Manitoba launches $5-million research fund into coronavirus vaccines, treatment

Public health officials and leading medical experts in the province of Manitoba will speak to the media at 2:30pm CT/3:30pm ET to offer a medical and public health perspective on the province's ongoing efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The Manitoba government is spending $5 million on research into the novel coronavirus, including studies looking at whether or not the drug hydroxychloroquine can prevent — and possibly treat — COVID-19.

Manitoba Health Minister Cameron Friesen announced the new spending at a press conference called to update Manitobans on the latest research measures in Manitoba Wednesday afternoon.

“This new fund will support a clinical trial to determine if a commonly used drug can safely be used as a treatment for COVID-19,” said Friesen.

“The fund will also provide support for local researchers to develop solutions to health-care issues in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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The money will fund research including projects to test possible treatments in clinical trials, better understand how the disease is developing in Manitoba, and better understand how the health system needs to react to complications emerging around the world, Friesen said.

Hydroxychloroquine testing

More than $3.5 million will be used to support clinical and applied research, including $700,000 for Manitoba’s first COVID-19 clinical trial for a drug to fight the virus, the minister said.

That study will look at whether or not the drug hydroxychloroquine — a Health Canada-approved drug that has been used to treat malaria for more than a half-century — can prevent people from contracting COVID-19 and whether or not it can be used to treat the illness.

“We are building on the work of preliminary studies to look at how this drug could help fight the spread of COVID-19,” explained Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, with the department of medicine at the University of Manitoba.

“We are asking Manitobans who meet the study’s criteria to consider joining this trial to help us scientifically prove the benefits for Manitobans and people around the world.”

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A team of researchers from the University of Manitoba are already part of a collaborative effort by universities across three provinces to test the drug.

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A website has been set up for Manitobans who wish to participate in the clinical trial.

Click to play video: 'BC Pharmacy Association on Hydroxychloroquine'
BC Pharmacy Association on Hydroxychloroquine

Hydroxychloroquine is officially approved for treating malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, but not COVID-19. Small, preliminary studies have suggested it might help prevent the new coronavirus from entering cells and possibly help patients clear the virus sooner. But those have shown mixed results.

The drug, which has major potential side effects, especially for the heart, has been widely talked about because of its promotion by U.S. President Donald Trump.

‘There are many more questions’

Friesen said another $500,000 will be used to help pay for existing trials in Manitoba, across Canada and in seven other countries around the world, and a further $1 million will fund projects developing diagnostic tools in the fight against COVID-19.

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“While we have learned a great deal about this virus in just a few months, there are many more questions that need to be answered,” said Friesen.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Trump again touts benefits of hydroxychloroquine in fighting COVID-19'
Coronavirus outbreak: Trump again touts benefits of hydroxychloroquine in fighting COVID-19

“These investments will help contribute to the world’s understanding of the virus and make important strides toward vaccines, treatments and possible changes to our health system to better combat COVID-19.”

As of Wednesday morning, Manitoba had 221 cases in the province. There were 149 active cases, and 69 people have recovered from the virus.

On Tuesday, it was announced a third person had died.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba to launch ticketing plan for those who defy physical distancing
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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.


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