Apr 6, 2020

New Web Portal Aims to Connect Study Participants to COVID-19 Research

Students, Research, Education, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Giving, Partnerships
Catherine Chain and Weiwei Li

Gabrielle Giroday

Catherine Chain and Weiwei Li


Two University of Toronto alumni have created a web portal to connect COVID-19 researchers with potential research study participants. 

Since it launched in March, there have been more than 770 COVID-19 studies posted on the portal from around the world.  

Catherine Chan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Honeybee, says there is great demand for research participants. Some studies are looking for people to participate remotely from home; other sare looking for healthy participants. 

Chan and Weiwei Li, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer, have built the COVID-19 research web portal through Honeybee Hub. 

“We’re in the recruitment space for research studies and there’s so many research studies that are emerging. We saw this huge gap where researchers are struggling to find participants and we wanted to make a publicly accessible portal with consolidated information on COVID-19 studies,” says Chan, a 2018 graduate from the faculty of medicine’s department of nutritional sciences master’s program.  

Launched in 2018, Honeybee Hub works with H2i, the faculty of medicine’s accelerator that offers mentorship to health-related start-ups. 

Li, who did an undergraduate and master’s degree at University of Toronto’s faculty of engineering, says the web portal is designed so people can research which studies are located near the potential participant, or if they can be done remotely.  

“That’s a huge problem that exists right now, not just for COVID-19 trials, but all kinds of trials,” says Li. “A large number of trials get delayed because of recruitment challenges.” 

People who have no symptoms of COVID-19, and believe themselves to be healthy, can search for those opportunities. 

“Healthy people don’t really think they can participate in trials. But, many trials require healthy participants, including the COVID-19 vaccine trials that have just begun testing,” he says. 

Part of what drove the development of the web portal was Chan’s overall goal to destigmatize participating in clinical trials and research studies, not specific to COVID-19.  

“Generally, I see stigma to participating in research,” she says. 
“Clinical trials can be associated by some people with needles or blood draws, or being sick or in the hospital. That’s a legitimate fear a lot of people have, and so they may have reservations about participating in research. But participating may have positive outcomes, like getting access to alternative treatments earlier.” 

Another factor is the cost to recruit participants for a study, which Chan has first-hand knowledge of, after her experiences trying to recruit study participants while she was a University of Toronto graduate student. 

“We want to use this as an example to build a case and show people that research participation can achieve a greater good,” she says.  
“It can be a huge contribution to helping solve the massive problems posed by this global pandemic.”