A new clinical trial conducted by the Canadian Cancer Society-funded Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) is the first in the world to test an immune-stimulating treatment to reduce symptoms and prevent severe cases of COVID-19 and other serious respiratory infections specifically in people with cancer.
Cancer is considered an underlying medical condition that can put people at higher risk of more serious outcomes of COVID-19. In addition, some cancer treatments can weaken the immune system, making individuals more vulnerable to infections.
"We know the immune systems of cancer patients are compromised, both by their disease and the treatments they receive, placing them at much higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19,” says Dr Chris O'Callaghan, a senior investigator at CCTG who will be overseeing the national trial. “These patients are unable to practice social isolation due to the need to regularly attend the hospital to receive critically important cancer treatment.”
The trial is testing whether an immune-stimulating treatment, called IMM-101, can reduce the incidence and severity of COVID-19 symptoms in people who are actively undergoing cancer treatment. IMM-101 has been under development for the last several years as an anti-cancer therapy and has shown that it can help to turn on certain immune cells and boost the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells. Led by Dr Rebecca Auer, researchers from The Ottawa Hospital came up with the idea to test if the treatment could be repurposed to help cancer patients’ immune systems fight off coronavirus infections. They worked with Dr O’Callaghan and CCTG to design and run the trial in 8 cancer centres across the country.
CCTG was founded by CCS and remains one of its national research programs, with CCS providing critical core operational funding for CCTG to conduct clinical trials nationwide. In addition to CCS’s funding, this $2.8 million trial is being supported by 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.
“COVID-19 has led to a quickly changing environment. Just as many businesses and organizations have had to adapt, some cancer researchers are also pivoting their work to address the unique challenges brought on by this pandemic,” says Andrea Seale, CEO, Canadian Cancer Society (CCS). “Thanks to the quick-thinking and innovation of Drs Auer and O’Callaghan and the support of CCS donors, we are now able to conduct the world’s first clinical trial to prevent severe COVID-19 infections in people with cancer and help them live longer, healthier lives.”
The researchers will follow the participants to collect information on whether they become infected with COVID-19, their symptoms and the impact on their cancer treatment plan. Results are expected within 9 months.
“An effective vaccine that provides specific protection against COVID-19 could take another year or more to develop, test and implement,” says Dr Auer, study lead and Director of Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “In the meantime, there is an urgent need to protect people with cancer from severe COVID-19 infection, and we think this study will prove a viable safeguard.”
If successful, IMM-101 could also offer benefits to people with other chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems who are similarly at a heightened risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19. It could also help protect people with cancer from other respiratory infections like the seasonal flu.
About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society is the only national charity that supports Canadians with all cancers in communities across the country. No other organization does what we do; we are the voice for Canadians who care about cancer. We fund groundbreaking research, provide a support system for all those affected by cancer and shape health policies to prevent cancer and support those living with the disease.
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About the Canadian Cancer Trials Group
Celebrating its 40th year, the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) is a cancer clinical trials research cooperative that runs phase I-III trials to test anti-cancer and supportive therapies in over 80 institutions across Canada and Internationally. From their operations centre at Queen’s University, they have participated in over 500 trials in over 40 countries aimed at improving survival and quality of life for all people with cancer. CCTG is a national program of the Canadian Cancer Society who provide core funding for the group.
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Canadian Cancer Society