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 Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that the province may consider a regional approach to loosening COVID-19 restrictions if numbers continue to decline. (photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Province further easing health restrictions

Numbers of people hospitalized and in intensive care has dropped dramatically, says premier

(Black Press file photo)
Ponoka Elementary School has three COVID-19 cases, including one variant

St. Augustine School has had no confirmed cases so far in 2020

Ryan Jake Applegarth of Ponoka, 28, is scheduled to appear at Ponoka Provincial Court on March 12, 2021. (File photo)
Discussions about justice continue as Ponoka murder victims’ court cases proceed

Responses to comments Ponoka Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley made to town council Feb. 9

File photo
Alberta’s central zone has 670 active cases

301 new cases identified Sunday

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside courthouse for slain Ponoka man

At what may be the last opportunity for Jeffery Kraft of Ponoka… Continue reading

(File photo/Lauren Collins Vana)
UPDATED: Ponoka cat owners have until July 1, 2021 to purchase licenses

Town council passed new Animal Control Bylaw Feb. 23

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Time to check the mail: Every household to receive a Canada Post postcard this spring

Postcard can be mailed for free to any address in Canada

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

AstraZeneca’s vaccines are ready for use at the vaccination center in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb.28, 2021. (Michael Reichel/dpa via AP)
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

The first of those doses could start to arrive in Canada as early as Wednesday

People line up outside a vaccine clinic as seniors wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton Alta, on Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Health Services head sorry for glitches in vaccine booking system for seniors

AHS president said technical issues have been fixed and a virtual waiting room is in place

Vandalism is shown on Alberta NDP MLA Janis Irwin’s constituency office in Edmonton in this handout photo on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quickly condemned vandalism at an Opposition legislature member Janis Irwin’s Edmonton office after the MLA posted pictures showing her front window spray-painted with the words “Antifa Liar.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Janis Irwin *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

Edmonton MLA Janis Irwin posted pictures showing the front window spray-painted with the words ‘Antifa Liar’

Most Read