Research Article: Oncolytic Viruses: The Power of Directed Evolution

Date Published: July 24, 2012

Publisher: Hindawi Publishing Corporation

Author(s): Maxine Bauzon, Terry W. Hermiston.


Attempts at developing oncolytic viruses have been primarily based on rational design. However, this approach has been met with limited success. An alternative approach employs directed evolution as a means of producing highly selective and potent anticancer viruses. In this method, diverse viruses are grown under conditions that maximize diversity and then passaged under conditions meant to mimic those encountered in the human cancer microenvironment. Viruses which evolve to thrive under this selective pressure are isolated and tested to identify those with increased potency (i.e., ability to replicate and spread) and/or an increased therapeutic window (i.e., differentiated replication and spread on tumor versus normal cells), both of which have potential value but the latter of which defines an oncolytic virus. Using ColoAd1, an oncolytic virus derived by this approach as a prototype, we highlight the benefits of directed evolution, discuss methods to “arm” these novel viruses, and introduce techniques for their genetic modulation and control.

Partial Text

As our understanding of cancer increases, the complex nature of this disease which often involves multiple mutations, overlapping signaling pathways, and the ability to adapt and develop resistance to various therapeutics becomes more evident [1–3]. Such a complex disease necessitates equally complex therapies—such as oncolytic viruses [4]. By definition, these viruses infect and selectively replicate in tumor cells resulting in eventual cell lysis. This replication and lysis serves to eradicate the target tumor cells while amplifying the therapeutic in a tumor-dependent fashion, all the while sparing neighboring normal cells. Unfortunately, the promise of oncolytic viruses as agents that selectively find and kill tumor cells has not been fully realized [5–8]. This fact may be due in part to some prejudices taken by researchers in their pursuit of oncolytic viruses. For example, the majority of oncolytic viruses currently studied are Ad5 based primarily, because Ad5 has been widely characterized and methods for its genetic manipulation are well established, making it the practical starting point for most studies. However, there is no clear rationale why Ad5 would make a superior oncolytic virus as opposed to other Ad serotypes or other viral classes. Additionally, the genetic manipulation of today’s viruses in an attempt to increase selectivity and or potency may be misguided due to our limited knowledge of the underlying causes and nature of cancer. Therefore, the plasticity and complexity of tumors may hinder the rational design of oncolytic viruses [9].

Human Adenovirus is comprised of 56 serotypes which are subdivided into groups A–G. These serotypes differ in a number of ways (e.g., pathology, hemagglutination properties, and cellular receptors used for entry) which help to distinguish them from one another and determine their group affiliation. Despite the diversity of human adenovirus, the majority of all oncolytic viruses are Ad5-based leaving the other serotypes and their oncolytic potential untapped. One way to explore these alternative serotypes is via “directed evolution”. In this approach, Ad serotypes, representing the different Ad subgroups, are pooled and passaged at a high multiplicity of infection on human tumor cell lines representative of the target indication. This process invites recombination and creates selective pressure that gives rise to highly potent viral variants.

Oncolytic viruses can and have been used to deliver exogenous genetic material, giving them much needed flexibility and complexity as a cancer treatment and augmenting their potential as viable cancer therapies [21]. The ability to engineer the genome of a replicating virus to carry foreign material is referred to as “arming”. This strategy has been used in a variety of ways to alter viral selectivity, potency, safety, and utility [22, 23].




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