Oncolytic viruses (OVs) are genetically modified or naturally occurring viruses, which preferentially replicate in and kill cancer cells while sparing healthy cells, and induce anti-tumor immunity. OV-induced tumor immunity can be enhanced through viral expression of anti-tumor cytokines such as interleukin 12 (IL-12). IL-12 is a potent anti-cancer agent that promotes T-helper 1 (Th1) differentiation, facilitates T-cell-mediated killing of cancer cells, and inhibits tumor angiogenesis. Despite success in preclinical models, systemic IL-12 therapy is associated with significant toxicity in humans. Therefore, to utilize the therapeutic potential of IL-12 in OV-based cancer therapy, 25 different IL-12 expressing OVs (OV-IL12s) have been genetically engineered for local IL-12 production and tested preclinically in various cancer models. Among OV-IL12s, oncolytic herpes simplex virus encoding IL-12 (OHSV-IL12) is the furthest along in the clinic. IL-12 expression locally in the tumors avoids systemic toxicity while inducing an efficient anti-tumor immunity and synergizes with anti-angiogenic drugs or immunomodulators without compromising safety. Despite the rapidly rising interest, there are no current reviews on OV-IL12s that exploit their potential efficacy and safety to translate into human subjects. In this article, we will discuss safety, tumor-specificity, and anti-tumor immune/anti-angiogenic effects of OHSV-IL12 as mono- and combination-therapies. In addition to OHSV-IL12 viruses, we will also review other IL-12-expressing OVs and their application in cancer therapy.
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