Promising COVID-19 treatment now being tested in Hamilton patients

Patients in some Hamilton hospitals will start getting a potential COVID-19 treatment Tuesday as part of a study that will expand Friday to include those who are ill at home.

Health Canada has approved the Anti-Coronavirus Therapies to Prevent Progression of COVID-19 Trial (ACT) led by the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) affiliated with Hamilton Health Sciences and McMaster University.

“There is no proven therapy for COVID-19, no one knows at this point what is effective,” infectious disease researcher Dr. Mark Loeb said about the significance of the study when it was proposed in March.

The trial will test a promising combination of two drugs — the antibiotic azithromycin taken with malaria medication chloroquine or a similar drug hydroxychloroquine.

Researchers will recruit at least 500 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 1,000 at home. They’ll be randomized so some get the drugs and the others get the current supportive therapy. The aim is to keep those at home out of hospital while preventing ventilation and death among in-patients.

“The trial will provide definitive evidence as to whether these drugs work in treating COVID-19 or not and that’s key at this point,” said Dr. Emilie Belley-Côté, principal investigator, cardiologist and intensivist. “We want to know if it works, but we also want to know if it doesn’t work so we can explore other therapies.”

A study like this normally takes 12 months to put together but PHRI did it in roughly one month, bringing together some of Hamilton’s top names in clinical trials.

“If there is anybody who can pull this off, it’s this group,” said Loeb. “This is the A team.”

Across Canada, 25 sites are expected to take part. Discussions are also underway with researchers in 10 countries. The design is flexible enough that if new therapies emerge, they can be tested as well.

The trial, funded by PHRI, Bayer Canada and Shopify founder’s Thistledown Foundation, is one of a number of studies worldwide testing treatments including at St. Joseph’s Healthcare.

“It’s very important that a variety of trials go on to test different populations and different drugs and to make sure findings can be replicated,” said Dr. Richard Whitlock, cardiac surgeon and principal investigator.

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