Protecting cancer patients from COVID-19

Protecting cancer patients from COVID-19

A world-first clinical trial test designed at Queen’s launches a novel immune-boosting strategy.

By Julie Brown

July 8, 2020


Canadian researchers collaborating with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group at Queen’s University have launched an innovative clinical trial focused on strengthening the immune system against COVID-19. The trial focuses on one of the most vulnerable populations – cancer patients.  

The experiment involves IMM-101, a preparation of safe, heat-killed bacteria that broadly stimulates the innate, or “first-response,” arm of the immune system. The researchers hope that boosting cancer patients’ immune systems with IMM-101 will protect them from developing severe COVID-19 and other dangerous lung 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,  Senior Investigator at The Canadian Cancer Trials Group and Professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences.  “These patients are unable to practice social isolation due to the need to regularly attend hospital to receive critically important cancer treatment.”

Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital came up with the idea for the trial and worked with the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) at Queen’s University 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. 

In the race to find new ways to prevent and treat COVID-19, this comes as encouraging news. “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.”

The trial, called CCTG IC.8, has been approved by Health Canada and is expected to open at cancer centres across Canada this summer. People who are interested in participating should speak with their cancer specialist.  


Health Sciences