Researchers at Calgary-based Oncolytics Biotech Inc., have patented a way to use the reovirus to purge cancer cells from autologous stem cell transplants that are reintroduced to the body following high dose chemotherapy.

During the procedure, blood stem cells are extracted from a patient prior to high-dose chemotherapy. Once the chemotherapy is completed, the patient’s own blood stem cells are transplanted back into the patient. The primary advantage of autologous transplants is that there is no risk of rejection.

However, it has been estimated that as many as 30 per cent of these autologous stem cell transplants are contaminated by cancer cells, and there is a risk that they may contribute to clinical relapse of the cancer by reintroducing cancer cells back into the body.

When introduced to the blood, the reovirus enters cancer cells, replicates within them and ultimately kills them. It works by replicating within cancer cells that have an activated Ras pathway, a common mutation that is shared by approximately two thirds of all human cancers.

“Having an effective method to purge cancer cells from autologous blood stem cell transplants may offer doctors another important tool in fighting cancer,” said Dr. Coffey, Chief Scientific Officer for Oncolytics.

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