News release

New COVID-19 Drug Therapy Developed by Canadian Biotech Start-up Headed for Phase III Clinical Trial Sponsored by the RI-MUHC

News release

The reformulation of an existing generic drug could help neutralize the worse aspects of COVID

DIEPPE, NB, Sept. 2, 2020 – Pulmonem Inc., a Canadian biotech start-up, is pleased to announce Health Canada approval of the Phase III Randomized Clinical Trial of an oral medication developed by the company as an early treatment to reduce or even prevent the development of severe pulmonary inflammation caused by COVID-19 infection, preventing the excessive immune reaction that is the most frequent cause of worsening symptoms and complications which lead to hospital admissions, ICU stays, and fatalities. The Phase III Clinical Trial is sponsored by the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and will be conducted in seven centres in Canada and the United States as soon as the necessary funding has been secured.

COVID-19 has already infected over 24M and killed more than 800,000 people around the world. Measures to prevent its propagation have severely disrupted the global economy. Research into vaccines is underway in many countries around the globe; but, even with accelerated efforts, new vaccines are time consuming and costly to develop. Moreover, experts are divided about the likelihood that  a vaccine will generate an effective or sustainable immune response. Meanwhile, with the arrival of fall and back to school, Canada and other countries are bracing for a second wave. By neutralizing the aspect of COVID-19 that causes the gravest complications and fatalities, Pulmonem’s medication could support a return to more normal life and economic activity, while the world awaits an effective vaccine.

The therapy developed by Pulmonem is unique in that it is a patented reformulation of Dapsone, a safe and affordable generic anti-inflammatory, immuno-modulator and anti-bacterial drug that has been around for decades, used against malaria, lupus, HIV and other inflammatory infections.  Because the new medication is a reformulation of an existing drug for a new indication, this therapy could be available on a much-accelerated timeline compared to others in development. It could be ready to be administered to Canadians before the end of 2020.

With the approval by Health Canada and domestic and international research ethics board approvals in place, RI-MUHC is poised to begin the Phase III Clinical trial as soon as sufficient funding is secured. Recognizing the promise and importance of the new drug therapy, as well as the need for swift action to save lives, the McGill University Health Centre Foundation has committed to help raise funds to support the Clinical Trial. Pulmonem is looking for additional public and private investment.

The Phase III Randomized Clinical Trial of Pulmonem’s early treatment approach will be conducted as a an investigator-initiated clinical trial being led by Dr. Jean Bourbeau, a senior investigator and Director of the McConnell Centre of Innovative Medicine at the RI-MUHC. Dr. Bourbeau is a respirologist at the McGill University Health Centre as well as Professor and Associate Member of the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University. Dr. Bourbeau and his team’s extensive expertise in clinical trials will guide the international team investigating the severe inflammatory events triggered by COVID-19 and how these can be mitigated.

The Phase III Randomized Clinical Trial will be conducted with over 2000 patients and is slated to begin during September in Canada, and towards the end of September or in early October in the United States. The clinical trial itself is ground-breaking: Canada is leading very few Phase III Clinical Trials for the treatment of COVID-19.

Pulmonem has international manufacturing partnership agreements in place and is ready to produce  the new medication for the treatment of COVID-19 quickly and in large quantities.

Pulmonem’s drug therapy is the brainchild of Dr. Houfar Sekhavat, a New Brunswick-based ophthalmologist and entrepreneur.


Our foundation is determined to help the scientific community find a cure for COVID-19 and end this pandemic. Studying the efficacy of Dapsone on patients with severe respiratory distress syndrome caused by COVID-19 is an important step in saving lives in Canada and around the world

Our foundation has committed to raising funds to help support this study, which aligns with our mission to transform health care and change the course of lives and medicine through innovation. In these difficult times it is essential to act quickly to stop the devastation wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Ensuring the safety and efficacy of new therapeutic interventions such as this will provide our physicians with the tools they require to fight COVID-19 and save lives.”

– Julie Quenneville, President of the McGill University Health Centre Foundation

This is very exciting. Here is a new therapy, based on a safe and affordable existing drug, that could save vulnerable lives, prevent the overwhelming of healthcare capacities and resources, and provide viable support for a safe return to normal economic and social activity.

Pulmonem’s new reformulated and patented version of Dapsone could alleviate or even prevent the pulmonary inflammatory phase of COVID-19 and thus prevent the hospitalization of many patients in Canada and around the world.

I’ve been impressed to see that Canada’s clinical research expertise and infrastructure can be scaled quickly to meet the challenges of this pandemic. Unfortunately government funding for new therapies in Phase III trials is not as nimble. With all the other pieces in place, we hope to secure enough public and private investment to get going on the Phase III Clinical Trial right way — I’d like to start today!

– Dr. Houfar Sekhavat, President and CEO of Pulmonem Inc.

While aggressive mitigation strategies are being implemented to slow the spread of coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), we must quickly turned to develop and implement scientifically sound drug candidates using high-quality randomized controlled trials. Immunomodulatory agents used to attenuate COVID-19-associated cytokine storm such as Dapsone, could turned out to be a most significant advancement in COVID-19 therapeutics. With no proven effective treatments for outpatient COVID-19 and to prevent complications such as hospital admissions, showing that Dapsone has a net clinical benefit should be a public health priority.

– Dr. Jean Bourbeau, Principal investigator of the Research Institute McGill University Health Centre.


Pulmonem Inc. was founded to demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of a reformulated and patented version of Dapsone a generic drug to arrest the development of inflammation caused by COVID-19 and help prevent hospitalization of those who become infected. Pulmonem has established manufacturing partnerships that will allow the company to quickly bring this treatment to market soon after successful completion of clinical trials.

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and healthcare research centre. The Institute, which is affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine of McGill University, is the research arm of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) – an academic health centre located in Montreal, Canada, that has a mandate to focus on complex care within its community. The RI-MUHC supports over 420 researchers and close to 1,200 research trainees devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental, clinical and health outcomes research at the Glen and the Montreal General Hospital sites of the MUHC. Its research facilities offer a dynamic multidisciplinary environment that fosters collaboration and leverages discovery aimed at improving the health of individual patients across their lifespan. The RI-MUHC is supported in part by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS).


The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Foundation raises funds to support excellence in patient care, research and teaching at the MUHC. Our Foundation created a COVID-19 Emergency Fund to allow the MUHC to rapidly launch critical research projects to end this virus as well as support the tireless efforts of our hospital staff in the face of this pandemic. With your help, we are taking immediate action and focusing on preventing and curing the disease.

For further information:

Media Contact: Keelan Green,, 613-220-2016;

Investor Relations:
Jean-Philippe Gravel,, 514-804-4569 ;

Media Contact: Michelle van Vliet, Michelle.vanVliet@MUHC.MCGILL.CA, 514-232-0877