Global Scientists Tackle Challenges in Epidemic Preparedness

GloPID-R and the Platform foR European Preparedness Against (Re)emerging Epidemics, PREPARE, co-organized “Reaching Out: A Meeting to Advance Clinical Research Preparedness During Infectious Disease Outbreaks” that took place on September 20-21 in Brussels, Belgium.

Clinical research networks funded by GloPID-R members to build clinical research capacity in different global regions came together for the first time to share their experiences. The event also brought together clinicians, microbiologists, regulators, ethicists, social scientists, patient representatives, funders, and policymakers to further integrate clinical research and improve data sharing practices in the case of a public health emergency.

The meeting consensus was that clinical research must be pre-positioned, pre-approved, and practiced if it is to be ready for epidemic response. Progress has been made across global regions, but innovation and investment for growth and sustainability of clinical research initiatives is needed.

Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Advisor to the UK Government, spoke of the importance of real-time evidence and the value of doing research prior to and during an infectious disease (ID) outbreak. Using the H1N1 pandemic of 2009 as an example, she stated, “Seasonal flu research is not always relevant to pandemic flu and what we needed was an operational scientific response as the virus disproportionately affected the population.”

Clinical research preparedness is exceptionally challenging. Different outbreaks present different challenges and solutions that might work in one country or region might not work for others. Populism is another real and present threat across the globe.

However, delegates agreed that common solutions lie in three key areas: innovation regarding how clinical research is designed and delivered, ensuring a favorable regulatory and policy environment for clinical research, and strong partnerships with multi-stakeholder engagement.

Speaking of his experience on the Ebola outbreak, John Amuasi, Senior Research Fellow at the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) in Kumasi, Ghana, stressed on the imperative of collaborations amongst different disciplines and the trust that needs to be formed between them: “Partnerships can take various forms but it can only take place in an atmosphere of trust with mutual interests in contributions of research to emergency response.”

”We made progress, but there is much room for improvement,” said Prof. Herman Goossens, Coordinator of PREPARE. “We have a moral obligation to learn lessons from past outbreaks and ensure that essential preparedness capabilities are in place.”

A key outcome of this meeting was the strengthening of partnerships across existing clinical research networks resulting in plans for a joint scientific symposium in Dakar in March 2019. A meeting report will be available shortly.

The meeting agenda and details can be found on the PREPARE  website.

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The GloPID-R Secretariat is a project which receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101094188.