McGill researchers seek Quebecers exposed to COVID-19 for hydroxychloroquine study

The Research Institute at the McGill University Health Centre is looking for volunteers to test how effective the drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is in treating symptoms of COVID-19.

MUHC research institute joins researchers in U.S., Alberta, Manitoba to test the drug's efficacy

The large study will try to see if the drug hydroxychloroquine can prevent or even relieve the symptoms of COVID-19. (Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

The Research Institute at the McGill University Health Centre is looking for volunteers to test how effective the drug hydroxychloroquine is in treating symptoms of COVID-19.

The researchers say there is some evidence that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), already used in Canada in the treatment of malaria and some auto-immune diseases, may be helpful to reduce the symptoms of the disease, but they don't really know yet if it works.

"We don't have any large randomized control trial data to say if it's effective," said Dr. Emily McDonald, an assistant professor of medicine at McGill and the study's co-principal investigator.

"It's incredibly important that we study the safety and efficacy of HCQ in a well-designed placebo-controlled trial."

McDonald said some studies have shown that HCQ might have antiviral properties, but this study is the first large-scale, randomized clinical study in which some participants will receive the drug and others, a placebo.

Dr. Emily McDonald said promising results in earlier studies need to be confirmed in a proper placebo trial. (Submitted by Dr. Emily McDonald)

"While there are small studies that show promising results in terms of improvement in symptoms of pneumonia," McDonald said, "these results are not conclusive, and must be confirmed in a larger population of people with a proper trial."

Researchers are hoping to find 3,000 people in Canada and the U.S. willing to take part in the trial.

Some would be given the medication as a prophylactic, to try to prevent an infection; others would be using hydroxychloroquine as an early treatment for a coronavirus infection.

Researchers are looking for:

Adults without symptoms who have been exposed to a COVID-19 case:

  • You may be eligible if you live with a person known to have COVID-19, and the exposure to that person occurred within the past four days.
  • You may be eligible if you are a health-care worker who has had contact with a patient known to have COVID-19, and the contact occurred within the past four days.

Adults with symptoms of COVID-19 (fever and/or cough and/or shortness of breath):

  • You may be eligible if you have a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 (from testing), your symptoms began within the past four days, and you are currently self-isolating at home.
  • You may be eligible if you are a health-care worker experiencing symptoms for four days or less and had contact with a patient confirmed to have COVID-19 within the last 14 days.

This study is not open to people who are already receiving hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and acute attacks of malaria.

Participants in the study will take the medication or the placebo over the course of five days and then complete as many as five online surveys delivered by email over two weeks.

The researchers are working fast: these studies will likely be concluded within the next two months.

HCQ already in use

Dr. Emily McDonald, with one of the study’s principal investigators, Todd Lee, right, are leading the study into the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine. (Submitted by Dr. Emily McDonald)

The MUHC is already treating some patients who have COVID-19 with hydroxychloroquine but only under very specific circumstances.

McDonald said it all depends on how sick a patient is and whether they have underlying conditions which would react badly with the drug.

"We are judging each case, one by one," she said. "In some people who are taking chronic medications there may be interactions, and the drug can cause heart arrhythmia."

McDonald said she can't say how the drug is working in these very ill patients. She said a separate clinical trial is underway involving those very sick patients who are given hydroxychloroquine as a last resort.

She said it is too early to reveal the findings of that trial.

For information on the bigger trial and whether you qualify, you can go to this website.

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