Turning the measles virus into a leukaemia killer

Lead researcher - Professor Adele Fielding, University College London
Combining CD20 targeted, oncolytic measles virus with rituximab and corticosteroids in the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
Amount awarded: £290,180
Award start date: 05 Jan 2015
Award duration: 3 years (36 months)

Adult acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is a cancer of early immune cells. With modern chemotherapy half of patients will have recurrence and succumb to the disease thus a new approach is urgently needed. Several vaccine strain viruses can multiply within cancer cells and kill them, leaving normal cells unharmed. Measles vaccine (MV) is showing promise as one such oncolytic virus and has already been shown to be safe in patients with ovarian cancer. Professor Fieldings lab has been studying MV as treatment for ALL with exciting results that form the basis for this research project.

We intend to investigate the effect of combining MV with antibodies against B lymphocytes – the very cells that generate antibodies to the virus and steroids which have been used for many years as part of effective initial treatment of ALL. The cell marker we are targeting - CD20 - is also present on some ALL cells. We will also look at the effect of modifying the MV with an antibody to CD20 on its surface.

The project will also start the scientific training of a physician leading to the award of a PhD.