Since December 2020, Germany has been gradually vaccinated against covid-19: An end to the pandemic is in sight. But it will take time before everything is back to normal. Until then, it is important to research effective treatment options for existing corona infections. In this interview, emovis founder and CEO Dr. med. Bettina Bergtholdt reveals what our latest service, the COVID Trial Unit, is all about.
What is the COVID Trial Unit and where is it located?
The COVID Trial Unit is located at Wilmersdorfer Straße 79, Berlin. It includes an outpatient wing on the first floor and a small inpatient wing on the fourth floor, where overnight stays are possible.
When did emovis first develop the idea to establish the COVID Trial Unit?
I think in September of last year, we began to develop the idea for the project that is due to start next March. At that time, we received the starting signal: A client told us he could not find another study site in the world that was willing to do something like this. The project includes full inpatient care: The patients will stay with us for seven days. However, the clinics, as well as the so-called Phase I units that usually conduct such projects, refuse to accept patients who have tested positive for covid-19 – they are afraid of "bringing the infection into the house”. It became clear: We, with our three beds, as a small unit, can align ourselves with this project, and that is actually how the idea began. In the following months, we received many similar inquiries, so that I had the impression: Yes, this project could be a good and a stabilizing factor for emovis in these uncertain times of corona. Apart from that, I also think that it is a real social necessity to have opportunities to carry out such studies. In this respect, it is nice to be able to do something good.
How is the COVID Trial Unit equipped?
We will start with a team of two doctors and, at least for the outpatient area, three to four nurses. In terms of hygiene, the COVID Trial Unit is, of course, equipped with everything that is not only required by law but also makes medical sense: CO measuring devices so that we can ventilate regularly and reliably, FFP2 masks, gloves, disinfectants, distance rules and full-body suits. Apart from that, the equipment is the same as at any other normal study site: blood collection facilities, ECG equipment and, in the inpatient area, appropriate beds as well as some facilities so that the patients have a nice one-week stay at our house.
How many patients can the COVID Trial Unit admit at one time?
We can admit a maximum of three inpatients because we only have three beds. The number of our outpatients is unlimited because we will gradually extend our team as we get more patients.
Can only people from Berlin participate in studies of the COVID Trial Unit?
That depends on the wishes of the client. We are currently setting up a transport system to transport covid-19 positive patients from their homes to us and back again in a safe way - safe for the patients but even more so for the person transporting them. There are plans to expand this transport system throughout Germany. Currently, however, it is not clear whether this will actually be requested.
Which strategy does the COVID Trial Unit pursue to recruit as many patients as possible?
We are currently setting up a network with covid-19 test centers. The test centers are supposed to inform their patients about the opportunity to participate in one of our studies at the moment they receive a positive test result. There will be only a few days from the test result to the start of the study. That is why we need to address potential patients at the exact moment of their positive test result. Of course our service, Homecare Visits, also gives us the opportunity to conduct individual corona studies directly in the patient's home environment.
How long do you think the COVID Trial Unit will be in use?
The answer to this question is very uncertain, just like all current prognoses regarding covid-19: I think the COVID Trial Unit will be in use at least for one year. Whether it will be in use beyond that depends on how the corona mutations develop, how quickly drugs come to market and how the results of ongoing trials turn out. The COVID Trial Unit basically is about treatment studies, almost exclusively studies with people who have just received a positive covid-19 test. These patients are supposed to get a drug that could potentially prevent the development of severe symptoms. This is one of the main therapeutic approaches that a lot of companies, including us, are pursuing.
Thank you very much for the interview!