Employing RNA viruses to fight cancer: novel insights into oncolytic virotherapy

Biol Chem. 2017 Jul 26;398(8):891-909. doi: 10.1515/hsz-2017-0103.


Within recent decades, viruses that specifically target tumor cells have emerged as novel therapeutic agents against cancer. These viruses do not only act via their cell-lytic properties, but also harbor immunostimulatory features to re-direct the tumor microenvironment and stimulate tumor-directed immune responses. Furthermore, oncolytic viruses are considered to be superior to classical cancer therapies due to higher selectivity towards tumor cell destruction and, consequently, less collateral damage of non-transformed healthy tissue. In particular, the field of oncolytic RNA viruses is rapidly developing since these agents possess alternative tumor-targeting strategies compared to established oncolytic DNA viruses. Thus, oncolytic RNA viruses have broadened the field of virotherapy facilitating new strategies to fight cancer. In addition to several naturally occurring oncolytic viruses, genetically modified RNA viruses that are armed to express foreign factors such as immunostimulatory molecules have been successfully tested in early clinical trials showing promising efficacy. This review aims to provide an overview of the most promising RNA viruses in clinical development, to summarize the current knowledge of clinical trials using these viral agents, and to discuss the main issues as well as future perspectives of clinical approaches using oncolytic RNA viruses.

Keywords: RNA viruses; cancer therapeutics; oncolytic virus.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Neoplasms / virology
  • Oncolytic Virotherapy / methods*
  • RNA Viruses / physiology*