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.
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.
One study participant, Steve Scott – who is sales manager at Peace Arch News – said he felt dramatically better 24 hours after receiving a bamlanivimab infusion in early April at Peace Arch Hospital, where the first trial clinic was set up.
“All symptoms were gone, ” Scott said, of the aches, headache and fatigue he felt prior to testing positive for COVID-19. “And in 48 hours, I had my strength back.”
Scott said he was contacted about participating in the trial two days after receiving his test result. Told of what it involved and possible risks – the most significant of which is allergic reaction, ranging from mild to anyaphylaxis – he opted in, and went for the infusion the following day.
The intravenous process took about an hour, followed by a one-hour period where he was monitored for any reaction, Scott said.
Scott, 59, said both his wife and daughter declined to participate in the trial, and that he was told recruiting has been a tough sell for the researchers. There were just two others receiving the infusion while he was there.
Haljan – noting the study is “asking questions nobody else in the world is asking right now about this drug” – said he hopes to recruit up to 20 patients per day over the next two weeks, in order to complete the study by May 9. He also anticipated more infusion clinics would open this week, particularly in the Fraser East area, to accommodate additional participants.
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.
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.
Scott said for him, getting involved was about contributing to the fight against the virus, “to move this along.”
“Really, what I wanted to do was just try and help,” he said.
He added he still plans to get the vaccine, but said he was told to put at least 90 days between receiving the infusion and doing so.
To sign up for the trial or for more information, visit www.bepicstudy.ca
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