London, Ont., researchers to study hydroxychloroquine’s potential to prevent, treat coronavirus

An illustration of gloved hands holding hydroxychloroquine pills. Global News Graphics

Two new studies out of St. Joseph’s Health Care London and Lawson Health Research Institute will look into whether the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has any potential in preventing or treating the novel coronavirus.

The studies are being supported by the newly formed St. Joseph’s Health Crisis Fund, which was created by the St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation to provide seed funding through donor support to accelerate research through its research arm, Lawson. The crisis fund will focus on urgent clinical trials but will also support equipment and care and comfort items for patients, health-care staff and volunteers.

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One of the trials focusing on hydroxychloroquine — led by the medical director of St. Joseph’s infectious diseases care program, Dr. Michael Silverman — will study whether it is safe and effective in preventing COVID-19 in health-care workers exposed to the novel coronavirus and whether it is safe and effective in treating “non-hospitalized patients with mild cases.” This is part of a larger trial led by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and involves participants worldwide.

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The other trial — led by Silverman and Dr. Michael Borrie, a geriatrician and Lawson scientist — involves its potential in preventing COVID-19 in patients and residents at Parkwood Institute who’ve been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

In both studies, researchers are providing the opportunity to join the trial to relevant health-care workers and residents at Parkwood, and if they agree they are then randomized, with half getting the drug and half getting a placebo.

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“The only way we can go forward is if we know if it actually helps,” Silverman said. “If we just give it to everybody, a certain number of people are going to get ill, a certain number of people are going to get side effects, and we don’t know if they were more or less likely to get those side effects or more or less likely to get ill because they got the drug or not.

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“We do not yet know whether it’s safe or effective, and it should not be routinely recommended until we do.”

Silverman is hoping that if the research demonstrates clear benefit, researchers will then “be able to roll it out and give it more widely to everybody.”

READ MORE: Quebec-based pharmaceutical company donates 1 million doses of malaria-drug for COVID-19 patients across Canada

Silverman adds that those looking to help can donate to the St. Joseph’s Health Crisis Fund online, through the mail or over the phone at 519-646-6085.

Hydroxychloroquine is a Health Canada-approved drug that has been used to treat malaria for more than a half-century. It is also used as a treatment for lupus. The drug made international headlines this month when U.S. President Donald Trump touted it as a potential breakthrough treatment for COVID-19.

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— with a file from Global News’ Simon Little.