LONDON, ONT. -- The drug is called hydroxychloroquine, a tough name that could help in the fight of a tough virus.

“In the lab test so far have shown it helps control the COVID-19 virus,” says Dr. Michael Silverman, medical director of St. Joseph’s Infectious Disease Care.

Typically, the drug is used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

However, Silverman says there’s promising literature indicating that it could also serve as a preventative medication and treatment for COVID-19.

That’s why the focus of this drug research will be on health care workers and long-term care home residents, who have higher a risk of exposure to the virus.

“I think it’s a hopeful line of investigation and we can’t leave any stone unturned,” says Silverman. “If this can work, we have to find that out and to find that out now because there are a lot of people at risk.”

In order to study the drug as quickly as possible, the research team have been funded by St. Joseph’s Health Crisis Fund, which will allow clinical trials to take place in a matter of weeks.

“The trial needs to be done to be sure that the drug is safe in older and vulnerable individuals,” says Dr. Michael Borrie, a Lawson Health Research Institute scientist and a geriatrician at St. Joseph’s.

“We will also look to see if it is actually effective in reducing the likelihood of them developing the infection if they get exposed.”

A little more than 300 participants will be needed for the trial, which will begin with residents and patients at Parkwood Institute.

The team then hopes to expand the trial, possibly to Mount Hope in London.

“We are also looking at the possibility to having other sites across the country and certainly in Ontario and this will be other sites that have research capabilities,” says Borrie.

“So this would be research-intensive academic institutions that may be able to partner with us.”

The team hopes to begin the clinical study later this month in order to get results as soon as possible, results that they hope will save lives.