Risk of COVID-19 Infection Not Higher in Patients With Cancer Receiving Immunotherapy

November 11, 2020

By Eric Ramos

CHICAGO -- November 10, 2020 -- Treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors does not appear to be a risk factor for contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to a study presented at the Virtual 35th Annual Meeting of the Society of Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC).

“In our experience, patients who were prescribed immune checkpoint inhibitors were not more likely to contract COVID-19 than matched controls, which may assist in decision-making around continuation of therapy during the pandemic,” stated William Murphy, MD, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts. “More research needs to be conducted to determine potential behavioural and testing factors that may affect COVID-19 diagnosis.”

For the study, the researchers analysed data from 1,577 patients with cancer treated at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both in Boston, who were prescribed immune checkpoint inhibitors between July 7, 2019, and February 29, 2020. Patients with matched with 26,241 controls for age, sex, and Charlson comorbidity index.

For both groups, the researchers cross referenced COVID-19 infection data through June 19, 2020, from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health using date of birth, last name, and first four letters of the first name.

Of the 1,577 patients receiving immunotherapy, 21 (1.3%) tested positive for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus disease 2 (SARS-CoV-2) compared with 527 (2%) controls.

When controlling for factors such as local infection rate, age, sex, race, and zip code income, there were no significant differences in COVID infection between patients receiving immune checkpoint inhibitors and matched controls (odds ratio = 0.7; 95% confidence interval, 0.45-1.09; P = .1).

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the potential harms and benefits of immunotherapy should be carefully considered for each patient during the pandemic, and where possible, COVID-19 testing prior to therapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors is reasonable.

[Presentation title: Risk of COVID-19 Infection Among Patients Receiving Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor Therapy: a Tertiary Care Hospital System Collaboration With the Massachusetts Department of Health. Abstract 826]