BMC cancer 2017 03 0617(1) 172 doi 10.1186/s12885-017-3163-2
Approximately 250 million people worldwide are chronically infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and more than half of the hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cases are attributed to this infection. As HCC has a high mortality rate, and current treatment options are remarkably limited, the development of new therapeutic treatment strategies is warranted.
In this study, woodchucks infected with woodchuck hepatitis virus (WHV), and with pre-existing liver tumors, were used as a model to investigate if complexes of cationic liposomes and non-coding DNA (JVRS-100) were effective in treatment of HCC.
It was observed that the high serum viral load that is present in a typical chronic WHV infection (i.e., approximately 100-fold higher than human viral loads) results in immune suppression and resistance to treatment with JVRS-100. Treatment of woodchucks with lower serum viral load that more closely matched with the viral load usually seen in human HBV infection appears a better model for immunotherapeutic development based on the responsiveness to JVRS-100 treatment. In the latter case, marked declines in WHV DNA and WHV surface antigen were determined over the 12-week treatment period and WHV markers stayed suppressed during most time points of the 12-week follow-up period. Even more remarkably, the formation of new liver tumors was not observed in woodchucks treated with a well-tolerated dose of JVRS-100, as compared to several new tumors that developed in vehicle-treated control animals.
Although there was little decrease in the volumes of the liver tumors existing at the time of treatment, it is generally accepted that preventing the spread and metastasis of almost always fatal cancers such as HCC and thus, reducing it to a chronic and treatable disease can also be a successful therapeutic approach. The results in woodchucks warrant the investigation of JVRS-100 as an intervention to prevent liver cancer in patients chronically infected with HBV and at high risk for HCC development.