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By Scot Ackerman, M.D.


New Drug Targets Cancers Related to the Epstein-Barr Virus

While the Epstein–Barr Virus (EBV) is not a direct cause of cancer, it does increase risk of certain cancers, including fast-growing lymphomas. New research shows that an experimental drug may help patients with EBV-positive cancers.

Epstein–Barr Virus is a herpes infection that can cause mononeucleosis, but many people who contract it remain asymptomatic their entire lives. EBV is very common in the United States. By age 35 most people will have antibodies to EBV, indicating previous infection. EBV infections are thought to promote the growth of B lymphocytes, which can lead to the development of lymphoma. One protein found in EBV ‘hijacks’ the cell signaling mechanism of the B cell it infects, preventing cell death and speeding up the cell division cycle. Each of these promote cancer growth.

Microbiologist Richard Longnecker, at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, has been studying a new experimental drug that targets EBV-positive tumors. He along with a team of researchers studied mice that have been genetically modified to express the protein that hijacks B cells. The researchers then use a drug, called TAK-659, to attack the cancer-promoting mechanisms of the protein.

In these studies, the TAK-659 drug killed the cancerous cells and did not harm the host cells. It also stopped the growth of tumor cells into nearby bone marrow and promoted cell death.

Because of these findings, researchers are launching a phase I clinical trial to test the safety of this drug for EBV-positive patients. While more research is needed, it is exciting to see developments such as this in the ongoing fight against cancer.

If you have questions, please reach out to me at ackermanMD@ackermancancer.com.

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