Markham Stouffville Hospital forges ahead with COVID-19 research

By Lisa Harper

Many people do not associate their community hospital with conducting large-scale research work. But at Markham Stouffville Hospital (MSH), providing ‘care beyond our walls’ is more than just the vision; it is a self-imposed responsibility to patients, their families and the global community to participate in generating collective knowledge. To that end, while many other hospitals put research on hold during the pandemic, MSH actively sought opportunities to participate in this important work. Since the beginning of the pandemic, MSH has initiated nine COVID-19 related studies, continues to support the hospital’s routine practice of carrying out important oncology studies, all while taking on additional new studies.

At MSH, there are currently two clinical trials testing potential treatments for COVID-19 in patients hospitalized with the virus. CONCOR-1 is a trial that involves giving COVID-19 antibodies to infected patients through a transfusion of blood products (COVID-19 convalescent plasma) from donors who have recently recovered from the infection. This trial is being conducted across Canada and the United States and will provide valuable information on COVID-19 convalescent plasma as a potential treatment. The second active trial at MSH – facilitated by CATCO – is the Canadian arm of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) solidarity trial, which evaluates the clinical effect of drugs on patients with COVID-19. This adaptive trial will continue to add or remove drugs as new evidence emerges.


Along with these two inpatient trials, MSH is conducting several COVID-19 related research studies with their health care workers. These include a study of health care workers’ mental health by examining the psychological impact of this pandemic on frontline staff, and a serology study looking at the prevalence of CoV-2 antibodies in our health care team. Both studies will provide important information about the health and wellness of our staff during the pandemic that will help us better support them and add to our pandemic preparedness plans for the future.

As stated best by Dr. Jeya Nadarajah, clinical trial primary investigator: “Despite the challenges faced by communities hospitals in developing research programs, we are committed to ensuring our patients receive the highest quality of care at MSH and this includes having access to cutting edge therapies though clinical trials.”

Although MSH has supported research in the past and has significantly grown its research program over the last two years, these are the first hospital-wide clinical trials in the organization’s history. To make this happen, staff had to learn new skills and receive formal research training to support the study work all at a time where there were added pressures associated with responding to the evolving pandemic. This collaborative endeavour included involvement from not only MSH Research Department staff but also the pharmacy, laboratory and blood bank, inpatient clinical leaders, medical day unit, infectious disease clinic, the transformation office and Emergency Department.

It is not surprising that with MSH’s collective honoured to care culture, the research team has embraced the challenge passionately. Katrina Engel is the manager of research at the hospital and has been instrumental in growing the research program including the successful uptake of the COVID-19 studies.

Katrina praises her research team and the wider organization for their dedication to the advancement of health care and patient care: “The level of engagement from our staff and physicians has been incredible. They are already extremely busy in their clinical areas and they still find the time to support this important work. It is very inspiring and a testament to what makes MSH special.”

MSH’s research team will continue to look for opportunities to do their part to add to the collective knowledge of COVID-19 knowing that the results of the research studies conducted in the hospital will have a lasting impact on health care and treatment in the future.

Lisa Harper, Director of Medical Administration, Planning and Transformation at Markham Stouffville Hospital