Sunnybrook donors help launch once-in-a-lifetime clinical trial to find a new treatment for COVID-19

May 26, 2020

TORONTO, ON – Sunnybrook’s community of donors has come together to quickly raise over $1 million for a promising pan-Canadian COVID-19 clinical trial being coordinated by a Sunnybrook research team.

Under the leadership of Dr. Jeannie Callum, a transfusion specialist and clinician-researcher, Sunnybrook is the logistical lead for a national clinical trial involving as many as 60 medical centres across Canada and the United States. The Convalescent Plasma for COVID-19 Research (CONCOR-1) trial is investigating the therapeutic use of plasma – the portion of blood that contains antibodies – from patients who have recovered from COVID-19. Scientists hope to prove that antibodies found in the plasma of recovered patients can bind to and neutralize the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Thanks in large part to donor support and nimble collaboration across Canada and the United States, we have been able to launch this once-in-a-lifetime clinical trial to address a once-in-a-century pandemic,” says Dr. Callum. “COVID-19 currently has no effective treatment. We need to find a treatment that works, and we need to do it now – before any more lives are lost. This trial could do just that.”

Both individuals and businesses across Toronto have united around this important cause, recognizing its potential to stop COVID-19 and save lives. With a generous $300,000 gift, BMO Financial Group is the lead financial services donor to Sunnybrook’s CONCOR-1 efforts. In addition to numerous supporters throughout the community, The Slaight Family Foundation, Liu Fu Yu Charity Foundation, Don and Nita Reed Family Foundation, Kinross Gold Corporation, Amica Helping Hands Charity and Middlefield Group have stepped forward with leadership gifts of their own to Sunnybrook.

“Over our longstanding relationship with Sunnybrook, BMO has witnessed the groundbreaking research they conduct and we are proud to support this promising trial,” said Catherine Roche, Chief Marketing Officer and Head, Social Impact, BMO Financial Group. “Offering our support to find a life-saving treatment for this virus is one of the ways BMO grows the good and contributes to the health and well-being of our communities, individuals and families.”

“At this critical time, with so many people infected in Canada, donor support is extremely timely,” says Dr. Andy Smith, Sunnybrook’s President and CEO. “Our community clearly recognizes that we have a small window of opportunity to collect and test as much plasma as possible. Donor support is equipping Sunnybrook’s team to lead Canada's efforts in what is truly a global battle. We thank them for joining us in the fight.”

About CONCOR-1

CONCOR-1 is a collaboration between a team of immunologists, hematologists, transfusion experts, infectious diseases and critical care specialists at Sunnybrook, McMaster University, CHU Sainte-Justine hospital, Canadian Blood Services, Héma-Québec and other academic partners across Canada and the United States. Sunnybrook is the logistics site for all participating centres in Canada outside of Québec, where CHU Sainte-Justine hospital is the logistical lead. In what is truly a national effort, there has been strong philanthropic leadership in Québec as well, where Power Corporation of Canada has been a major contributor to provincial fundraising efforts.

CONCOR-1 will enroll 1,200 patients from participating medical centres across Canada and requires approximately 650 plasma donors. For this trial, patients who have completely recovered from COVID-19 donate their plasma as a potential treatment for patients who are acutely ill with the virus. The plasma is collected from the blood donor with a special collection device and then tested to ensure it has enough antibodies. It is then frozen, sent to hospitals and injected into patients with COVID-19 who are ill enough to require hospitalization. To date, over 100 recovered patients have donated plasma, and four centres in Canada are already open to recruitment, with many more expected to start recruiting patients in the next 10 days.

“Our hope is that antibodies found in the plasma of recovered patients will provide some relief during the COVID-19 pandemic until a vaccine is developed,” says Dr. Kullervo Hynynen, Vice President of Research and Innovation at Sunnybrook. “This is a treatment that has been around for a century but has never been scientifically proven. Not only can we potentially save lives in the present day, but this could be a game changer in confronting the next pandemic, whenever it may come.”

Sunnybrook COVID-19 patient becomes first recovered Toronto patient to donate plasma

Toronto resident Richard Carl, a married father of three grown sons, recently became the first recovered COVID-19 patient in Toronto to donate plasma as part of the CONCOR-1 trial. Four of five of his family members were all diagnosed with COVID-19 after a family ski trip to Colorado in February. His greatest hope for this study is that “it proves once and for all, without a shadow of a doubt, that convalescent plasma is a valid treatment for viruses like COVID-19.”

Richard also sits on the CONCOR-1 steering committee and raises funds to help support the trial’s costs at Sunnybrook. Read his story here.

Media contacts:

Samantha Sexton
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Kelsey Rutherford
BMO Financial Group

Richard Carl donating blood