Canada’s involvement in a “global megatrial” to quickly identify treatments for COVID-19

The global research community, governments and the pharmaceutical industry are working together as never before to combat COVID-19. One of the centrepieces of this unprecedented collaboration is the SOLIDARITY trial, a coordinated global effort lead by the World Health Organization with the participation of over 100 countries, including Canada, and with thousands of patients around the world being enrolled to participate.

The SOLIDARITY trial is conducted globally and is actually a series of large national clinical trials that will study the safety and efficacy of four promising drug treatments or combination of drugs in patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19. Not all treatments are being investigated in each of the participating countries.

The investigational treatments are:

  • Lopinavir and ritonavir, a combination drug approved to treat HIV infections and sold under the brand name Kaletra, which is marketed by AbbVie.
  • Remdesivir, an experimental anti-viral compound made by Gilead.
  • Kaletra in combination with Interferon BetaIA and -IB (EMD Serono, Bayer, Novartis) which is a molecule that regulates the immune system.
  • Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, which are both long-standing anti-malarial drugs made by a number of companies including Novartis and Sanofi.

The Canadian arm of the global SOLIDARITY trial, called CATCO (Canadian Treatments for COVID-19), is sponsored by Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and involves over a dozen hospitals across Canada. It is also supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

CATCO will be evaluating the effectiveness of three of the drug treatments, Kaletra, Hydroxychloroquine, and Remdesivir in treating COVID-19. Patients being treated in hospital for COVID-19 will be randomly selected to receive one of the drug treatments plus ‘standard supportive care’ or to a group randomly chosen to receive “standard supportive care” alone, which is the regular support hospitals currently use for treating those patients. Trials are just getting underway in Canada and are recruiting patients.

IMC’s member companies are proud to play a role in this global trial. As a participant, EMD Serono’s parent company, Merck KGaA, is donating 290,000 units of its interferon beta-1a (Rebif®) to the World Health Organization for use in the global SOLIDARITY trial. Likewise, AbbVie is supplying Kaletra to CATCO for its involvement in the Canadian arm of the study.

The scale of the SOLIDARITY trial is what sets it apart from the hundreds of clinical trials currently underway to find treatments for the virus. Unlike the many smaller COVID-19 studies, which may not provide the evidence needed due to their limited size, the SOLIDARITY trial avoids the need to be replicated in much larger studies to enable useful conclusions to be drawn. This helps global researchers abandon dead ends sooner and focus their efforts in areas that show the greatest promise.

There is no quick fix to finding treatments and vaccines for any disease, let alone a pandemic of these proportions. But by working together and sharing knowledge and expertise, the global community is coming together to find safe and scientifically proven medications that will cure patients of COVID-19, as well as vaccines that will prevent it from spreading.


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