Published: 06-09-2013 00:00 | Updated: 23-02-2014 13:37

Common virus is a new target for cancer treatment

Treatment for the common cytomegalovirus (CMV) has been shown to give seriously ill cancer patients a much improved prognosis. The treatment study was conducted on patients with malignant glioblastoma, but might also be effective in the future on a number of other forms of cancer. The study, which was led by scientists at Karolinska Institutet and Karolinska University Hospital, is now published in the scientific periodical The New England Journal of Medicine.

New findings suggest that the cytomegalovirus (CMV), which has infected and is being carried in a latent form by 70 per cent of the population, is active in many forms of cancer, including malignant glioblastoma. Patients with this form of brain tumour have always had a very dismal prognosis regardless of treatment regimen, with an expected mean survival of 12 to 14 months and an expected two-year survival rate of 15 to 26 per cent. However, by treating the CMV virus, the researchers have now managed to give these patients more hope for the future.

"Our results are beyond all our expectations," says lead investigator Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, Professor at the Department of Medicine, Solna, Karolinska Institutet. Our treatment data show that CMV is actively and crucially involved in glioblastoma, and that targeting CMV can be a new avenue of attack against these tumours.

CMV treatment was given to 50 patients with glioblastoma, after which their expected mean survival was found to increase from 13.5 to 56.4 months. The two-year survival rate increased from 18 to 70 per cent in patients who had received at least six months of treatment, and to 90 per cent if they continued to be treated for CMV as a supplement to their regular oncological treatment.

The present study was financed by grants from the pharmaceutical company Roche, the Torsten Söderberg Foundation, the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation, BILTEMA, the Stichting af Jochnick Foundation and the IngaBritt and Arne Lundberg Foundation.


Survival in patients with glioblastoma receiving valganciclovir.
Söderberg-Nauclér C, Rahbar A, Stragliotto G
N. Engl. J. Med. 2013 Sep;369(10):985-6