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COVID-19 antibodies 'holy grail' treatment among clinical trials underway at Markham hospital

With widespread vaccine rollout months away, effective treatments could help reduce severity of disease
Jan. 21, 2021
Heidi Riedner

Potential treatments for COVID-19 in patients hospitalized with the virus are currently in clinical trials at Markham-Stouffville Hospital, including what some have called the "holy grail" of treatments.

With widespread vaccine rollout months away, effective treatments could help reduce the severity of disease and hospitalization rates, lower death rates and flatten the curve so health systems aren't overwhelmed.

The hospitals' Office of Reseach team is conducting a CONCOR-1 trial that involves giving COVID-19 antibodies to infected patients through a transfusion of blood products (COVID-19 convalescent plasma) from donors who have recently recovered from the infection.

It is part of Canadian and U.S. trials being conducted studying COVID-19 convalescent plasma as a potential "holy grail" of treatment.

A second adaptive trial evaluating the clinical effects of drugs on patients with COVID-19 is also being conducted facilitated by CATCO -- the Canadian arm of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) solidarity trial.

Results of the research will continue to add or remove drugs as new evidence emerges, hospital spokesperson Michelle Lee Hoy said.

As of Jan. 12, there were 43 patients being treated in hospital for the virus with 19 in patients awaiting test results. A total of 283 COVID-19 patients had been discharged, with 5,588 people testing positive for the virus to date through assessment screening.

“Despite the challenges faced by community hospitals in developing research programs, we are committed to ensuring our patients receive the highest quality of care and this includes having access to cutting-edge therapies though clinical trials,” said Dr. Anthony La Delfa, MSH’s infection prevention and control physician lead.

Since the beginning of the pandemic MSH has initiated nine COVID-19 related studies, including examining the psychological impact of the pandemic on frontline staff, as well as a serology study looking at the prevalence of CoV-2 antibodies in the hospital’s health care team.

“Both studies will provide important information about the health and wellness of staff during the pandemic that will help them provide better support and add to their pandemic preparedness plans for the future,” said Lee Hoy.

While the hospital has significantly grown its research program during the past two years, these COVID-19-related studies are the first hospital-wide clinical trials in the organization’s history.

Lisa Harper, the director of medical administration who oversees the Office of Research, praised the unit, as well as the wider organization, for its dedication to the advancement of health and patient care.

“The level of engagement from our staff and physicians has been incredible," she said. "They are already extremely busy in their clinical areas and they still find the time to support this important work. It is very inspiring and a testament to what makes MSH special.”

Staff had to learn new skills and receive formal research training to support the study work, all at a time where there were added pressures associated with responding to the evolving pandemic, added Lee Hoy.

The collaborative endeavour includes involvement from not only research staff, but also the pharmacy, laboratory and blood bank, inpatient clinical leaders, medical day unit, infectious disease clinic, the transformation office and Emergency Department.

So far, 26 patients have been enrolled for the antibodies trial, which had an initial target number of 1,200. MSH is one of the top recruiting sites, however, said Lee Hoy, noting if current recruitment rates continues, the full number should be achieved in late March.

People who have recovered from COVID-19 are encouraged to consider convalescent plasma donation as Canadian Blood Services is in desperate need of donors, she added.

“MSH’s research team will continue to look for opportunities to do their part to add to the collective knowledge of COVID-19 knowing that the results of the research studies conducted in the hospital will have a lasting impact on health care and treatment in the future,” she said.

Those who have fully recovered from COVID-19 are encouraged to sign up as a potential donor at