Collaboration helps speed the way for a new Alberta clinical trial to fight COVID-19

Tamara Vineberg - 01 May 2020

Pediatric neurologist Lawrence Richer is part of a provincial research team looking into the use of hydroxychloroquine for early treatment of COVID-19.
With the urgent nature of finding a treatment for COVID-19, provincial researchers have moved quickly to develop a clinical trial for the province. The Alberta HOPE COVID-19 trial is exploring the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as an early intervention for those who test positive for the coronavirus. Typically, a clinical trial involving volunteer participants can take up to a year to initiate because it depends on approvals, ethics reviews and funding. To have a timely impact on the current pandemic, the teams knew they had to work together in different ways to make things happen.

When researchers from the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta, including the Department of Pediatrics’ Lawrence Richer, proposed the trial, the wheels began turning quickly and approvals were received in three weeks. The study will determine if HCQ can prevent hospitalization for those at highest risk of developing a severe illness. “The response we got and the willingness to participate was amazing. Everyone wanted to help so we truly were able to turn around something that would normally take months and years,” says Richer, the director of the Northern Alberta Clinical Trials and Research Centre.

The goal of the study is to recruit 1,600 Albertans to test HCQ and, as of April 24, 65 people are on board. “In order to do that, it took extensive collaboration with Alberta Health Services, as well as public health, to leverage the data that was available about who has been diagnosed with COVID-19,” he adds. Normally, participants would need to travel to the researchers. With this study, HQC is sent by courier to participants’ homes within 24 hours of acceptance into the trial. This keeps the researchers safe as they are not in contact with those who have contracted COVID-19.

“We’re building the airplane while flying it. These are the kinds of mechanisms that we could only dream about before. We would dream of being able to do a trial like this, but never really quite achieve it. And here we are doing it now with this trial,” says Richer.

Neurologists, like Richer, are involved with the HOPE trial because of their ability to connect the infrastructure between the two cities that are necessary to make it a reality. “This is a nice demonstration of collaboration between the two universities. I'm just really grateful to the outpouring of support from research coordinators, statisticians and data managers that all stepped up. We are talking about how hundreds of people have mobilized to make this happen,” says Richer.

Read more about the study