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COVID-19 trials are still happening, but it's challenging to find participants

COVID-19 drug trials
Posted at 7:22 AM, Jul 09, 2021

While it may seem like the end of the pandemic is close, scientists are still conducting trials to test medicines to combat COVID-19. The problem is that it's becoming a challenge to find people to participate in those studies.

COVID-Out, a trial launched by the University of Minnesota, aims to prevent long COVID-19 and reduce symptoms of the virus.

Back in March, COVID-Out was the first program in the world to include pregnant women in a trial. Now, the program is studying two new medicines, meaning they need more participants for trials.

Dr. Carolyn Bramante is aiming for 1,100 participants. Lately, that hasn't been easy.

"There are fewer cases, there are fewer eligible patients for our study than there was one, two and three months ago," Bramante said. "We recently had an increase in enrollment while cases were dropping with an online advertising campaign."

Online ads are expensive. While the country's infection numbers are good right now, people are still getting sick.

"Among people who do get COVID, though, we're seeing the same amount of interest," Bramante said. "Because they have COVID, they don't want severe symptoms. They don't want long COVID."

Bramante and her team at the University of Minnesota Medical School are testing a long-approved diabetes drug called Metformin along with two other drugs.

"Fluvoxamine is an antidepressant and used to treat OCD, and ivermectin is an anti-parasitic medication," she said.

While it may seem odd, the parasite drug has had some effects on COVID-19.

"A lot of data in other countries looking at improved outcomes from patients who had or were given ivermectin thought to be because of the immune effects in the body," Bramante said.

They're also not turning away people who have been vaccinated.

"There's a natural exclusion in that a small percentage of people who have the vaccine will get COVID or will get asymptomatic illness that causes them to get tested for COVID, so a small percentage of the people in our trial are vaccinated," Bramante said.

"I know we are sick and tired of the pandemic, and it seems like such a long time, but of the time course of a disease, we are still early," said Dr. Shailey Prasad, the executive director of the Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility at the University of Minnesota. "It's been less than two years — the other pandemic that is still prevalent, HIV/AIDS, has been about 30-plus years."

"We need to keep in mind, we're not done with this pandemic, so we need the answers to come our way," Prasad said. "And while the numbers are low, and the death numbers are low, it's still a dangerous disease."

COVID-Out is getting creative to reach people who have had a positive test in the past three days.

"You're not only contributing to the science, but you're making us all better as a society," Prasad said.

He added that everyone would need to work together to get COVID-19 numbers to zero.