Feb. 10, 2021

UCalgary researcher joins national clinical trials network to address COVID-19 pandemic

Network aims to improve outcomes for COVID-19 patients, and generate research to inform future pandemic response
Kirsten Fiest
UCalgary's Kirsten Fiest is one of the principal investigators on the grant. O’Brien Institute for Public Health photo

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors around the world still have questions about how to best treat people who have contracted the virus, even after symptoms have subsided. A group of Canadian researchers has received millions of dollars from the Government of Canada to try to change that.

“I think it's really important that the University of Calgary is at the table and participating in this grant, and that patients and families who are in hospitals in Calgary will benefit from this collaboration,” says Dr. Kirsten Fiest, PhD, an assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).

The Canadian Critical Care Trials Group (CCCTG) was one of the successful recipients of the Canadian Institutes of Health (CIHR) COVID Network of Networks grant, totalling $6 million over 18 months. Fiest is one of the principal investigators on the grant.

We are creating evidence immediately to answer really relevant clinical questions that will affect the care of hospitalized patients, who are most likely in the intensive care unit, with severe COVID-19.

Nearly 715,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and waves of infections threaten to overwhelm acute and long-term health systems, jeopardizing sick and vulnerable Canadians, says Fiest.

The benefits from the CCCTG  project are two-fold: to improve outcomes for patients during this pandemic — finding answers to important clinical questions, like how to best treat people who have COVID-19 — and to generate research for if, and when, another pandemic occurs.

“Often, research can take more than a decade before it gets put into practice, but with COVID-19, practice is constantly evolving and changing,” Fiest says. “This provides an important opportunity for patients and families to help build the body of evidence to support effective treatment.”

Researchers will look at how to improve the patient experience by consulting patients and their families, and to expand clinical trials.

“A research network with this type of strength and reach can allow a patient in Alberta to benefit from findings in Ontario, for example, far more quickly than if the research was done at a single institution. There is tremendous value in this collaboration, and we are thrilled to have a UCalgary researcher participating,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research).

The pan-Canadian team of 73 investigators includes members who sit on World Health Organization and Canadian COVID-19 response committees. The network is partnering with more than 40 networks, groups, and institutions across Canada.

“The network will help to support, co-ordinate and amplify existing research trials, catalyze new research trials, and help to improve the speed that research trials can be offered to Canadians,” says Dr. Rob Fowler, MD, chair of the CCCTG and an intensive care physician at Sunnybrook Hospital, University of Toronto

It will also lay the groundwork for a perpetual and durable pan-Canadian research trial platform, to help generate new treatments now for COVID-19, future infectious disease threats and causes of severe illness.

Adds Dr. Michael Strong, MD, president, CIHR: “This national COVID-19 clinical trials network will provide the much-needed infrastructure to ensure strong collaboration and co-ordination of research capacity here and around the world. Clinical research is an area of strength in Canada.”

People or family members of those who have experienced COVID-19 who are interested in engaging in research can reach out to the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group (CCCTG).

Kirsten Fiest is an assistant professor in the departments of Critical Care Medicine, Community Health Sciences and Psychiatry, and member of the Cumming School of Medicine’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health, The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), and the HBI.