Local COVID-19 research supported by St. Joseph's Health Crisis Fund

St. Joseph’s Health Care London and Lawson Health Research Institute have announced plans to move forward with clinical trials testing a drug that could potentially be used to prevent and treat COVID-19. St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation will accelerate the creation of the studies by providing seed funding to get the research started through donor support. Based on the immediate need, The St. Joseph’s Health Crisis Fund has been created by St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation to enable these and other research studies currently in development through Lawson, the research arm of St. Joseph’s. 

While supporting urgent COVID-19 clinical trials will be an immediate focus, The St. Joseph’s Health Crisis Fund will also support critical patient care equipment and care and comfort items for healthcare staff and volunteers working on the frontlines of the pandemic across St. Joseph’s.

Led locally by Dr. Michael Silverman, Medical Director of St. Joseph’s Infectious Diseases Care Program, one trial will assess the safety and efficacy of using hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to prevent COVID-19 in health care workers recently exposed to the virus. This trial will also assess the drug as a treatment for non-hospitalized patients with mild cases of the illness. St. Joseph’s will be one of many participating sites in the trial, which is being led by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.

“There is much debate surrounding the drug hydroxychloroquine. We do not yet know whether it’s safe or effective, and it should not be routinely recommended until we do,” says Dr. Silverman, also a Lawson Associate Scientist and city-wide Chair/Chief of Infectious Diseases. “We plan to carefully study the drug through a randomized controlled trial and assess whether it can help combat COVID-19.”

Dr. Silverman is also partnering with Dr. Michael Borrie, Geriatrician at St. Joseph’s and Lawson Scientist, on a prevention trial to test the safety and efficacy of the drug for patients and residents at Parkwood Institute who have been exposed to COVID-19. They are at a higher risk of infection, as well as serious complications and potential admission to acute care.

“There are two critical goals with this prophylactic trial,” explains Dr. Borrie. “First, we want to see if the drug, taken for five days, is safe for the participants in the study. We will then look to see whether it is effective to prevent illness or lessen symptoms and complications.” 

They are testing whether HCQ may inhibit the coronavirus similar to how the antiviral drug Tamiflu is used to prevent influenza after exposure. The research team will recruit patients and residents who have been accidentally exposed to the virus by a confirmed or presumed case of COVID-19, but who aren’t yet experiencing symptoms. In addition to cardiograms and blood tests for safety, they are collaborating with Dr. Saman Maleki, Lawson Scientist and Immunologist, to analyze the blood for a variety of indicators including the presence of antibodies and immune response. They will collect clinical data and information on common health conditions to gain insights into why some vulnerable individuals get the disease and others don’t.

“We are aware of two small studies that were published rapidly last week, one in France and the other in China, testing the use of chloroquine for potentially treating COVID-19. Further studies are greatly needed,” adds Dr. Borrie. “This study at Parkwood Institute is a good start and we hope to have other Canadian sites join us in recruiting participants so that we can offer statistically significant results as soon as possible.”  

Those interested in donating to St. Joseph’s Health Crisis Fund are asked to visit St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation’s website to learn more at www.sjhcfoundation.org. Donations can be made online, through direct mail submissions or by calling the Foundation directly at 519-646-6085. 

“The Sisters of St. Joseph, who founded our organization, faced contagious diseases and other pandemics at different times in our 150+ year history,” says Michelle Campbell. “Today, it’s a different time, and a new disease. Now, more than ever, we ask our community to help us address the crisis facing us all.” 

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