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a Muslim woman wearing hijab receives her vaccine

Leukaemia trial tests Covid vaccine strategies to combat immune suppression

Patients with the most common form of leukaemia – Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) – are being invited to take part in a trial that could help them build Covid-19 antibodies following vaccination, when they previously have had poor responses.

Blood cancer patients are known to be at high risk of Covid-19 and many are part of the ‘forgotten 500k’ who are not well protected by Covid-19 vaccination and are therefore still very cautious going about their daily lives in contrast to those who are not immunocompromised.

Research has found that CLL patients who take either ibrutinib or acalabrutinib over the long term are not responding to Covid vaccination as well as those who are not taking the drug. Their antibody response is usually much lower, meaning the vaccine is not as effective in protecting against the disease.

Dr Helen Parry, Associate Professor at the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy at the University of Birmingham, is leading the IMPROVE trial and explained: “This study aims to determine if it is possible to improve the immune response by pausing ibrutinib or acalabrutinib treatment for a short period around the time of vaccination. It will also monitor whether pausing this treatment is well tolerated by patients by looking for symptom flare.

“At present there is no advice for CLL patients regarding whether pausing their treatment is the safest approach to vaccination, but anyone who participates in the trial will help to build a vital evidence base so that appropriate advice can be given in future.”

Patients interested in participating must be able to travel to one of the six trial sites: Birmingham, Stoke on Trent, London, Dudley, Oxford or Nottingham.

Anyone interested in taking part in the trial can email the trial team or call 0808 175 1455, and further information is available on the IMPROVE trial website.