Expert Pitch

CANCER AND COVID-19: Moffitt Cancer Center Experts & Resources

1-Apr-2020 8:40 AM EDT, by Moffitt Cancer Center

All individuals with weakened immune systems might be more susceptible to complications from COVID-19, and that means cancer patients are of particular concern. Moffitt Cancer Center is working to ensure this vulnerable population can safely continue cancer treatment and minimize risk of infection in addition to cancer survivors who may still face immune response issues or other higher infection risks. Additionally, the world-class research team at Moffitt is also examining infectious disease, virology, immunizations and other core topics linked to the pandemic.

There are a number of researchers working on several fronts to respond to the coronavirus who are available for comment:

Baseline care and testing for cancer patients:
Cancer patients are three times more likely to die if infected with COVID-19 than a patient without a compromised immune system. That makes prevention, baseline care and testing that much more urgent. As focus pivots to look at individual patient populations and the impact of COVID-19, how are cancer patients impacted in their treatment and battle to beat cancer? Moffitt is protecting patients and their families and visitors with a range of precautions, including screening at our entrances for signs of respiratory illness and travel or contact history with COVID-19.

Voice: Dr. John Greene, infectious disease specialist, can discuss the baseline care modules implemented for all patients coming in for treatment


History of the virus and how viruses are transmitted:
COVID-19 is a “novel” form of coronavirus, meaning it has never been catalogued. However, scientists who specialize in the formation and transmission of viruses are working quickly to investigate its origins, track its spread and develop treatment.

Voice: Dr. Jennifer Binning, virologist, can speak to how viruses pass from person to person and how researchers track their spread to try to stop it.


Bringing a vaccine to market:
Vaccines typically take years to develop, but the government has tools it can use to help expedite the process. In the case of COVID-19, several companies are in pursuit, and researchers are able to repurpose some of their studies and lessons learned from other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS.

Voice: Dr. Anna Giuliano, founding director of the Center for Immunization and Infection Research in Cancer.  


Expanding Telemedicine:
COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the use of telemedicine for cancer patients, and the loosening of state and federal regulations has made virtual visits a good option to receive care during the pandemic.

Voice: Dr. Phillippe Spiess, surgical genitourinary oncologist and medical director of Virtual Health, can speak about how he utilizes virtual visits to treat patients and how telemedicine efforts have ramped up during the pandemic.


Possible Treatments:
Can HIV antivirals and Ebola medication work for Coronavirus? Can we inject at-risk groups with blood and plasma from survivors?

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Voice: Dr. Uwe Rix, a drug discovery researcher, can speak to what scientists look for when determining if a drug approved to treat another disease can be used for a new one, how off-label use works and the process of getting these drugs approved.


Blood Shortage
The pandemic has stressed blood supply. And leukemia, other blood cancers, and bone marrow transplant patients depend on blood products for weeks, and sometimes even months, to survive. There is a real risk of needing to cancel lifesaving treatments and transplants for some patients if the blood supply is too low. Is it safe to donate? What precautions are being taken?

Voices: Dr. Jeffrey  Lancet, chair of Malignant Hematology Department, and Dr. Kaaron Benson, medical director of Moffitt’s blood bank, can speak to the impact the shortage is having on patients and safety.


CAR T treatment and COVID-19:
This therapy uses the body’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells. How will COVID-19 change the delivery of CAR T as it is particularly dangerous for the immuno-compromised? Moffitt is working quickly to ensure all CAR T patients are screened for COVID-19 before they would undergo treatment.

Voice: Dr. Frederick Locke, vice chair of the Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapies Department, can speak to how patient care is being handled and the safety of cellular immunotherapies during the pandemic.


BMT (Blood and Marrow Transplant):
Bone marrow and transplant recipients are a particularly high-risk group. What steps can they take to protect themselves? 

Voice: Dr. Michael Nieder, senior member, Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapies Department, can speak to how patient care is being handled and safety of transplants during the pandemic.

Digital Innovation:
Smart phones, wearable sensors and remote tools offer new opportunities to better connect patients and health care providers and incorporate patient input to make for more successful drug research and development.

Voice: Dr. Edmondo Robinson, chief digital innovation officer, can speak to new ways technology is improving cancer care.


Best Practices:
Should I wear a mask? Some experts suggest there may even be harm in doing so.

There are still many mistakes and misconceptions about proper handwashing. Facts: Air-drying is not safer than drying. Baby wipes do not do the trick. And soap and water trumps hand sanitizer.

While support groups cannot safely meet in person, many are available via teleconference:

Covid-19 has upended our lives and added anxiety to our daily lives. There are some helpful ways to handle stress while navigating concerns for the virus:


Website link for all COVID-related content: 


LIVE SHOTS/REMOTES Moffitt has an in-house TV studio for remotes, and their team can also accommodate phoners or Skype/Zoom.


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