British Columbia

Vancouver Island doctor preparing to experiment with possible COVID-19 treatments

While the world waits for the development of a vaccine, a treatment for COVID-19 is the universal dream right now and a B.C. doctor is ready to try to help make that dream come true.

Clinical trials part of massive global study launched by World Health Organization

As of April 21, over 100 countries are working together with the WHO on an international clinical trial to help find an effective treatment for COVID-19. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

While the world waits for the development of a vaccine, a treatment for COVID-19 is the universal dream right now and a B.C. doctor is ready to try to help make that dream come true.

And Dr. Daniel Ovakim is not going about it alone.

The Victoria-based critical care physician is participating in the "Solidarity" clinical trial, a global study co-ordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The point of the study is to test existing medications on COVID-19 patients to see how effective they are against the virus. Ovakim said the capital city research team is ready to start approaching patients that might be admitted in the coming days or weeks.

Patients who do participate will receive either standard care or be given one of the three treatments on trial and monitored closely to assess the efficacy of those drugs.

"The only way we are going to learn what therapies are effective is by doing this," said Ovakim Tuesday on On The Island.

Treatments on trial

The medications that will be studied include Remdesivir, which was previously tested as an Ebola treatment. According to the WHO, ​it has generated promising results in animal studies for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), suggesting it may have some effect on patients with COVID-19. 

Participating patients may also be treated with an HIV anti-retroviral known by the brand name Kaletra, or with the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which has been repeatedly promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump for COVID-19, despite a lack of evidence.

"I think it is equally to demonstrate that maybe they are not effective, that we don't risk exposing a patient to an unhelpful or dangerous treatment," said Ovakim.

He noted there is a lot of "random information popping up around the world" and it is critical to conduct gold-standard randomized controlled trials before proclaiming or denouncing anything.

Global effort

Ovakim said all the trials are voluntary. Patients will know which drug they are receiving and they can opt out at any time.

"Patients generally want to help," said Ovakim, who has conducted numerous clinical trials during his approximately decade-long career but nothing on such a massive scale as the Solidarity trial.

As of April 21 2020, over 100 countries are working together with the WHO. Ovakim said there are about 50 patients in Canada participating so far. 

To participate in the trial, patients need to be hospitalized with COVID-19, and there's no established timeline for results.

The WHO estimates that while randomized clinical trials can take years, the Solidarity Trial could reduce that time by 80 per cent.

With files from On The Island and Rafferty Baker

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