Preliminary Results Indicate Major Potential for Therapeutic Agent

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Toronto (Dec. 22, 2003) - A Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded clinical study of SARS patients, led by a team of Canada's top health researchers at the University Health Network in Toronto, has shown positive results for a potential therapeutic treatment for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The study will be published in the December 24th edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study, initiated to evaluate the potential clinical benefit and safety of the antiviral drug Infergen®, or interferon alfacon–1 in a SARS treatment, found that SARS patients treated with a combination of Infergen® and steroids responded very positively to the treatment. In fact many of the SARS symptoms, including respiratory and lung abnormalities, cleared up in a very short period. The study also found no side effects to the patients.

"These results have the potential to have global impact on the way future SARS patients are treated," said Dr. Eleanor Fish, lead author of the study and Head of the Division of Cellular and Molecular Biology at University Health Network's Toronto General Research Institute, and Professor of Immunology at the University of Toronto. "Currently there are no effective treatments for this disease so I'm delighted that the results of our team's study has shown so much promise."

In June 2003, CIHR, through its Institute of Infection and Immunity issued a rapid response to SARS by mobilizing Canada's health research community. The UNH's team, which is comprised of physicians and scientists in several Toronto hospitals, was awarded $500,000 to address, in a coordinated and focused manner, the science and treatment of SARS.

"The results of this clinical study underscore the importance of clinical trials to identify the best treatments for human disease," said Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of CIHR. "I am proud that CIHR funded this research and that we had the extraordinary capacity to respond quickly to this global health challenge. This team's results typify the very best of Canadian values – excellence, commitment to the health of Canadians, partnership, and the sharing of results immediately with the rest of the world for the common good."

"Funding from the CIHR and the Ontario Research & Development Challenge Fund allowed us to quickly establish a dedicated SARS laboratory at the UNH and bring together experts from various institutions," said Fish. "The team was able to respond immediately during the crisis to ensure that all the relevant laboratory analyses could be undertaken to support our clinical study."

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is the Government of Canada's premier agency for health research. Its objective is to excel, according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence, in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products and a strengthened Canadian health care system.

About CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity

One of CIHR's 13 Institutes, the Institute of Infection and Immunity seeks to establish national leadership, priorities and programs that promote innovative research to reduce the global burden of infection and immune-based disease and improve quality of life.

About University Health Network

University Health Network is a major landmark in Canada's healthcare system, and a teaching partner of the University of Toronto. Building on the strengths and reputation of each of our three remarkable hospitals, Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital, and Princess Margaret Hospital, UHN brings together the innovation, talent and resources needed to achieve global impact on the health care scene and to provide exemplary patient care.

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