The results were extremely positive, with 2 of the 3 patients having undetectable levels of cancer after a follow up at 6 months. That is, in a very limited sense, they had been cured of Cancer.
As usual with important scientific matters the best place to go for an informed view on the subject is comedy, and xkcd hit the nail on the head with a perfect mixture of optimism and scepticism in this comic.
From a medical genetics point of view, retroviruses like HIV include a viral enzyme called reverse-transcriptase (RT) of which the function is to incorporate the viral nucleic acid into the genome of the host cell, hence not only does the virus make copies of itself using your own cells, any daughter cells of the original also have copies of the viral genome installed and running.
Very cheeky indeed!
The treatment (nice video from UPenn team here) involves infusing back into patients modified versions of their own T-cells, that have been tinkered with by using the HIV RT enzyme to make the T-cells recognise and attack cancerous cells. However crucially, the modified T-cell genome remains persistent in the host and goes on killing cancer cells beyond the death of original infusion. (see xkcd for a succinct review of the risks and side-effects).
Given the theoretical importance of this type of treatment, I think its worth mentioning how the 3 patient trial was funded:
"The researchers did manage to get a grant from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, a charity founded by Barbara and Edward Netter after their daughter-in-law died of cancer. The money was enough to finance the trials on the first three patients."
Anyway... so during a conversation about cancer and clinical trials a few days ago I was trying to make the case that despite the cost of phase IV trials being bonkers money, and getting more expensive each year, that there is a productive area for relatively small scale charitable funding which if successful can leverage up to big-pharma funding.
However when I tried to reference a couple of the "facts" that I had used in my claim, it turns out that my memory had served me poorly and I needed to revisit my sources. It becomes clear why my poor memory is an asset if you read on...
(These mis-remembering fuckups suggest I might do well to enlist on some early stage treatment for memory loss ASAP, or pay more attention the first time... whatever ;-)