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

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. announces signage along Alberta border to discourage non-essential travel

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta begins rolling out AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for those aged 40 or older

There are more than 70 pharmacies offering AstraZeneca, including 26 offering walk-in appointments

A child writes in their school notebook during a home schooling session in Cremona, Alta., Monday, March 23, 2020, amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of students in Calgary will shift to online learning as of today in a bid to curb rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Online classes begin for some Alberta students amid rising COVID-19 cases

Alberta currently has the highest rate of active COVID-19 cases in the country

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

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

Most Read