Cancer Drug Seems to Work by Activating Virus

FRIDAY April 23, 2010 -- The cancer drug cyclophosphamide activates a viral infection that helps anti-viral medications eliminate a virus-linked cancer, says a new study.

The drug is used to treat Burkitt lymphoma, an aggressive, fast-growing type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that often occurs in children. In Africa, the cancer is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which typically remains dormant inside tumor cells.

This study of 21 patients, ages 5 to 15, who were being treated with cyclophosphamide, found that the drug triggers an active EBV infection. Increased replication of the virus in cancer cells makes the cells more susceptible to antiviral drugs, which kill cells containing the replicating virus.

The study was published in the April issue of the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

"What we have learned from this work is a potential means of capitalizing on presence of viral genomes within tumor cells to alter those tumor cells in a way that makes them more susceptible to treatment. Our findings have implications for other EBV-related malignancies that, overall, are among the most common cancers worldwide," Dr. Margaret Gulley, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, said in a news release.

EBV infects more than 90 percent of people worldwide and is associated with a number of diseases including lymphomas, gastric cancer, and nose and throat cancer.

The next step in this research is a clinical trial to test the use of a cancer drug and an antiviral drug simultaneously, Gulley said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about Burkitt lymphoma.

Posted: April 2010


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