Clinical trials for COVID-19 treatments seek Manitoba participants

Manitoba researchers seeking participants for various clinical trials set to get underway in the province say speed is a top concern as the world gathers information about COVID-19.

"Clinical trials are very, very important, especially with COVID-19, because we don’t have any treatments right now that are shown to be effective," said Dylan Mackay, a clinical trialist at the George and Fay Yee Centre for Healthcare Innovation in Winnipeg.

"Because you can’t have trials without participants — and getting the participants is often the rate-limiting step in many trials," Mackay said, adding many clinical trials fail because there aren’t enough participants and as a consequence, there isn’t enough data to draw any conclusions.

In normal circumstances, there is no single, easy, streamlined way researchers track down the people they’re looking for, but in the novel coronavirus pandemic, there is the added constraint of health-care providers being overtaxed and thus not a great resource for connecting COVID-19 patients to research teams.

Manitoba-based researchers were already looking at this issue when they connected with experts in Montreal via the online business communication platform Slack. A pan-Canadian COVID-19 researchers channel was set up, and thus an idea emerged: all of the clinical trials being approved by Health Canada could seek registrants in one place, on one website.

"This idea was born out of a need we are experiencing firsthand," said Dr. Ramy Saleh, a physician with the McGill University Health Centre and founder of CovidTrials.ca. "We know there are patients out there who are interested in accessing this treatment and who want to do what they can to support the research."

While the idea might seem simple, Mackay said he's never seen a collaborative effort like this one to locate trial participants.

Four clinical trials operating in Manitoba have already been posted to the new website, along with more than a dozen other trials from across the country. The first local trial expected to get up and running is a joint effort with researchers in Alberta and Quebec which will examine the impact of hydroxychloroquine treatments on those who have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Mackay wants to assure the public no one is being infected with the virus, but this means they are looking for participants who either have already contracted COVID-19 or had known exposure or who currently has the virus.

Anyone seeking to sign up can visit the website (CovidTrials.ca) and register, and after filling out their personal information, a person would potentially be matched with any ongoing trial with which they fit the needed criteria.

"The faster the recruitment goes, the faster we can finish the trials," Mackay said. "The sooner we have information about whether these treatments are effective or not."

sarah.lawrynuik@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @SarahLawrynuik

Sarah Lawrynuik
Reporter

Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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