PITTSBURGH — Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have developed a new approach to clinical trials that could allow for faster testing of treatments, including a drug promoted by President Donald Trump, for COVID-19.

The goal behind these trials is to help determine which therapies can be fast-tracked to widespread use and which should be subjected to longer trials.

"The solution is to find an optimal tradeoff between doing something now, such as prescribing a drug off-label or waiting until traditional clinical trials are complete," said Dr. Derek Angus, chairman of UPMC's department of Critical Care Medicine and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.

Angus said Thursday that the University of Pittsburgh Medical School has developed an artificial intelligence-based clinical trial model to identify the best therapies for treating COVID-19.

The approach could help determine conclusively and more quickly the effectiveness of treatments such as hydroxycholorquine, which has been promoted in statements by Trump.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Angus, as part of an international collaboration had worked on a platform called REMAP-Community Acquired Pneumonia (REMAP-CAP) to find the best treatments for pneumonia. 

The process was adapted after the outbreak to include treatments for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, known as novel coronavirus. The group published its findings today in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society medical journal.

REMAP-CAP will allow researchers to test multiple treatments simultaneously with fewer patients and at lower costs than traditional trials, Angus said.

"In a pandemic, doctors will not have the time to debate the pros and cons of every possible clinical trial," he said. "By building this one-stop solution at the point of care, we are rolling out an approach that can assure that every patient admitted with COVID-19 can, if they choose to, can be enrolled in the program."

With the approach championed by the University of Pittsburgh, patients in the trials can be moved from treatments that aren't working to therapies that are proving effective, or to new drugs as they become available, Angus said.

Angus and colleagues at Austin, Texas-based Berry Consultants are leading the UPMC-REMAP-COVID-19 trial.