With COVID-19 continuing to impact the lives of people across the world, research is vital to combat this virus. In hopes of finding an antidote, the University of Alberta and University of Calgary have partnered up to lead an investigation to see if the drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) may be effective in treating COVID-19.

This week, the Alberta Hope COVID-19 trial officially launched to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. HCQ, a safe and well-tolerated drug, is mainly used an immune modulator in the treatment of conditions such as inflammatory arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). During the 2003 SARS epidemic, HCQ was used, but never tested in randomized trials. Evidence has indicated antiviral activity against corona viruses, including SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Small studies also suggest effective treatment is probable—an important reason why the two Alberta universities have teamed up for this larger study.

An Alberta-only trial

This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial will recruit over 1600 Albertans who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 and are at risk of declining and/or developing serious illness. Researchers will test to see if administering HCQ within a few days of a person’s first exposure can treat the infection and prevent those infected from needing hospitalization. Those participating in the trial will need to take a pill and begin treatment within four days of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. Half will receive HQC the other half will receive a placebo.

The Alberta HOPE COVID-19 trial is, designed, run and funded in Alberta, and is supported by Alberta Health Services Strategic Clinical Research Fund, Calgary Health Trust, Alberta Innovates and the Government of Alberta.

Dr. Michael Hill, MD, a neurologist and clinical trialist at the Foothills Medical Centre and a professor in the Cumming School of Medicine’s departments of Clinical Neurosciences, Radiology, Medicine, and Community Health Sciences says the time it took to get this trial set up and ready for testing speaks to its urgency. “Normally, it might take about a year to organize a clinical trial, and we got this thing going in about three weeks. The degree of cooperation amongst everybody has been outstanding.”

Alberta Health Services staff will provide researchers with the contact information of consenting individuals who tested positive for COVID-19. From there, participants will be carefully screened for safety and eligibility. The treatment will then be supplied to them at their homes. A courier will witness the receipt of the treatment, which will also be confirmed over the phone. On the seventh  and 30th day of the trial, participants will be contacted by phone for follow up. Participants will then be followed up by phone on day seven and day 30 of starting the treatment. This unique trial is only available to Albertans.

Why is this study so important?

COVID-19 is a worldwide pandemic. Successful early treatment can prevent severe illness, ultimately helping a large population of people who are or will become infected with COVID-19. By finding a treatment, the need for hospitalization and critical care diminish, which in turn, reduces the burden of our health-care system and the dedicated front line workers who put their health at risk every day.

The reality is that without a solution,  a resurgence of COVID-19 is likely. To prevent further devastation, finding possible treatments is essential.

How to participate

The Alberta Hope COVID-19 trial is targeted at Albertans who are at home with proven COVID-19 tests, showing symptoms of the virus, and are at risk of developing severe COVID-19. In order to participate, you must be 18 years of age or older and:

Why participate in clinical trials?

Clinical trials provide healthcare professionals with crucial evidence that helps them determine the best way treat patients. By being a part of a trial, you’ll get a chance at early treatment, while also helping researchers understand whether a treatment works, and potentially improve the lives of other Albertans, Canadians and people across the world.

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