Published on November 23, 2020
New Study Monitors COVID-19 Response in Lung Cancer Patients
This year, 228,820 new cases of lung cancer have been diagnosed in patients in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. The combination of lung cancer and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is of particular concern for patients and medical care teams alike. Patients with lung cancer tend to have a more aggressive course of the infection and face a higher mortality rate.
Researchers around the globe are working at a fast pace to develop vaccines to prevent or mitigate symptoms.
COVID-19 Research in Lung Cancer
Mount Sinai researchers led by Fred R. Hirsch, MD, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Thoracic Oncology at The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai, received $3.9 million as part of a 5-year National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant to study lung cancer patients' vulnerability to developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, which can lead to poor outcomes. The Mount Sinai team has partnered with the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer to accomplish this major undertaking. GO2 was founded by lung cancer patients and survivors, whose mission is to improve lives and outcomes for patients diagnosed with lung cancer.
“The COVID-Lung Cancer study will include patients who are newly diagnosed with lung cancer and we will compare them with a control group of so-called healthy individuals,” Dr. Hirsch said.
The research team will study 1,000 patients with lung cancer and 1,000 patients without lung cancer to determine if there are differences in antibody responses related to age, gender, tobacco history, and race or ethnicity.
Researchers on Dr. Hirsch’s team will also study possible biological factors contributing to the vulnerability and changes in lung tumor cells and noncancerous lung cells in patients who have COVID-19.
Analyzing the Antibody Response
The researchers will analyze blood samples to determine lung cancer patients' antibody response when they contract COVID-19 and when they receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Do patients with lung cancer have a weaker antibody response than people without lung cancer? That is one of the questions the study seeks to answer.
“We will compare the magnitude, the quality, and the duration of the antibody response,” Dr. Hirsch said.
In terms of duration, the team will follow up with patients at the 3-month, 6-month, 12-month and 24-month mark and will publish interim results of their findings for each period of time. They are hopeful that this part of the study will help the researchers learn how long the COVID-19 antibodies last. Dr. Hirsch expects that during the 24 months of observation, many patients will receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Current COVID-19 vaccines in clinical trials require a second booster for everyone, and Dr. Hirsch’s team is seeking to determine whether patients with lung cancer may need a third booster in order to be protected against COVID-19, which attacks healthy lung tissue and can cause damage to other organs.
Future research, which is not yet funded, may result in the creation of a COVID-19 vaccine program specifically for patients with lung cancer.
“Maybe patients need another booster, or a higher dose,” Dr. Hirsch said.
As data rolls in, Dr. Hirsch and his team will provide timely updates about the study’s progress and the state of the patients who have volunteered to take part in this important research – not only for the immediate pandemic, but for the future.
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