Oncolytic viruses show intriguing potential as cancer therapeutic agents. These viruses are capable of selectively targeting and killing cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells largely unaffected. The use of oncolytic viruses for cancer treatments in selected circumstances has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US and work is progressing on engineering viral vectors for enhanced selectivity, efficacy and safety. However, a better fundamental understanding of tumour and viral biology is essential for the continued advancement of the oncolytic field. This knowledge will not only help to engineer more potent and effective viruses but may also contribute to the identification of biomarkers that can determine which patients will benefit most from this treatment. A mechanistic understanding of the overlapping activity of viral and standard chemotherapeutics will enable the development of better combinational approaches to improve patient outcomes. In this review, we will examine each of the factors that contribute to productive viral infections in cancerous cells versus healthy cells. Special attention will be paid to reovirus as it is a well-studied virus and the only wild-type virus to have received orphan drug designation by the FDA. Although considerable insight into reoviral biology exists, there remain numerous deficiencies in our understanding of the factors regulating its successful oncolytic infection. Here we will discuss what is known to regulate infection as well as speculate about potential new mechanisms that may enhance successful replication. A joint appreciation of both tumour and viral biology will drive innovation for the next generation of reoviral mediated oncolytic therapy.
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