Study seeks 1,600 Albertans with COVID-19 to see if drug can keep symptoms from worsening

An Alberta study ​​​​​​​is setting up a clinical trial to investigate if the drug hydroxychloroquine can keep infected people at risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19 out of hospital.

Can the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine​​​​​​​ keep high-risk patients out of hospital?

Chloroquine phosphate, a former anti-malarial drug, and its derivative hydroxychloroquine, have shown some promise in the fight against COVID-19. (Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

An Alberta study is setting up a clinical trial to investigate if the drug hydroxychloroquine can prevent worsening symptoms — and eventual hospitalization — for people with other health complications who have contracted the coronavirus.

Hydroxychloroquine, developed originally as an anti-malarial drug but currently used for immunological disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, is currently the subject of numerous coronavirus studies around the world.

Early laboratory studies have suggested it may be helpful against COVID-19 and it has been touted by U.S. President Donald Trump as a "game-changer" in the pandemic.

The Alberta study will recruit 1,600 participants to determine whether a prescribed five-day treatment of hydroxychloroquine can prevent hospitalization for those with underlying medical conditions that have been proven to contribute to the worsening of symptoms.

"We will be targeting Albertans who are at risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19," study lead Dr. Luanne Metz said in a news release Monday.

Metz is a professor at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, which is leading the trial along with University of Alberta researchers and supported by the Alberta government and Alberta Health Services.

$286,000 provincial grant

The study will be funded by a consortium including a $286,000 grant from the province.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the province is keen to find ways to protect the health-care system. "As we've learned from other countries, hospital systems can become overwhelmed by those infected with the virus who need critical care," he said.

Alberta Health Services will obtain permission from individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to provide their contact information to study researchers. 

After screening, participants will randomly chosen to receive either hydroxychloroquine  — which will be received by about two-thirds of participants — or a placebo. Medications will be delivered to participants in their homes, according to the website for the Alberta Hope COVID-19 Trial.

Last week, it was announced that all symptomatic residents in the Calgary zone are  eligible for COVID-19 testing. This is because the area has seen consistently higher numbers than the rest of the province.​​​​​​

A separate study led by McGill University is working with 1,500 participants from Quebec, Manitoba and Alberta to examine the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in preventing COVID-19.

That study is targeting people living with somebody known to be COVID-19 positive or a health-care worker looking after someone who's known to be positive.

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