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Update on COVID-19 clinical trials

This page is being updated as and when there are changes or developments with these trials.

Page updated 17 February 2021

On 17 April 2020, the Health Research Council and Ministry of Health announced funding for three clinical trials into potential COVID-19 treatments. These were among 13 studies funded to help combat COVID-19 and prepare New Zealand for future infectious diseases.

Initially, all three clinical trials planned to include hydroxychloroquine in their evaluation of potential treatments for COVID-19, however given the rapidly emerging evidence on potential COVID-19 treatments from other international trials, all three trials have adapted significantly and have removed hydroxychloroquine as a candidate for treatment or prevention. In addition to this, low case numbers in New Zealand has meant recruitment to the two patient trials has been limited.

Status of each trial:

  • The REMAP-CAP COVID Trial is an international multi-centre trial. Its New Zealand arm is open, however recruitment has been limited given the low number of COVID-19 cases in ICUs. Hydroxychloroquine was previously removed from the trial, but thanks to its adaptive platform the trial has continued to evaluate other potential therapies, including convalescent plasma, immune-modulation treatments other than steroids, anti-coagulation strategies (including anti-platelet agents), ACE2 receptor targeted therapies, vitamin C, simvastatin and ventilatory strategies.
    Among the trial's findings to date:
    This trial was part of the WHO-led meta-analysis, published in JAMA, whose findings into corticosteroid use in critically ill COVID-19 patients led to new WHO guidelines and changed treatment in ICUs worldwide.
    Then in November 2020, preliminary findings from this trial showed that treatment with the immune modulator ‘tocilizumab’ reduced time spent on organ support in intensive care among critically ill patients with severe COVID-19, compared to patients who did not receive any immune modulation treatment. In January 2021, the BMJ reported results from the trial showing tocilizumab and sarilumab reduced mortality from 35.8% to 27.3% compared with standard care - an absolute reduction of 8.5% and a relative reduction in mortality of 24%.
  • ASCOT ADAPT (formerly named ASCOT) is being carried out in Australia and New Zealand, across several hospitals. The trial previously removed hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir from testing, and began randomising eligible consenting hospitalised patients with COVID-19 to convalescent plasma or standard supportive care. Recently, the International Trial Steering Committee made the decision to cease enrolment into the convalescent plasma arm of the trial. The decision was made following the results of the UK's RECOVERY trial, which reported no benefit of convalescent plasma compared with the standard of care.
    More announcements from this trial are expected soon.
  • Finally, the clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine prophylaxis in frontline healthcare workers will not proceed beyond the trial set-up phase. No New Zealand healthcare workers will be recruited. This decision was largely based on the emerging lack of evidence of efficacy for hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 treatment. The trial was funded to the end of the trial set-up phase only. Completing the set-up phase put researchers in a position to re-initiate a healthcare worker prophylaxis study in the future, should this be needed. Such a study would not involve hydroxychloroquine but an alternative medication. 

The HRC and Ministry of Health view these clinical trials as an important component of New Zealand’s preparedness and response to community transmission of COVID-19.

The trials provide access to the latest emerging evidence on prophylaxis and treatment. REMAP-CAP COVID and ASCOT ADAPT both use an adaptive design, which means these trials have the ability to adapt in line with emerging evidence on promising treatments. This means that patients within these trials are randomised to treatments that are more likely to be beneficial, while interventions determined to be inferior are discontinued.


Below are links to the initial lay summaries for each trial, as submitted to the HRC during the rapid response funding call. Please note, these studies have since removed hydroxychloroquine from testing and, subsequently, this treatment has not been used in COVID-19 patients in New Zealand.