A world-first treatment based on an oncolytic virus allows a child to overcome retinal cancer

The treatment, developed by researchers at Institut de Recerca Sant Joan de Déu, SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital and the biotechnology company VCN Biosciences has succeeded in preventing the child from going completely blind.

A team of researchers from Sant Joan de Déu and the biotechnology company VCN Biosciences, a Grifols company, has developed a world-first treatment which has prevented a child, who had already lost an eye to retinal cancer, from losing the other eye and becoming completely blind.

The treatment Félix received is a derivative of the adenovirus -a common virus that normally causes cold symptoms, and which is now being used by some researchers to develop a vaccine for COVID-19- that has been modified in the VCN Biosciences laboratory to enable it to identify, infect and multiply inside cancer cells. This means that the virus can identify and selectively attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

The development of this new retinal cancer treatment is the result of five years of research, and it highlights the importance of translational research (transferring knowledge from hospitals to laboratories and vice versa) which takes place at SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital. A year ago, this research made the front page of the prestigious journal Science Translational Medicine, and received one of the most prestigious paediatric oncology awards in the world, the Odile Schweisguth prize.

Retinoblastoma is the most common eye tumour in children. It is diagnosed in around 8,000 children every year worldwide.