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Washington University leads global COVID-19 treatment study for health care workers

Researchers need 30,000 health care workers from around the world to join the clinical trial to see if chloroquine can help prevent the novel coronavirus

ST. LOUIS — A global study based in St. Louis launched Monday. The clinical trial will look at how 30,000 health care workers from around the world respond to a possible COVID-19 prevention medication.

"The world is a global village. We cannot successfully fight and defeat COVID-19 just in St. Louis, Missouri," explained Dr. Michael Avidan with Washington University's School of Medicine.

Dr. Avidan is leading a team of investigators from the U.S., U.K., South Africa, Ireland, Peru and many more countries on nearly every continent. The researchers will follow 30,000 health care workers who volunteer to be part of the study. 

"They're at higher risk than the average person for developing this disease," explained fellow Washington University School of Medicine Professor Mary Politi.

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Health care workers also are critical for public care. The researchers are hopeful that by testing preventative treatments like chloroquine they can fight COVID-19 more effectively.

"If you combine human ingenuity, if you put all of our efforts together, if we're collaborative and not competitive, there is no question in my mind that we will defeat this pandemic and future pandemics," Dr. Avidan told 5 On Your Side. 

And that's exactly what he hopes to do with the group of international investigators called the "COVID-19 Research Outcomes Worldwide Network Collaborative," or CROWN for short. 

CROWN rolled out the plan for its randomized study on Monday, May 18. Researchers will look at the effectiveness of three doses of chloroquine compared to a placebo in health care workers who are healthy and not previously affected with a novel coronavirus.

Avidan said chloroquine can decrease the replication of the COVID-19 in cells. It can treat pulmonary hypertension, high blood pressure of the blood vessels in the lungs. 

He said the drug can be also helpful in treating pneumonia and it can prevent the harmful immune reaction of the body that can occur with COVID-19. 

It's important to note, the drug CROWN is working with is chloroquine, not the similar but more frequently referenced hydroxychloroquine.

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"My suspicion is that what we will land on is not a single drug, but a combination of therapies will be most efficacious," Dr. Avidan explained. "And chloroquine will probably be one of the drugs that will be helpful, although we don't know that for sure. We need to find that out one way or the other."

Now, all his team needs is 30,000 health care workers from all over the world to sign up for the trial.

Dr. Avidan said no matter the clinical trial, participation is vital.

"We encourage you, all of you, to participate in a clinical trial, sign on and be enthusiastic. Because the more people we have participating in the research that we're doing, the more quickly we can answer these foundational questions that we have to figure out, as a society," he said.

For more details on the COVID-19 Research Outcomes Worldwide Network Collaborative visit the Washington University School of Medicine website.