Impact of Covid-19 on Leukaemia investigated in new study

Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) has begun a new study looking at the impact of Covid-19 infection on patients with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) who are currently undergoing chemotherapy.

The study, named PACE, was launched by the charity Cure Leukaemia across a number of sites in the UK.

The study aims to understand the incidence of Covid-19 infection during treatment of AML in order to understand the prevalence of prior COVID-19 infection in AML patients receiving chemotherapy.

Also, to understand the health implications of COVID-19 infection for patients with AML and to collect information on the seriousness, type and frequency of all infections in patients with AML.

The study further aims to develop recommendations for the care of patients with AML and additional complications of COVID-19 infection, including those who develop COVID-19 infection during treatment for AML or have recovered from prior COVID-19 infection.

Strikingly, statistics show that 60 people are diagnosed with AML in the UK every week.

AML affects the blood cells and is a disease that can develop very quickly; abnormal cells accumulating in the blood and bone marrow rapidly.

Leukaemia can cause death within weeks if left untreated, however patients who receive treatment often find the disease enters remission.

Chemotherapy is the primary method of treatment for AML and works by destroying cancerous cells with cytotoxic drugs, which are harmful to the body’s cells.

Treatment can result in increased risk of infection and reduced ability to fight infection.

During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that the fatality rate increases with age.

AML predominantly affects the elderly, with a peak in cases in those over the age of 70.

There is some early evidence to suggest that patients with cancer are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 disease.

Professor Simon Stanworth, Consultant Haematologist for NHS Blood and Transplant at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford leads the PACE study which will recruit 100 patients from up to 34 sites around the UK over a six-month period.

Patients will be monitored weekly for a minimum of six months, and then on a three-monthly basis thereafter, for a total of 24 months.

To be eligible patients must have been diagnosed with AML and have a chemotherapy treatment plan; or be in receipt of chemotherapy treatment for AML at the start of the study.

Professor Stanworth said:

“This remains a very worrying time for many of us as we try to grapple with the full consequences of COVID19 infection in our patients.

“The study will help us better understand the problems of infections both in patients developing AML, both with and without COVID19 infection, to improve our knowledge base, develop practical recommendations for clinical teams and as a prelude to research in the future.

“The Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP), funded by Cure Leukaemia, has provided the infrastructure to open and recruit patients to this study in less than one month and it will also enable the accelerated assessment of these patients in the coming weeks and months.

“It is essential that programmes like the TAP remain funded to allow PACE, future studies and pioneering clinical trials to open and run to benefit blood cancer patients across the UK.”