Alberta’s integrated health system provides tremendous value to provincial COVID research

Clinical Trials Alberta
Alberta CATCO Study Team

In early 2020 when the global COVID-19 pandemic began, researchers were racing against the clock. Across the globe investigators were initiating studies to better understand the virus and ultimately discover cures and treatments that could save lives.

By far, the largest COVID-19 study launched was the World Health Organization Solidarity Trial, which involved thousands of participants across 500 hospital sites in more than 30 countries. Over 50 sites in Canada joined this landmark study through its Canadian arm – the Canadian Treatments for COVID-19 (CATCO) trial. Alberta researchers were among those involved, including Dr. Alain Tremblay and his team at the University of Calgary. Working with researchers at the University of Alberta and across the province, Dr. Tremblay and his team stood out as a shining example of success – highlighting the unique value Alberta’s integrated health system – the 5th largest in the world – provides to clinical trials.

“Some of the amazing things we accomplished with the CATCO trial would not have been possible to do in many other places,” notes Dr. Tremblay. “It’s a testament to what is possible in our province.”

Alberta’s integrated health system (administered by Alberta Health Services) coordinates and oversees health care delivery for the entire province – a population of over 4 million. This unified and highly connected system provides numerous advantages to clinical trials, specifically in the areas recruitment, start up and data access.

And it undoubtedly enabled Alberta investigators who were conducting some of this early COVID-19 research. In fact, Alberta’s CATCO study recruitment efforts were noted as being one of the fastest and most efficient in the world. Because of the integrated provincial health system numerous hospitals were able to function as one unit for patient recruitment, and do so with minimal administrative burden.

 “We had numerous hospitals across the province recruiting in unison, which greatly enhanced our recruitment efforts.” Adds Dr. Tremblay. “This helped ensure a wider reach and larger patient access, helping us screen hundreds  of participants in a matter of weeks.”

The value provided by Alberta’s integrated system did not end with the CATCO trial. Dr. Tremblay and his team were involved in several other COVID-19 studies, including a unique trial involving patients who contracted the virus while already in hospital.

“Many of these patients are in hospital dealing with chronic conditions, and contracting COVID can cause serious complications” adds Dr. Tremblay,

Starting with one site in Calgary, the study (through AHS’ oversight) was able to quickly scale to include 96 sites across the province. “This certainly wouldn’t have been possible in a location without a unified system like Alberta’s” says Tremblay.

Another aspect of Alberta’s integrated health system provided clear value to the COVID-19 trials conducted in the province – the ability to access high quality patient health data in a streamlined manner. “Alberta has one of the most robust administrative health data repositories in the world” says Dr Tremblay. “This enabled our researchers to access, compile and evaluate data for study participants through one platform.”

The success of Alberta’s early COVID-19 studies highlighted the advantages of conducting clinical trials in the province, but more importantly, it also contributed to the body of knowledge that helped researchers better understand the virus and its effects.

 “The speed in which we were able to initiate, scale and evaluate data was impressive,” adds Dr, Tremblay. “We’re glad to contribute to the global body of work to better understand COVID-19.”

To learn more about Alberta’ COVID-19 research, visit: