Mesothelioma Virotherapy

Mesothelioma virotherapy is an emerging therapy that has shown promise in treating patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma in combination with standard cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. Virotherapy uses viruses changed in a lab or found in nature to locate and destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

Written and Fact-Checked by: Laura Wright

What Is Mesothelioma Virotherapy?

Mesothelioma virotherapy uses viruses found in nature or that have been genetically altered in a lab to find and kill cancerous mesothelial cells without harming healthy cells.

Mesothelioma virotherapy is also known as:

  • Mesothelioma oncolytic virotherapy
  • Mesothelioma oncolytic virus therapy
  • Mesothelioma viral therapy

Oncolytic means absorbing or destroying tumors.

Scientists have known for decades about the potential of using viruses to kill cancerous cells, but they didn’t have the technology to test their theory. Dating back to the late 1800s, doctors saw that some patients with cancer went into remission, sometimes only temporarily, following a viral infection.

Today, virotherapy is a leading treatment used to delay the spread of mesothelioma, a rare and incurable cancer caused by asbestos. Researchers — and Mesothelioma Hope — are hopeful that virotherapy will someday be used to cure patients with mesothelioma and other deadly types of cancer.

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Different Types of Viruses Used to Treat Mesothelioma

Oncolytic viruses are genetically engineered viruses used to target tumor cells. These viruses can also be reactivated in the immune system to work naturally. Oncolytic viruses produce interferons (proteins that signal cancer cells), which then lead to cell death.

There are several types of viruses now being tested as oncolytic viruses, all of which have produced various results.

The vaccinia virus is a specific form of oncolytic virus that was developed to treat smallpox. Using this virus’ core, experts have been able to modify this virus to test its effects on mesothelioma in a recent clinical trial.

The Mayo Clinic has studied the measles virus as an oncolytic virus to treat ovarian cancer. Because of its success, doctors have implemented this virus into virotherapy trials for mesothelioma.

The herpes virus has also been modified to attack mesothelioma cells. HSV1717 is currently being tested on patients with inoperable pleural mesothelioma.

In addition to virotherapy, scientists are exploring the use of viruses in gene therapy and immunotherapy to treat mesothelioma patients. Some researchers consider virotherapy to be a type of immunotherapy, but others believe that more studies are needed to learn how viruses fight cancer.

How Does Virotherapy Work?

Virotherapy works by injecting a virus into the body that activates an antitumor response.

Research suggests that some oncolytic viruses work by triggering an immune response in the body against cancer cells. The virus then infects a tumor cell and makes copies of itself (replicates) until the cancerous cell bursts (oncolysis).

During the replication process, the dying cancer cells emit tumor antigens and other materials that let the cancer be identified by the immune system. This alert can prompt an immune response against nearby tumor cells or ones in other parts of the body.

“Oncolytic viruses are alerting the immune system that something’s wrong.”

- Dr. Jason Chesney, University of Louisville’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center director

In most cases, a patient receives virotherapy through an injection into the tumor. This is the case with melanoma or brain tumors.

Pleural mesothelioma develops in the lining of the lungs (pleura), which means administering the virus to these patients is relatively simple.

Benefits of Virotherapy for Mesothelioma

Like other new mesothelioma treatments, virotherapy targets cancer cells and leaves healthy cells unaffected. The healthy cells then work with the virus to restore the immune system and fight off cancer in the body.

“Beyond their direct effect on tumor cells, it may be that the real power of the [oncolytic virus] is its ability to engage the patient’s own immune system, triggering it to recognize and destroy cancer cells.”

- John C. Bell, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa

Virotherapy also stimulates the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, which typically affect healthy cells. Virotherapy acts as a natural defense mechanism that attacks not only cancer cells but the surrounding pathogens as well.

Doctors emphasize 3 main benefits of virotherapy:

  1. Directly affects tumor cells
  2. Allows for healthy cells to remain intact by only targeting cells with pathogens
  3. Preserves and stimulates the immune system, signaling a viral antitumor response to destroy remaining cancerous cells

Virotherapy is also an effective treatment for patients with advanced or inoperable mesothelioma. Its limited side effects are ideal for patients in these situations.

Since virotherapy’s antitumor effects prevent mesothelioma from spreading, it is one of the limited options that will help prolong the life of patients with advanced-stage mesothelioma.

