Helping Nova Scotians get safe and effective COVID-19 treatments

Helping Nova Scotians get safe and effective COVID-19 treatments

Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit keeps Nova Scotia decision-makers up to date on rapidly evolving COVID-19 drug research

NOVA SCOTIA— The Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit (MSSU), a collaborative organization dedicated to advancing patient-oriented health research, is excited to share a behind the scenes look at how drugs are evaluated and eventually used to treat patients with COVID-19 in Nova Scotia.

The MSSU’s Nova Scotia evidence synthesis team, led by health information specialists Leah Boulos and Kristy Hancock, has been helping the Nova Scotia Emerging and Re-emerging Infections Therapeutics and Prophylactics Recommendation Group (NS ERITPRG) stay on top of developments in COVID-19 drug research since 2021.

In addition to published research, the MSSU team digs for information like press releases from drug companies, drug approvals in other countries, unpublished clinical trial results, and even news items.

“Published academic journal articles don’t paint the whole picture, because they can’t keep up with the rate of knowledge creation,” says Boulos, adding that being able to separate fact from fiction is extremely important. “Misinformation and low-quality research are unfortunately common when it comes to COVID-19 drugs, so we use a critical eye when selecting what to include in our summaries.”

The team compiles this mix of data and complementary information into weekly, easily digestible summaries for the group, which recently expanded their focus to include other emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases like monkeypox.

Dr. Barrett, who co-chairs the group with Dr. Tasha Ramsey, says the background summaries enable the group to make changes in treatment options quickly using the most up-to-date evidence.

“We want to be safe and sensible with our decisions, and the only way to do that is with up-to-date information and evidence. These rapid reviews have kept us abreast of new information at a time of extreme data generation.”

To date, the MSSU NS team has completed more than 200 summary updates on 19 different drugs. The summaries are freely accessible to the public on the MSSU’s website.


In the early days of the pandemic, physicians and pharmacists knew the usual model would have to change.

“Usually, evidence takes years to generate and months to years further to implement,” says infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett, “but in a pandemic, you don’t have that time. You must take best available data, make sense of it quickly, and move forward. And that means continuous and extensive data review that can’t be done efficiently by a single person. It takes multiple people with excellent ability to find and summarize data for the clinical decision makers. That’s what the MSSU rapid reviews did for Nova Scotia Therapeutics. “

As researchers around the world began testing new and existing drugs for their effectiveness against COVID-19, representatives from Nova Scotia Health, the Department of Health and Wellness, and the IWK Health Centre banded together to create a new COVID-19 Therapeutics and Prophylactics Recommendation Group. Their mission is to work together to quickly evaluate COVID-19 drugs that could eventually become available to Nova Scotians.

Additional Comments

“The pandemic created a unique space for partnerships within our health system similar to what has happened globally. It also created a high need for policy and practice to be informed by rapidly emerging evidence around the pandemic. Our Rapid Review Team at Nova Scotia Health is proud to partner with MSSU and we use a number of reviews they have completed to inform our policies and enhance access to care throughout the pandemic. Thank you to MSSU for this important work, which provides necessary evidence to improve the way we respond to and treat COVID-19.”

— Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, Vice President, Research, Innovation & Discovery and Chief Nurse Executive, Nova Scotia Health

“Our experience in supporting research in priority health areas put the MSSU in a unique position to support local, regional, and national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. We experienced an increase in requests for evidence synthesis support, as health system stakeholders worked to keep pace with the rapidly evolving understanding of COVID-19.”

—MSSU Director, Marina Hamilton

About the Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit (MSSU)

The Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit (MSSU) is a research support unit designed to increase local capacity for patient-oriented research and help decision-makers move evidence into practice. MSSU collaborates with patients, researchers, health service providers, and health policy-makers to support the conduct and implementation of patient-oriented research that addresses Maritime health priorities. Formed in 2013, the MSSU is jointly funded by the CIHR Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) and by the provincial governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. For more information, visit

Helping Nova Scotians get safe and effective COVID-19 treatments