Dr. Gregory Haljan is leading a clinical trial of a COVID-19 antibody. (Contributed photo)

Dr. Gregory Haljan is leading a clinical trial of a COVID-19 antibody. (Contributed photo)

B.C.-based clinical trial of COVID-19 antibody ‘very promising,’ says expert

Participation criteria expanded for infusion clinic based at Peace Arch Hospital

The clinical trial of a drug that one expert says looks “very promising” for use in stopping the progression of COVID-19 moved into a new phase this week, with the opportunity to participate now open to all eligible patients in the Fraser Health region.

Dr. Gregory Haljan – head of Surrey Memorial Hospital’s critical care unit and Fraser Health’s regional medical director for research – said Monday (April 26) that around 300 COVID-19-positive patients are sought to receive the medication bamlanivimab as part of the B-EPIC (Bamlanivimab-Emergency Passive Immunity in COVID-19) study.

READ MORE: Clinical trial of COVID-19 drug for severe cases to be carried out at Surrey hospital

Designed in January, the study aims to determine if the antibody can prevent those who get COVID-19 from getting so sick they need to be hospitalized – and if it can, “well, we really need that right now,” Haljan said.

“We’re in the third wave,” Haljan said of the pandemic. “This is the worst it’s been (in the SMH intensive care unit) yet. We’re working about as hard as we can right now in the ICU.

“This third wave has been a real kick in the pants.”

Researchers also want to learn if bamlanivimab can reduce the long-term effects of the illness.

Its use for COVID-19 treatment in high-risk patients has interim approval from Health Canada. The drug is designed to block the COVID-19 virus from attaching to and entering cells, thus potentially preventing the illness from worsening in newly diagnosed patients.

“Once you get an infection, it’s too late for a vaccine to work,” Haljan said. “What we want to do is provide those antibodies (that a vaccine typically triggers a body to produce) early in the disease, to give the immune system a head start.”

Recruiting for the study opened in March to residents of Surrey, White Rock and Delta. It then expanded to include patients living in Burnaby, Langley, Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

Haljan said participants must begin the therapy within three days of a positive COVID-19 test, or within 10 days of their first symptoms.

Eligible participants are those 65 and older, or between 18 and 64 years old who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have at least one illness or condition that puts them at risk of being hospitalized for COVID-19 infection.

Haljan hopes to recruit up to 20 patients per day over the next two weeks, in order to complete the study by May 9.

Currently, the medication is being delivered at an infusion clinic set up at Peace Arch Hospital, but Haljan said the hope is to establish more clinics this week, particularly in the Fraser East area.

He emphasized that while the medication only has interim approval, it is “very safe,” and, it has been found to “retain activity” against the U.K variant of COVID-19; the most prevalent variant in Canada.

READ MORE: U.K variant of coronavirus detected at seven schools in Surrey, Delta

The study, he noted, “is asking questions nobody else in the world is asking right now about this drug.”

To sign up or for more information, visit www.bepicstudy.ca



tholmes@peacearchnews.com
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