Study led by Manitoba doctor shows promising treatment for COVID-19 patients

WINNIPEG — A global trial led by Winnipeg and Canadian researchers is showing promising results in treating some COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Ryan Zarychanski’s study on blood thinners in COVID positive patients was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study found that treating some hospitalized patients with blood thinners increases their chance of survival and reduces their need for intensive care.

“A blood thinner drug that has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties has been shown in our large global trial to increase survival without the need for ICU-level care,” said Zarychanski.

That drug is heparin, an inexpensive and widely available medication used to treat blood clots. Blood clots and inflammation were noted early on in the pandemic as serious complications of COVID-19.

“For us to demonstrate that a drug that is incredibly inexpensive, widely available around the world and familiar to doctors all over the globe, for us to demonstrate that this drug could be used too, and can save lives and reduce the burden of critical illness on health-care systems is a huge win,” said Zarychanski.

The findings could impact patient care immediately, with Zarychanski saying physicians within organized health-care systems could start using heparin molecules to treat patients admitted to hospital with the virus, but who are not yet critically ill.

“We think it will reduce the burden of critical illness due to COVID-19 by approximately 25 per cent when used in health systems that adopt that therapy,” said Zarychanski.

While results in December of 2020 showed no benefits to those already critically ill, the researchers say it could be a key tool in saving the lives of non-critically ill patients by knowing who to target.

The study was also the first of its kind, a clinical trial on a global scale during a pandemic. Zarychanski said the methods developed during the study will change how researchers approach large-scale clinical trials in the future.

“We developed methods that allowed independent platforms, so independent research entities can still maintain their independence but work collaboratively,” said Zarychanski.

The trial spanned five continents and involved patients from 300 hospitals.

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