VANCOUVER -- Researchers at the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre are recruiting coronavirus-positive participants in a clinical study.

The study, which is spearheaded by the Montreal Heart Institute Research Centre, looks at whether an existing drug can reduce the risk of lung complications and death.

Experts said the majority of COVID-19 cases are mild but some patients develop complications and appear to have a "major inflammatory storm."

“It's a natural phenomenon that the body just turns on all of its inflammatory processes to try and repel the invader that this new infection represents; sometimes it goes too strongly, too exuberantly, and this response causes more problems than the infection itself,” explained Dr. Brian Conway, medical director with the VIDC.

In order to prevent the inflammation from causing the disease to become more severe, the study, called colcorona, will test patients using colchicine, which is a drug typically used to treat gout.

"It is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and we believe that it is key to prevent the complications of COVID-19," said Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif with the MHI.

Tardif said the institute recently tested 4,700 patients in another colchicine study.

"We know that it is safe," he said. "We have demonstrated the safety and tolerability of colchicine, so there's no doubt about that."

They are currently recruiting participants who meet the following criteria:

  • show symptoms of COVID-19;
  • 40 years and older;
  • not hospitalized;
  • willing to take the drug or placebo daily for 30 days;
  • and willing to participate in two follow-up calls.

Tardif said in an "ideal world" it would be preferred if the patients have been swabbed and tested positive for the virus, but he said people who live in the same household as someone who's tested positive and are showing symptoms, and people who are typically healthy and suddenly show signs of COVID-19 (cough, shortness of breath, fever and fatigue) would also be accepted.

"A few months from now, when the dust settles, hopefully we will do a blood test to confirm by antibodies that these patients indeed had the disease, so not every participant needed to have tested positive," he said.

Those who do test positive in B.C. will be informed about the study by health officials.

“I think there's a clear understanding from public health officials here in British Columbia, that the conduct of clinical trials is important,” said Conway. “I think that's why they've been such excellent collaborators and getting this up and going where we're starting recruitment [Wednesday].”

MHI has partnered with researchers in Vancouver and New York and soon, Ontario, Spain, California will be added to the list.

"We want this study to be completed rapidly because we are actually very optimistic that we may provide a significant part of the solution to this horrible situation that we're all faced with in the world," he said.

Participants will not have to leave their homes, he said, adding the drugs will be delivered to the door and all the correspondences with nurses are done over the phone.

To learn more, visit the study’s website.