How Private Research Networks are responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Ontario’s research community has rapidly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, getting clinical trials and observational studies off the ground quickly in the search for solutions. We’ve seen how hospitals and associated research institutes across the province are advancing the science and working towards treatments. Outside hospital walls, private research networks are also playing an important role in Ontario’s COVID-19 research effort. Clinical Trials Ontario spoke with two private research networks from the Ontario research community, LMC Manna Research and Medical Arts Health Research Group, to see how they are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adapting to respond to COVID-19

Like public research sites, private research networks have been quick to adapt to conducting research in the context of a pandemic. “This pandemic has afforded the entire research ecosystem opportunity to challenge the status quo and we were quick to pivot and adjust our operations overnight” said Karri Venn, President of Research at LMC Manna Research.

Shelly Sedighi, Project Manager at Medical Arts Health Research Group feels that they have a lot to offer during this time. “Private research sites are efficient. We are a small team and we get things up and running very fast.” 

Both Medical Arts and LMC Manna Research are contributing to Ontario’s COVID-19 research response, but are taking different approaches to adapt their research during this pandemic.

Medical Arts Health Research Group, a network of clinical research sites across Ontario and British Columbia providing Phase II-IV clinical trial services, has historically focused on trials for medications across a broad range of therapeutic areas. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Medical Arts wants to be part of the solution in every possible area including vaccines, treatments and medical devices.

Through the Trial Site Network, Clinical Trials Ontario recently connected Medical Arts with two medical device companies looking to start trials for COVID-19. “Medical Arts has worked with medical devices and psychosocial interventions in the past, and this is an interesting opportunity for us to rethink and redesign our work so that we can contribute to the response to this pandemic where we can,” Sedighi commented.

LMC Manna Research, the largest network of fully-owned and integrated clinical research sites in Canada [14 sites in Ontario] providing Phase I-IV clinical trial services, is focused on attracting vaccine trials to Canada. LMC Manna Research is hoping to have vaccine trials up and running in Ontario by July 2020. “We are in active conversations with sponsors for vaccine trials,” noted Venn.

LMC Manna Research has a history of working on vaccines and played a major role in vaccine research during the H1N1 pandemic. They are a member of Vax Corps, a North American network of highly experienced, geographically diverse clinical research centres with expertise in conducting phase I-IV vaccine trials. “Being a part of this group has brought exposure to Canada as we try to attract vaccine trials,” said Venn. The group was formed in 2015, and LMC Manna Research is the only Canadian representative in the group.

Beyond vaccines, LMC Manna Research is also looking to study treatments for mild cases of COVID-19 and prophylaxis treatment for high risk/exposure candidates. LMC Manna’s other ongoing trials have adapted to virtual and direct to patient (home visits) approaches. Venn explained, “Once we knew we had the capacity to conduct direct-to-patient trials, our focus shifted.” She continued that the studies looking at treatment for mild cases of COVID-19 will have to consider social distancing and people who are quarantined at home. “For these studies, at home visits will be key, and we now have the capacity to do direct-to-patient clinical trials.”

Collaboration and working towards a solution

Both LMC Manna Research and Medical Arts Health Research Group commented on the need for collaboration and their willingness to work towards any solution for COVID-19. “This pandemic is changing the way research will be conducted,” said Venn, who hopes that LMC Manna Research will make connections and collaborate with other clinical research sites looking to conduct COVID-19 trials. Sedighi echoed these sentiments, saying, “We are just focusing on the solution and collaborating as much as possible.”

Clinical Trials Ontario is supporting the research community to advance COVID-19 research as quickly as possible. Whether you are an investigator or an industry sponsor, we can help you find new sites and partners through our Trial Site Network, which is comprised of more than 150 academic hospitals, community hospitals, CROs, and private research networks.

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