Oncolytic viruses represent a diverse class of replication competent viruses that curtail tumor growth. These viruses, through their natural ability or through genetic modifications, can selectively replicate within tumor cells and induce cell death while leaving normal cells intact. Apart from the direct oncolytic activity, these viruses mediate tumor cell death via the induction of innate and adaptive immune responses. The field of oncolytic viruses has seen substantial advancement with the progression of numerous oncolytic viruses in various phases of clinical trials. Tumors employ a plethora of mechanisms to establish growth and subsequently metastasize. These include evasion of immune surveillance by inducing up-regulation of checkpoint proteins which function to abrogate T cell effector functions. Currently, antibodies blocking checkpoint proteins such as anti-cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4) and anti-programmed cell death-1 (PD-1) have been approved to treat cancer and shown to impart durable clinical responses. These antibodies typically need pre-existing active immune tumor microenvironment to establish durable clinical outcomes and not every patient responds to these therapies. This review provides an overview of published pre-clinical studies demonstrating superior therapeutic efficacy of combining oncolytic viruses with checkpoint blockade compared to monotherapies. These studies provide compelling evidence that oncolytic therapy can be potentiated by coupling it with checkpoint therapies.
Keywords: anti-CTLA-4; anti-PD-1; checkpoint inhibitors; immune-evasion; immunotherapy; innate and adaptive immunity; oncoimmunotherapy; oncolytic viruses.