Dr. Gerald Batist, Deputy Director and Senior Investigator, Jewish General Hospital’s Lady Davis Institute

COVID-19 and clinical trials : point of view of Dr. Gerald Batist

In light of the exceptional situation surrounding COVID-19, CATALIS interviewed clinical research leaders
in Quebec to find out their perspectives on the crisis and to look for ways to adapt. The following
statements detail the point of view of Dr. Gerald Batist, Deputy Director and Senior Investigator, Jewish
General Hospital’s Lady Davis Institute.

The future of clinical research after COVID-19

Q. How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will alter current and future clinical research, both internationally and
here in Quebec?

A large proportion of clinical trials is cancer-related and should be continued as they are an integral part of
patient care. Clinical research provides access to innovative drugs that are not yet approved by the INESSS
(Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux du Québec), the province’s institute for excellence
in health and social services. We absolutely must prevent these patients from dying prematurely due to a lack of
care resulting from the strain COVID-19 is putting on the health care system.

“Clinical research has been greatly hampered by the crisis, but it must continue as it ensures the best care for
cancer patients.”

Cancer patients must be protected from the risks associated with COVID-19, mainly because Chinese and Italian
data suggest that these patients are more prone to being infected with the coronavirus and suffering severe
symptoms. A Quebec registry has been created to better understand which patients are most likely to be
infected, as well as to provide them with direct support through virtual consultations with pivot nurses and

“The doors to innovation are wide open.”

Ethics committees, pharmaceutical companies, and research sites are collaborating effectively to ensure that
studies are not interrupted, as they understand how vital it is to protect patients while also making sure that
reliable and valid data are obtained. Protocol deviations are being tolerated by sponsors and quickly reviewed by
ethics committees, allowing clinical trials to move forward in a manner that continues to respect the patient. We
have established a committee to document and evaluate the benefits of these changes in order to examine the
benefits of retaining such methods after the crisis.

Pharmaceutical companies continue to invest in the development of new medicines and are looking for any
innovation that could help solve the crisis. For example, some treatments being studied in oncology could be
effective in fighting COVID-19. Protocols developed for cancer are being reused for the coronavirus, saving
considerable time in initiating any studies.

“Patient care is at the heart of what we do.”

One of Quebec’s great strengths is the immense solidarity between all clinical research stakeholders. They are
ready to work together, share, and trust each other. This mutual assistance is an encouraging feature that will
help us get through the crisis.

Q. How can clinical research in Quebec be improved?

A major challenge in clinical research is the connection between research and clinical care. The urgent need for
action brought about by the crisis is a reminder of the importance of research and leads to calls for cooperation
between these two sectors within the same hospital.

“Institutional commitment is essential for the success of clinical research.”

Recognizing that the crisis will be resolved in large part through research, the clinical sector is positioning itself
to facilitate the discovery of solutions and new therapeutic options. Institutional commitment to clinical research
makes a big difference in how well the clinical and research communities collaborate. Without this type of
culture within a hospital, the fight against COVID-19 will be more difficult. By securing funds to launch large
studies, hospitals support research and help train highly qualified and experienced staff.

The crisis is showing that a change in culture is needed if we want to work towards integrating clinical care with
research; once the crisis is over, this issue will need to be revisited to bring about a shift in mentality for the good
of the patient.