The virus has reversed 15 cases of bladder cancer in just one week, and researchers believe it could be used to fight other cancers too. The viral therapy is being tested on other cancers, including breast, bowel, lung and skin.
Researchers from the UK's University of Surrey, who carried out the test on bladder cancer, reckon the therapy could be generally available within three years.
The research team used a catheter to send a strain of the common cold virus, known as coxsackievirus (CVA21), directly into the diseased bladder of 15 cancer patients. After just one week, the researchers discovered that cancer cells in the bladders of all of the 15 patients had been destroyed, and in one case they had completely disappeared.
Bladder cancer is difficult to treat because the tumours don't develop immune cells. But an infusion of the virus inflamed the bladder and caused an immune response, which killed the cancer cells, the researchers explained.
Lead researcher Prof Hardev Pandha said: "We are very excited. The virus gets into the cancer and replicates, like a little factory of viruses. It heats up the tumour environment and is very specific in targeting the cancer; it had the least toxicity I have seen in years."
When his team looked at tissue samples from the bladder cancer patients, they discovered that all the healthy cells were still intact, whereas chemotherapy destroys all growing cells, whether cancerous or healthy.
The virus therapy is like a 'universal agent', Prof Pandha said, and could revolutionize cancer treatment.