Dr. Rebecca Auer
Surgical Oncologist & Director of Cancer Research, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Chris O’Callaghan
Senior Investigator of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, Queen’s University
A Canadian team is researching how we can strengthen the immune system of cancer patients to better protect them against COVID-19.
For people living with cancer, COVID-19 has serious implications. Cancer patients’ immune systems are compromised, making them more vulnerable if they’re infected with the virus. It’s also difficult for those undergoing cancer treatment to self-isolate — a key method in preventing infection — because of frequent visits to the hospital.
There’s also still uncertainty on whether vaccines against COVID-19 will be safe and effective in people actively undergoing cancer treatment.
“There’s an urgent need to protect people with cancer from severe COVID-19 infection,” says Dr. Rebecca Auer, a surgical oncologist and Scientific Director of the Cancer Therapeutics Program at The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.
That urgency is why Dr. Auer and her team of researchers from The Ottawa Hospital launched an innovative clinical trial focused on strengthening the immune system of cancer patients, to better protect them against COVID-19.
Researchers worked with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) at Queen’s University to design and run the trial, and secured funding and support from organizations including BioCanRx, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, The Ottawa Hospital Academic Medical Organization, ATGen Canada/NKMax Canada, and Immodulon Therapeutics.
The trial uses IMM-101, a bacterium that stimulates the first-response arm of the immune system. Dr. Auer and her team hope that boosting cancer patients’ immune systems with IMM-101 will protect them from developing COVID-19 and other dangerous lung infections.
“We know the immune systems of cancer patients are compromised both by their disease and by the treatments they receive, placing them at much higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19,” says Dr. Chris O’Callaghan, Senior Investigator with the CCTG, who will be overseeing the trial. “These patients are unable to practise social isolation due to the need to regularly go to the hospital to receive critically important cancer treatment.”
The national, phase III clinical trial, called CCTG IC.8, has been approved by Health Canada and is available at select cancer centres across Canada.