with meaningful results."

The DKFZ virologists have already shown in first studies that the chimeras of adenoviruses and parvoviruses are capable of infecting and destroying cancer cells. The scientists now plan to further explore the therapeutic potential of the viral chimeras. The partners from LIH under the leadership of Simone Niclou will contribute their comprehensive experience in preclinical testing of brain cancer therapies. Besides glioblastoma, the scientists also plan to go for pancreatic cancer, another extremely aggressive type of cancer.

LOVIT will be operating laboratories in Luxemburg and Heidelberg and will start out with eight staff members. The research unit is funded by the Luxembourg Institute of Health, the DKFZ and the Luxemburg cancer foundation "Fondation Cancer".

An image for this press release is available at:

Caption: Computer-generated image of a parvovirus

Note on use of images related to press releases
Use is free of charge. The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) permits one-time use in the context of reporting about the topic covered in the press release. Images have to be cited as follows: "Source: Antonio Marchini, DKFZ".
Distribution of images to third parties is not permitted unless prior consent has been obtained from DKFZ's Press Office (phone: ++49-(0)6221 42 2854, E-mail: Any commercial use is prohibited.

With more than 3,000 employees, the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) is Germany’s largest biomedical research institute. DKFZ scientists identify cancer risk factors, investigate how cancer progresses and develop new cancer prevention strategies. They are also developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to questions relating to cancer.

To transfer promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improve the prognosis of cancer patients, the DKFZ cooperates with excellent research institutions and university hospitals throughout Germany:

  • National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT, 6 sites)
  • German Cancer Consortium (DKTK, 8 sites)
  • Hopp Children's Cancer Center (KiTZ) Heidelberg
  • Helmholtz Institute for Translational Oncology (HI-TRON Mainz) - A Helmholtz Institute of the DKFZ
  • DKFZ-Hector Cancer Institute at the University Medical Center Mannheim
  • National Cancer Prevention Center (jointly with German Cancer Aid)
The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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