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Sarasota Memorial Hospital discusses participation in COVID-19 tests

The hospital is part of an effort to test the efficacy of two different treatments for the coronavirus.

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  • | 2:07 p.m. April 9, 2020
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As health officials across the world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarasota Memorial Hospital is participating in two clinical trials testing potential treatments for the coronavirus.

One trial involves the use of remdesivir, an antiviral drug produced by Gilead Sciences. The other focuses on a treatment using plasma from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.

In a press conference today, hospital officials discussed their involvement in the trials and their hope an effective treatment for COVID-19 could be identified quickly. SMH Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Fiorica said existing treatment options available for COVID-19 include experimental, off-label use of the drug hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin.

Fiorica said the trial options differ from what is currently available to medical professionals, because the tests involve treatments designed specifically for the coronavirus.

“It’s a whole different level of research,” Fiorica said.

The trials are still in their early stages, and the patients who qualify for the treatments are limited. Dr. Kirk Voelker, a critical care pulmonologist and director of clinical research for SMH, said the hospital began using remdesivir on Sunday and has given it to three patients. The hospital said it was only using the drug for individuals in intensive care and on ventilators.

Fiorica said three individuals who previously had COVID-19 have agreed to donate their plasma for use in the second trial. Manager of Clinical Research Tamela Fonseca said the hospital was reaching out to former patients and partnering with a local blood bank in hopes of increasing the robustness of the plasma trial.

“We are well underway to really stock our shelves in order to provide plasma to our patients,” Fonseca said.

Although it can take years from beginning a trial to earning approval for a new treatment under normal conditions, Fiorica said medical professionals were pursuing a more aggressive timeline when it came to COVID-19. SMH officials said physicians at the hospital were dedicated to doing what they can to help those who contract the disease.

“We want to be on the forefront of finding a treatment,” Fiorica said.

To date, nine patients who tested positive for COVID-19 have died at SMH. Fiorica said 32 positive patients remain hospitalized as of today.


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