Cancer Vaccine Institute research continues full steam ahead during the pandemic

The Cancer Vaccine Institute at the University of Washington has responded quickly and effectively to the unprecedented challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic to continue moving full steam ahead on mission to develop cancer vaccines and other immune therapies. As an essential service, we have not only remained operational but have made significant progress across many of our projects, while keeping our research teams safe.

In early March as the gravity of the pandemic became apparent, we received instruction from Washington state governor, Jay Inslee, that biomedical research in academic and biopharma would continue as an essential service during the lockdown. The University of Washington’s Provost’s office asked the Cancer Vaccine Institute and all other research laboratories to develop a detailed plan that would allow teams to continue conducting research safely. We promptly developed and implemented a plan, with inclusion of the appropriate training and masking for our entire team.

With the CVI research laboratory being over 10,000 ft2, we were easily able to devise working stations for our team that were spaced well beyond the recommended six feet. Employees are required to wear masks if they may come within six feet of one another. Additionally, for researchers and other staff who do not conduct laboratory experiments, such as administrative teams, a schedule was developed to allow those who could do so to work from home, at least part-time. Clinical teams continue seeing patients in clinical trials using safety protocols established by UW Medicine.

With safety protocols in place, we have made significant progress on many of our projects and as an organization in 2020. We have revamped and streamlined our clinical trials operations so we can bring new treatments we’ve developed to trials faster and more efficiently. Currently, we have nine ongoing clinical trials at various stages. Additionally, we have moved two breast cancer vaccines (WOKVAC, STEMVAC) into Phase II clinical trials and have made progress on the development of ovarian and colon cancer vaccines this year. We have also started trials that test novel agents such as the small molecule Alpha-TEA (read more here) for breast cancer and CAR-T cell therapy for ovarian cancer.

The world may have changed significantly this year, but we cannot afford to lose the momentum we’ve built. We know that patients are relying on us to continue our work and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have been so grateful for the support of our community in our fight against cancer and hope for continued partnership.


Photo: CVI Research Scientist, Carissa Pityer, and Immune Monotoring Laboratory staff, Ryan Brennan, conduct experiments at the laboratory on the University of Washington's South Lake Union campus.
Photo by Kiran Dhillon