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Winnipeg Free Press

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The provincial government is financing Manitoba’s scientific community to the tune of $5 million as it pursues a treatment for the novel coronavirus and ways to steady the health-care system during the outbreak.

Research Manitoba will administer a new COVID-19 research fund, which has already earmarked $3.5 million towards clinical and applied research into the contagion, Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living Cameron Friesen said Wednesday.

Tracey Maconachie, board chair, Research Manitoba.


Tracey Maconachie, board chair, Research Manitoba.

A homegrown study into whether the drug hydroxychloroquine could be used to prevent people from contracting COVID-19, and potentially treat the virus, has received $700,000 through the fund.

The clinical trial — which is in partnership with the University of Manitoba, the University of Alberta and McGill University — is currently underway and has 500 patients enrolled, with a few dozen from Manitoba, said Dr. Ryan Zarychanski, an assistant professor and clinician scientist at the U of M.

"This research fund that’s been created today will fund shovel-ready teams, leverage our expertise locally to collaborate nationally and internationally to launch several clinical trials of several experimental medications, some of which we hope will reduce severity of disease and mortality in people affected by COVID-19," Zarychanski said.

Zarychanski, who is the U of M’s principal investigator on the drug trial, said his research team is preparing to begin five additional clinical studies to investigate the efficacy of other therapeutics, and early results of the hydroxychloroquine clinical trial can be expected within the next few weeks.

Several other drugs are also being tested to treat early, moderate and severe stages of the virus with the research being conducted locally and internationally.

"It is clinical science on fire right now," Zarychanski said. "We are bringing science to the bedside, as physicians we're incorporating patients into trials quickly to understand what works."

A number of research projects, with a focus on disease progression in Manitoba and how the health care system can prepare for new and emerging challenges brought on by COVID-19, have been identified as candidates for funding by provincial health officials.

Research Manitoba board chair Tracey Maconachie said the intent is to integrate researchers and their programs into the province’s emergency management system through a weekly or monthly reporting schedule.

"These are unprecedented times and through this fund we are taking the necessary steps to make sure that the researchers are connected to the provincial incident command structure, so that the results of these studies and any new tools that are developed can be applied quickly, benefiting a large number of citizens, both in Manitoba and around the world," Maconachie said.

The province has also set aside $1 million to support research within local companies to develop products (including diagnostic tools) and technology applicable to the COVID-19 response. A further $500,000 has been dedicated to support research projects based in Manitoba and conducted in partnership with industry or non-profit organizations.

Research Manitoba will post its application portal for new research projects on its website within the next seven days, Maconachie said.

"We will begin to review and evaluate those, and we’ll be moving as quickly as possible, keeping in mind good science," she said.

Manitobans who meet the hydroxychloroquine trial criteria can sign up to participate by going to www.covid-19research.ca.


Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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