COVID-19 treatments being developed at University of Calgary

Dr. Davinder Sidhu is one of the scientists helping battle COVID-19 with his research at the University of Calgary.

Photo by Dr. Davinder Sidhu - Submitted

Dr. Davinder Sidhu is one of the scientists helping battle COVID-19 with his research at the University of Calgary.

The University of Calgary is engaging in several research opportunities to help battle the COVID-19 virus with a variety of treatments.

University to develop pharmaceuticals to battle pandemic
The development of new drugs to help treat the COVID-19 virus has received federal funding at the University of Calgary.

Dr. Kenneth Ng and Dr. Chang-Chun Ling from the University’s biological sciences and chemistry departments received a $416,000 operating grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to work on creating more effective antiviral inhibitors.

This was in response to a funding competition announced in 2019 aimed at a rapid response to the emerging spread of the newly mutated virus, with a total of $54.2 in investment across 99 grants.
“Our goal is to make something that targets the coronavirus very specifically, with minimal negative side effects,” Ng said.

Their research focuses on taking existing, promising work to form the basis to create new pharmaceuticals. By using the results of a drug called Remdesivir — which was originally created to fight the Ebola virus — Ling said the process of creating new and effective treatments for COVID-19 will be accelerated.
Using pre-existing drugs is effective as they’ve already gone through the process of validation and quality assurance, ruling out potentially detrimental side effects while taking aim at the virus itself.

“We’re hoping that the modified compounds we’re aiming to synthesize will match specific features of the COVID-19 RNA polymerase like a key in a lock and give us that selectivity,” Ling explains.
Remdesivir is also currently being tested in clinical trials in China and the United States for COVID-19 treatment.

U of C joins national clinical trials for COVID treatment
Those battling COVID-19 may have a new weapon in their fight against the virus with the help of a new national clinical trial.

Researchers across Canada and at the University of Calgary are investigating whether a century-old treatment could be a tool to confront those struggling with recovery from the global pandemic.

Dr. Davinder Sidhu is leading the research project at Foothills Medical Centre, aiming to discover whether injecting anti-body rich blood plasma from recovered individuals can aid infected and symptomatic patients.

“We are moving quickly to get everything in place,” says Sidhu, a pathologist and clinical associate professor in the departments of Medicine and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine. “The study involves patients who are 16 years old or older, who are admitted to hospital and receiving supplemental oxygen for respiratory complications due to COVID-19 infection.

“Blood plasma samples from recovered patients will be collected and distributed by Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec, but the very idea of using plasma as a treatment dates back decades ago.
The process has been utilized during epidemics across history, ranging from the Spanish Flu of 1918 to the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. It’s proven in the past to be effective in terms of prevention and treatment until a proper vaccine can be created.

The study’s success hinges on the willingness of donors who’ve already recovered from the COVID-19 virus, however. There is a 28-day waiting period for donors to make sure the infection has been cleared throughout their person. Clinical trials will begin in May with University’s across Canada contributing: partners in Ottawa, Quebec and British Columbia will be assisting in addition to Alberta. There is expected to be 1,000 clinical subjects in over 25 locations across Canada participating.

“No previous studies of plasma to treat COVID-19 have been as large as this one,” says Sidhu. “We expect this is going to provide a lot of important information about the use of plasma from an infected patient as a treatment for COVID-19.”