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'Exciting breakthrough': COVID-19 drug trial to take place in Edmonton


Trials for a Canadian-developed COVID-19 treatment are set to begin at the University of Alberta.

The study will evaluate the safety and efficacy of the drug Apabetalone as a potential oral medication to help prevent severe infection from COVID-19.

“It’s a pretty exciting breakthrough,” Donald McCaffrey, the president and CEO of Resverlogix, said.

The clinical program will test epigenetics on COVID-19 patients, including those who were sick with a variant strain.

“The genetics is the hardware, the epigenetics is the software. The science of learning to turn on or off various genes,” McCaffrey explained.

The drug has been in development for more than 20 years and when COVID-19 emerged, a group of universities began studying drugs already in production that could be repurposed to help fight COVID-19. Apabetalone ended up being “number two on the list,” according to McCaffrey.

“We do have a huge lead on the world in knowledge on this (protein) and how to remove it.”

The drug is an oral pill taken once in the morning and once at night. A total of 100 patients are expected to be enrolled over the coming week to take part in the trial at various sites in Canada and Brazil.

“By removing the bromodomain (BD2) and shutting down the ACE2 receptors, you’re greatly inhibiting the virus’s ability to reproduce,” McCaffrey shared.


The average COVID-19 hospital stay right now is 11.9 days, McCaffrey told CTV News Edmonton. That stay increases up to 23 days if the patient has cardiovascular issues. He said the cost can range from $26,000 to $52,000 per patient receiving care.

“The goal is to show that we can remove the long hospital stays.”

McCaffrey said because of Apabetalone’s unique epigenetic mechanism, it has the ability to stop disease progression by regulating the “expression” of disease and inflammation-causing genes.

“We do not change the human DNA; it remains identical,” he said. “But, we do turn the genes on or off, and that has a huge therapeutic benefit for our patients.”

In addition to reducing the duration of the disease, the hope is that the drug will also potentially be able to protect those infected from the long-term effects of long-COVID.


Apabetalone would cost about $7 per pill and should be taken for two to three weeks, McCaffrey said.

If the trials are successful, the team's next step would be to apply for an emergency management application in Canada in June, and then in the U.S. about six months later, McCaffrey explained.

“The vaccine is the most important thing at the moment,” Dr. Noel Gibney, professor emeritus, critical care medicine at the U of A, added. “But, we know that even with vaccination, people with critically poor immune systems are still at risk. So, it really is important that we have other therapies.”

With years of data backing the science, efficacy and safety of the drug, McCaffrey is confident it could help “manage the real problem,” which he says is the “bottleneck” in hospitals.

“No matter what Greek alphabet we get hit with next, it will be effective against all future variants.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Carlyle Fiset Top Stories

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