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COVID drug trials in Manitoba

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Dr. Ryan Zarychanski is on the run.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2020 (1126 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dr. Ryan Zarychanski is on the run.

In addition to his work as a critical-care physician, hematologist and clinician scientist at the University of Manitoba and CancerCare Manitoba, Zarychanski is one of a select few Manitobans who has expertise in running clinical trials.

Zarychanski and a team of researchers and co-ordinators are responsible for no less than seven coronavirus-related clinical trials that are underway or are about to start in Manitoba, and he is in the middle of another frantic 15-hour day.

Were it not for these trials, in which dozens of Manitobans have already taken part, COVID-19 patients here would not have access to any therapeutic treatments.

“There are no other therapies. There’s none,” he says. “They would receive oxygen, good nursing care, a comfortable bed and symptom control.”

Jason Halstead
Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, a hematologist, critical-care physician, clinician-scientist and University of Manitoba professor, at work on May 6, 2020 at CancerCare Manitoba at the Health Sciences Centre.  (Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press)
Jason Halstead Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, a hematologist, critical-care physician, clinician-scientist and University of Manitoba professor, at work on May 6, 2020 at CancerCare Manitoba at the Health Sciences Centre. (Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press)

During the past several weeks, Zarychanski and his team have collaborated on national and international studies on hydroxychloroquine, a handful of antiviral trials as part of the World Health Organization’s “Solidarity” trials and a couple of international trials that he is leading.

At the moment, Zarychanski is working on deadline to apply for $20 million in Health Canada funding to conduct four other trials.

Of that, $4 million is for an international trial involving the use of heparin, a blood-thinner, on critically ill COVID-19 patients. He will lead the trial, which is about to get underway. It has attracted interest from doctors in four other countries and will involve at least 3,000 patients.

“Sure, there are no drugs available to treat COVID but they are not even dying of the COVID. They are dying of blood clots.”

Heparin, a low-cost medication that is off patent, is also an anti-inflammatory. There is evidence that it may also inhibit the virus’s ability to attach to blood vessels.

“A lot of the bad outcomes of COVID are a consequence of inflammations and a lot of blood clots in the body, in the legs (and) in the lungs, causing sudden death, heart attacks,” he says. “Sure, there are no drugs available to treat COVID but they are not even dying of the COVID. They are dying of blood clots.”

The world is getting behind this trial, unusual in that it is being led from Winnipeg. Zarychanski is still short many millions of dollars but it is a sign of the times that drug trials are being fast-tracked, and he is determined to secure the chance for Manitoba patients to try some of them.

— Martin Cash

Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, a hematologist, critical-care physician, clinician-scientist and University of Manitoba professor, at work at the Health Sciences Centre. (Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press)
Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, a hematologist, critical-care physician, clinician-scientist and University of Manitoba professor, at work at the Health Sciences Centre. (Jason Halstead / Winnipeg Free Press)
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