Australian cancer patients are enrolling in a clinical trial of a medicated nasal spray that may protect against COVID-19 and other
viral infections, including seasonal flu and colds.
The nasal spray contains the drug interferon – a drug once taken by people with HIV/AIDS – and is hoped to work in tandem with any COVID-19 vaccine in patients with compromised immune systems.
The C-SMART trial – led by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the National Centre for Infections in Cancer (NCIC) – is calling for cancer-patient volunteers.
Recruitment began this week, and The New Daily understands a number of patients have already signed on.
According to a statement from Peter Mac, the thinking behind the trial is this:
- Preventing COVID-19 is particularly important in cancer patients because they are often immune-compromised and at risk of severe illness from infections.
- Although COVID-19 vaccines are now being distributed in some nations, it’s not yet clear how people with a compromised immune system will respond to the vaccine itself, and in terms of the vaccine’s efficacy.
- At the least, cancer patients, upon receiving a vaccine, may require drug enhancement to boost efficacy – or, in the event the vaccine fails to provide adequate protection, an alternative.
In a prepared statement, Professor Monica Slavin, Director of Infectious Diseases at Peter Mac and of the NCIC, said:
“For cancer patients and other people who are immune compromised – those we consider at most risk during a pandemic – it is important to recognise that vaccination may not be fully protective.
“We need other options to protect people and, thankfully, we have an option at hand.”
Pharmaceutical interferons are synthesized versions of naturally occurring proteins that help the immune system to find and attack viruses and cancer.
They can stop virus and cancer cells from growing and spreading, and prevent other cells from getting infected.
They take their name from their function: “interfering” with viruses and keeping them from multiplying.
Interferon Alpha-2B has a pretty long history treating various cancers, including leukemia, melanoma and AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma.
It has a complicated history of treating chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Professor Slavin and her colleagues “believe interferon could protect against COVID-19 along with a host of other respiratory viruses – such as influenza and the common cold (rhinovirus) – which can also be life-threatening for some people.”
How will the trial work?
The C-SMART trial is open to cancer patients who are over 18, and who have had cancer treatment within the past year.
Participants will be randomised to receive either the medicated spray or a placebo.
The trial is now open to cancer patients treated at Peter Mac, and is soon to be at The Royal Melbourne Hospital, St Vincent’s Hospital and Austin Health/Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne, as well as Sydney’s Westmead Hospital.
Participants won’t be prevented from also taking a COVID-19 vaccine, should one become available.
The study will also assess novel treatment approaches for cancer patients who test positive for COVID-19.
“Thankfully we are now seeing no community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia and we hope this continues. However, if we do see cases, we will be prepared with treatment options,” Professor Slavin said.
“We are confident the C-SMART trial will provide important insights that can help guide how best to protect and care for cancer patients, and inform the global response to the pandemic.”
The New Daily emailed questions to Peter Mac’s media team. These weren’t replied to prior to our publishing the story.
For more information or to register your interest in the C-SMART trial, go online to www.csmart.com.au