BACKGROUND: Numerous clinical trials have demonstrated that oncolytic viruses can elicit antitumor responses when they are administered directly into localized cancers. However, the treatment of metastatic disease with oncolytic viruses has been challenging due to the inactivation of viruses by components of human blood and/or to inadequate tumor selectivity. METHODS: We determined the cytolytic potential and selectivity of Seneca Valley Virus-001 (SVV-001), a newly discovered native picornavirus, in neuroendocrine and pediatric tumor cell lines and normal cells. Suitability of the virus for intravenous delivery in humans was assessed by blood inactivation assays. Safety was evaluated in vivo using an immune-competent mouse model, and efficacy was evaluated in vivo in athymic mice bearing tumors derived from human small-cell lung cancer and retinoblastoma cell lines. RESULTS: Cell lines derived from small-cell lung cancers and solid pediatric cancers were at least 10,000-fold more sensitive to the cytolytic activity of SVV-001 than were any of the adult normal human cells tested. Viral infectivity was not inhibited by human blood components. Intravenous doses up to 1 x 10(14) virus particles (vp) per kg were well tolerated, and no dose-limiting toxicity was observed in immune-competent mice. A single intravenous dose of 1 x 10(8) vp per kg into athymic mice bearing preestablished small-cell lung or retinoblastoma tumors resulted in complete, durable responses in ten of ten and five of eight mice, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: SVV-001 has potent cytolytic activity and high selectivity for tumor cell lines having neuroendocrine properties versus adult normal cells. Systemically administered SVV-001 has potential for the treatment of metastatic neuroendocrine cancers.