Cancer trial to focus on protecting patients from COVID-19 infection

Cancer trial to focus on protecting patients from COVID-19 infection

Cancer trial to focus on protecting patients from COVID-19 infection

OTTAWA — A national clinical trial this summer will focus on protecting cancer patients against severe COVID-19 infection by attempting to boost their compromised immune system.

Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital say they want to explore the potential of IMM-101, a preparation featuring a dead pathogen containing properties that can stimulate the “first-response arm” of the immune system.

Study lead Dr. Rebecca Auer, surgical oncologist and director of cancer research at the Ottawa Hospital, says it could help experts understand why some COVID-19 patients are relatively asymptomatic while others end up in intensive care or die.

“The difference it seems between these two different presentations has to do with how strong your innate, or your sort of non-specific, first-line defence immune system response is to the virus,” Auer said Wednesday.

“And so we’re hoping that by boosting and stimulating this innate immune response, particularly in those vulnerable patients that have a reduced immune response to begin with, we’d be able to prevent symptomatic infections and prevent serious infections.”

Cancer patients are at much higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 because chemotherapy, cancer surgery and radiation treatments suppress innate immunity even further.

Auer points to an “urgent need” to protect them while the world waits for an effective COVID-19 vaccine, which could take another year or more to develop, test, and implement.

A successful trial could also protect cancer patients against other respiratory infections as well as the coming flu season, says Auer, noting the threat of illness is a fairly big problem for those undergoing treatment.

“A study demonstrated that about 13 to 15 per cent of cancer patients will have to delay or stop their treatment because of influenza during the average flu season,” she says.

“And also cancer patients don’t respond as well to the influenza vaccine every year because their immune system isn’t as strong. So we think that the IMM-101 may in itself be able to help prevent symptomatic influenza infections.”

Auer says IMM-101 has also been tested elsewhere for its anti-cancer properties and that, too, will be examined in this trial, although it’s not the primary objective.

The researchers say the bacteria, Mycobacterium obuense, is safe to use in cancer patients because it has been killed by heat.

The Canadian study will recruit 1,500 patients currently receiving cancer treatment, and participants will be randomly assigned to receive either regular care, or regular care plus IMM-101.

Auer says the treatment would be administered as an injection in the arm, to be followed by two more booster shots.

Researchers will follow patients for a year, watching for any respiratory infections and monitoring whether the treatment works and how long it lasts.

The trials will take place in eight centres located in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

Researchers say people interested in participating should speak with their cancer specialist.

Researchers from the Ottawa Hospital came up with the idea and worked with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s University to design the trial.

Dr. Chris O’Callaghan of the Queen’s University group notes cancer patients are also at greater risk of COVID-19 infection because they require regular medical care, making it difficult to adhere fully to public health guidelines.

“These patients are unable to practice social isolation due to the need to regularly attend hospital to receive critically important cancer treatment,” says O’Callaghan, who will oversee the trial.

Auer says a successful trial of IMM-101 could also suggest usefulness in treating any patient with a reduced innate immune system, such as older patients with chronic illness.

She notes that the tuberculosis vaccine known as BCG — which uses a similar formulation to IMM-101 but uses live bacteria instead of dead bacteria — is being tested around the world to see if it can boost the immunity of health-care workers exposed to COVID-19.

Funding and in-kind support, valued at $2.8 million, comes from the Canadian Cancer Society, BioCanRx, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, The Ottawa Hospital Academic Medical Organization, ATGen Canada/NKMax, and Immodulon Therapeutics, the manufacturer of IMM-101.

— By Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Cancer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP respond to break and enter and theft at a Wetaskiwin church

RCMP responded to a break and enter and theft at Jesus Cares Fellowship Church.

file photo
County of Wetaskiwin office to re-open Monday April 19, 2021

County of Wetaskiwin is re-opening their office and public works shops to the public on April 19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Most Read