The Latest on Mesothelioma Virotherapy Research

Oncology researchers continue to test new viruses to use in oncolytic viral therapy for mesothelioma. The varying types of diseases that can be modified and given to patients may eventually be a major breakthrough in treating patients with this aggressive type of cancer.

“Oncolytic virus therapy is of growing interest to researchers for one reason: It’s working.”

- Dr. Juan Fueyo of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Currently, HSV (herpes simplex virus) and oncolytic measles viruses are being evaluated and modified to treat pleural mesothelioma. Early clinical trials studying both are ongoing. These virus therapies are injected intrapleurally (into the chest cavity).

Did You Know?

So far, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only given its stamp of approval to 3 oncolytic viruses. In 2015, it approved an intratumoral HSV therapy for the treatment of advanced melanoma.

Researchers testing the measles virus for mesothelioma cells are currently looking for the best dosage method. They’re also evaluating the safety of the measles virus and any potential side effects.

The Future of Mesothelioma Virotherapy Research 

Ongoing clinical trials are paving a pathway to understanding and modifying virotherapy treatment so doctors can find the most effective mesothelioma treatments. A December 2022 search of the database found five virotherapy clinical trials for malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Currently, researchers are studying the use of oncolytic viruses in combination with other more established cancer treatments, including chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin.

They are also looking at combining virotherapy with immunotherapy to increase the immune response to cancer. Additionally, studies are exploring the use of virotherapy to treat a wide range of other malignancies, including lung cancer and metastatic pleural effusions.

Some scientists are researching which patients will best respond to virotherapy. The identification of biomarkers can help doctors select patients most likely to benefit from new treatments like virotherapy.

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Virotherapy Side Effects

Virotherapy has been praised as highly tolerable for most cancer patients because there are limited side effects.

The most severe side effect is typically an inflammatory response to the treatment. Other possible side effects of virotherapy include flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, and muscle aches.

Seeking Mesothelioma Virotherapy Treatment

Virotherapy is an emerging mesothelioma treatment with the potential to extend patient survival. Its ability to select and eliminate tumor cells makes it one of the most promising treatments for mesothelioma.

Clinical trials are currently testing virotherapy approaches on mesothelioma patients. For more information on virotherapy and other emerging mesothelioma treatments, contact our trusted Patient Advocates today.

Mesothelioma Virotherapy FAQs

Is mesothelioma virotherapy an effective treatment?

Mesothelioma virotherapy may be an effective and helpful treatment for some patients. By modifying different types of viruses, doctors can help the body fight cancer and patients can possibly live longer.

Virus therapy is currently only available for mesothelioma patients through clinical trials. Ask your doctor if there’s a mesothelioma virotherapy clinical trial you can join.

What is the best treatment for mesothelioma?

The best treatment for mesothelioma depends on several factors, including the type of mesothelioma a patient has, how far the disease has progressed, and the overall health of the patient.

Chemotherapy tends to be the primary treatment for mesothelioma. It has the potential to ease symptoms and shrink or slow the growth of the cancer, at least for a time.

However, scientists are studying new treatments for mesothelioma such as virotherapy and immunotherapy. They are hopeful that these new therapies will lead to a cure for this aggressive and devastating disease.

Your doctor can help you come up with a mesothelioma treatment plan that is best for your personal situation.

What is the latest treatment for mesothelioma?

Scientists are studying some exciting treatment options for mesothelioma, including virotherapy.

Mesothelioma virotherapy uses viruses to find and destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

Another treatment is called gene therapy. Mesothelioma gene therapy adds new genes to cancer cells so that they are easier to kill.

These and other cutting-edge mesothelioma treatments are currently being tested in clinical trials.

Written by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

  1. American Cancer Society. “What’s New in Malignant Mesothelioma Research?” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 14, 2022.

  2. Chinese Clinical Oncology. “The emerging role of oncolytic virus therapy against cancer.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 14, 2022.

  3. Communications Medicine. “Advances in oncolytic virotherapy.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 14, 2022.

  4. Frontiers in Oncology. “Oncolytic Viral Therapy for Mesothelioma.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 14, 2022.

  5. National Cancer Institute (NCI). “Oncolytic Virus Therapy: Using Tumor-Targeting Viruses to Treat Cancer.” Retrieved from: Accessed on December 14, 2022.

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