MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Researchers at the University of Minnesota desperately need volunteers in an effort to find a cure or vaccine for COVID-19.
Dr. Tim Schacker, infectious disease physician and vice dean of research at the U of M Medical School, says they are conducting three studies on three different drugs, and they’re looking for people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, or have been exposed to those infected.
“There’s this tremendous sense of urgency to get things done,” Schacker said.
The first of the three trials involves hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that could potentially prevent infection. Researchers need 1,500 volunteers who’ve been exposed to infected people, such as healthcare workers or family members of a patient.
“You want the people that are at highest risk for getting in the infection, and you want to see if this intervention prevents that from happening,” Schacker said.
The study already has more than 750 volunteers, half of which are being given hydroxychloroquine, while the other half gets a placebo. Dr. Schacker said there’s not enough evidence at this point to prove the drug is a viable vaccine at this point.
“We’ve got some clues, we’ve got some anecdotal evidence,” he said.
The second trial involves people who have tested positive but don’t require hospitalization. Those volunteers would be given a blood pressure medicine called Losartan to treat their symptoms.
“There’s some clinical data out of Wuhan, China to say that people who are on this class of drug may have actually done a little bit better,” he said.
The trial needs 2,000 volunteers. Those who test positive at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis or the Mayo Clinic are then asked if they would be willing to participate before being sent home. Schacker says the trial is happening at sites nationwide.
“We want to see if we can keep them from being in the hospital. That’s a really important question to answer,” he said.
The third trial involves people who’ve been hospitalized due to COVID-19, suffering from severe symptoms. Those patients would take the drug remdesivir to determine if it can reduce the risk of organ failure.
Dr. Schacker said enrollment into that trial is happening quickly, with patients testing out the drug not long after signing up. He expects the study to be completed with data ready for analysis in the next month.
He said the relentless effort to find a vaccine or treatment reminds him of the 1980s. Back then, he was part of research teams trying to stop the HIV outbreak.
“There was an equal sense of urgency, just a different disease,” he said.
Only this time, they’re better prepared for the current pandemic, and not just because technology has come a long way in three decades.
“We know how to design a study more efficiently now. We know how to ask the right questions more quickly. A lot of the work that went into those anti-viral studies are really informing how we are doing the anti-viral studies and other COVID-related studies today,” he said.
The pandemic itself is impacting how the trials are being done. Because of the Stay at Home order and social distancing, Dr. Schacker said they’ve had to create new ways of contacting volunteers and educating them on how to participate.
“We’re collecting things over the internet. We’re mailing things to people. We’re teaching people how to self-collect their swabs,” he said. “It’s a new way of doing research, frankly.”
People who have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to COVID-19 patients, can click here like to learn more about volunteering for the U’s trials.