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At least 20 Canadian hospitals to take part in clinical trials for coronavirus treatment

Last Updated Mar 28, 2020 at 12:00 am EST

As the death toll from the coronavirus continues to climbs, Canada is one of a number of countries taking part in a global project to find a treatment for COVID-19.

At least 20 hospitals across the country will be taking part in an international clinical trial of four medications to treat COVID-19 patients.

“Some have been used to treat malaria in the past, some have been used for HIV, some have been used in other viral conditions like the Ebola virus disease,” said Dr. Rob Fowler, a professor of critical care medicine at the University of Toronto, and one of the doctors who will be testing the drugs at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.

The global trial, called “SOLIDARITY”, is being organized by the World Health Organization and will be carried out in at least six countries worldwide, involving thousands of patients.

Dr. Fowler said it could be six to 12 months before any new drugs are ready for testing, so instead, this trial will focus on existing antivirals.

“In a sense, we’re lucky at the beginning of this trial in that all the medications have been used in lots of patients for a long time with other conditions, so the side effect profiles are really well known, and most are pretty well tolerated,” explained Dr. Fowler.

The drugs won’t be tested against placebos, but with at least 400 Canadian patients set participate, the results could help doctors worldwide identify, or rule out, existing remedies for COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Fowler says any patient who is hospitalized will be eligible for the trial. “That refers to people who will be in hospital because they need oxygen or intravenous therapy, or patients who are critically ill in the intensive care unit,” he says. The focus right now is on adults, but he hopes to soon treat children as well.

The project, which is set to begin in Canada next week, is being funded through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which provided almost $1 million as part of the federal government’s $275 million pledge to fund COVID-19 research.