Global group calls for Covid-19 clinical research in poor nations

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A team of scientists, physicians, funders and policymakers from over 70 organisations across the world has called for acceleration of research on Covid-19 in poor and middle-income countries where the disease can wreak havoc.

The COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition will work on accelerating clinical trials of possible vaccines and drugs, among other interventions. The team, which published a comment in The Lancet journal on Thursday, said the response of the research and science community to the pandemic has been vigorous, but that is not the case in poor countries.

A review of clinical trial registries as of March 24 showed 536 relevant trials. Of the 332 Covid-19-related clinical trials, 188 are open to recruitment of candidates and 146 trials are preparing to recruit candidates for trials. The distribution of these clinical trials is mostly in China and South Korea, with high-income countries in Europe and North America planning most of the forthcoming trials.

The members of the coalition said research collaboration and coordination is urgently needed in African, Latin American, Eastern European, and certain Asian countries to respond to the contagion.

They also said open-science (making scientific research available to all) and data-sharing principles need to be applied at all stages of Covid-19, including research by the private sector. “The FAIR guiding principles (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability) for data should be implemented, and mechanisms put in place to enable equitable use and reuse of data,” they have said.

The idea for the coalition came from Professor Nick White (Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit at the University of Oxford), Professor Philippe Guerin (Infectious Diseases Data Observatory at the University of Oxford), and Dr Nathalie Strub Wourgaft (Director of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative), according to the coalition’s website.

The scientists have warned that certain healthcare systems could collapse due to a surge in Covid-19 cases since there is very low availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) in these countries, which they have not named.

“Disruption or complete breakdown of those health-care systems would result in high direct and indirect mortality since care of all illness would be affected,” they said.

The coalition added that interventions being introduced in these countries will have to be affordable, and regulatory clearance for importing products for drugs and vaccine trials and ethical review needs to be expedited.

“The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is conducting trials on drugs that can be re-purposed. They have also published the protocol in Indian Journal of Medical Research. In WHO (World Health Organization)’s solidarity trial, more than 80 countries are participating. Our public health research infrastructure and capacity needs to expand. The West already has such research facilities. I think India will be ahead of many in terms of vaccine development because some organisations are already looking at vaccine strains and suitable candidates for trials,” said Giridhar R Babu, professor and head, Lifecourse Epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India.

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