Reducing the threat of COVID-19 for people with cancer

15 July 2020

Thanks to funding from the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) is leading the first clinical trial in the world to test an immune-stimulating treatment to prevent severe cases of COVID-19 specifically in people with cancer.

"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 (pictured top), a senior investigator at CCTG who is overseeing the national trial. “These patients are unable to practice social isolation due to the need to regularly attend hospital to receive critically important cancer treatment.”

The trial is testing whether an immune-boosting treatment, called IMM-101, can reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms in people who are actively undergoing cancer treatment. Researchers were previously studying IMM-101 as an anti-cancer therapy where it showed promising results in helping the immune system attack cancer cells. Led by Dr Rebecca Auer (pictured bottom), 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.

“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, healther lives,” says Andrea Seale, CEO, CCS.

If successful, IMM-101 could also help protect people with cancer from other serious respiratory infections like the flu.

Only CCS enables a national support system and funds groundbreaking research like this promising clinical trial to make a real difference for people affected by cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can help us by donating to our COVID-19 Emergency Fund at cancer.ca/covid.