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International consortium aims to better prepare for future pandemics

A recent article published in the British Medical Journal examines how a  global alliance called the International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium (ISARIC) is developing a strategy to accelerate clinical research on diseases and the drugs used to treat them in anticipation of future pandemics.

Today, writer Ed Yong posted a copy of the piece on his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, and it's worth a read. An excerpt:

In ISARIC’s vision clinicians would develop these research protocols ahead of time and secure ethical and administrative approval. When a crisis hits, these plans could be fed through a fast tracked system that allows research to start immediately. [Oxford University researcher Jeremy Farrar, PhD,] likens this system to the rapid response approaches already used by public health authorities. “If there was an outbreak of salmonella in America tomorrow, there’ll be a really good, well-organised response from the CDC,” he says. “They won’t spend six months discussing a protocol and putting together a case record form. They go to a shelf and take off how they investigated it the last time.”


People also have to be ready for the chaos that epidemics sow. “Things become significantly more difficult,” says [World Health Organization scientist Piero Olliaro, MD, PhD]. “There’s disruption, panic, and a lot of media attention.” Clinics are flooded with patients, and clinicians face extra burdens on top of their already busy schedules. They barely have time to do regular work, much less carry out additional research. As the epidemic continues clinicians could fall ill themselves, compounding any shortness of staff. If clinics are to cope they need specialists who are trained to carry out research in the event of an epidemic. “You need an intervention squad,” says Olliaro. “They’re ready to go but don’t know when they’ll be called upon. In the mean time, they’re doing routine hospital work.”

Such systems would be impossible to create in the middle of a crisis: they need to be put in place in the breathing space between epidemics. For ISARIC, this does not mean just making plans and forms, but creating trust and connections between its international members. [Frederick Hayden, MD, from the Wellcome Trust] recalls that during the London meeting when the idea for a consortium was first mooted, “a lot of these groups didn’t even know what each other were doing.” Farrar says, “Ultimately, what drives science is still relationships. The time to build trust is now, outside of the pandemic setting. Then, when you have a crisis, you can be on the phone to someone in Indonesia and they trust you because you’ve worked together and you didn’t steal their samples.”

Previously: Tracking sales of over-the-counter medicines to predict disease outbreaksFacebook app models how viruses spread through human interaction and Mining Twitter data to track public health trends
Photo by NIH Image Bank

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