Introduction: Gene therapy offers promising approaches for the development of anticancer agents with new modes of action. Among gene therapy vectors, vaccinia virus has emerged as an attractive agent especially when used as an oncolytic virus.
Areas covered: This review describes the use of vaccinia virus in cancer therapy as a gene therapy vector, as an oncolytic virus and in the generation of oncolysates. The main achievements of each field are summarized with a special emphasis on vaccinia as an oncolytic vector and its combination therapies. The virus that has advanced furthest in clinical trials, GM-CSF expressing JX-594, is described in detail and its preclinical and clinical data are reviewed.
Expert opinion: Vaccinia virus has great potential in cancer gene therapy, especially when used as an oncolytic virus. In particular, JX-594 has shown promising preclinical and clinical data, and a multi-continental randomized Phase III trial in hepatocellular carcinoma is expected to start soon.