Oncolytic virus use, or virotherapy. Is it safe?

Virotherapy, or using viruses to kill cancer cells

Oncolytic virus - so called because they ’eat’ the cancer cell from inside and are thus ’lytic’ - are currently ’all the rage’ in certain American Cancer centers.
Many common viruses have been known to kill cancer cells through their normal reproductive cycle. Indeed, before viruses were trully understood, there were cases reported where infections produced cancer remission in patients.
There is no doubt (try searching the subject on the web) that this new ’alternative cancer treatment’ is growing - possibly out of all proportion to the results actually achieved. And, some would add, to the potential risks to our species. It is not alarmists to express concern about the release of genetically modified common viruses (like the reovirus and Herpes, which have widespread occurence) on the population. How easy would it be for a mutation to occur which subsequently ’got out of control’? This has to be an honest question deserving more than a dismissive answer.
There is no doubt that virotherapy was a treatment ’ahead of its time’. Early animal experiments took place as long ago as the 1940’s. We already know the dangers of using pieces of DNA, RNA and animal proteins in vaccines. The Salk Polio vaccine was used on a million Americans before the presence of Similian Monkey Virus was detected. Several studies, particularly from Japan, have shown a higher incidence of the virus in cancer patients than in the normal population.
Are we so sure that playing with the DNA of viruses is 100 per cent safe. Of course, the answer is we cannot be. Nothing is ever certain in this life save death and taxes.
The problem for me, as a Biochemist, is that the microbiology is undoubtedly clever. The logic is ’natural’: these viruses actually do multiply like crazy inside cancer cells - so what if you get a littl;e bit of a sore throat at the same time?
But the cancers that are being treated - typically brain tumours, certain lung cancers, pancreatic cancer and now increasingly melanoma and child cancers smack of despair. You can debate for months the effectiveness of chemotherapy - personally I think that it gives poor results for the money (the Australian research showed a 2.6% benefit across the last 40 or so years. This is great if you are not part of the 97.4%). Oncolytic virus treatment has set out immediately to treat the untreatable. If you read the MD Anderson success stories, they have at least had a few.
But what if it did all go wrong? Not simply from some leak out of a microbiology lab, but more on a mutation 12 yeares after the virus had been used in a human? Can’t happen? The virus would have been wiped out by the immune system anyway?
Is this really a fear simply reserved for Will Smith and a Hollywood movie?   

Virotherapy, or using viruses to kill cancer cells
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