Protecting Cancer Patients from COVID-19

CCTG IC.8 - World-first clinical trial tests a novel immune-boosting strategy

In the race to find new ways to prevent and treat COVID-19, the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) has launched an innovative clinical trial focussed on strengthening the immune system for one of the most vulnerable populations – cancer patients.

The trial is called CCTG IC.8:  Immunization With IMM-101 vs Observation for Prevention of Respiratory and Severe COVID-19 Related Infections in Cancer Patients at Increased Risk of Exposure (COV-IMMUNO). IMM-101 is a preparation of safe, heat-killed bacteria that broadly stimulates the innate, or “first-response,” arm of the immune system. Researchers hope that boosting cancer patients’ immune systems with IMM-101 will protect them from developing severe COVID-19 and other dangerous lung infections.

Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital came up with the idea for the trial and worked with CCTG to design and run it in centres across the country. Funding and in-kind support, valued at $2.8 million, is being provided by 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.

“An effective vaccine that provides specific protection against COVID-19 could take another year or more to develop, test, and implement,” says Dr. Rebecca Auer, study lead, surgical oncologist 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 immune stimulator, IMM-101, may be able to do this.”

"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, CCTG Senior Investigator, who will be overseeing this important national trial. “These patients are unable to practice social isolation due to the need to regularly attend hospital to receive critically important cancer treatment.”

“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. “Thanks to the quick-thinking and innovation of Drs. Auer and O’Callaghan and with the support of Canadian Cancer Society 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.”

CCTG IC.8 has been approved by Health Canada and will be opening at select cancer centres across Canada this summer.