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

OTTAWA — A national clinical trial this summer will focus on protecting cancer patients from developing severe COVID-19.

Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital say the goal is to strengthen the immune system of a particularly vulnerable population.

The trial will explore the potential of IMM-101, a preparation of safe, heat-killed bacteria that stimulates the immune system.

Cancer patients are at much higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 because their treatments further weaken an already compromised immune system.

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

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

Study lead Dr. Rebecca Auer, surgical oncologist and director of cancer research at the Ottawa Hospital, points to an “urgent need” to protect cancer patients while the world waits for an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

She notes a vaccine could take another year or more to develop, test, and implement.

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 because they require regular medical care, making it difficult to adhere fully to public health guidelines around COVID-19.

“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.

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.

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


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