Experts gather in Toronto to prepare for future pandemics

A meeting organized by the International Forum of Acute Care Trialists, an international organization of critical care researchers, gathered in Toronto this week to prepare for future pandemics.

The invitation-only meeting is meant to do as much as the over 100 experts present can in the way of research and readiness between pandemics. The meeting brought together doctors, scientists and representatives of government and funding agencies, the Brandon Sun reports.

"When a pandemic occurs, there's a sudden need for knowledge in an area where there hasn't been any knowledge," Dr. John Marshall of St. Michael’s Hospital said, according to the Brandon Sun. "You don't know what the disease is like, you don't know how serious it is, you don't know who's going to be at risk for it, you don't know how best to treat it — but it is virtually impossible to generate that information during the pandemic simply because it presupposes you've set things up in advance to do the studies."

Discussions at the meeting include looking at pandemic research that can be done on an ongoing basis and establishing research structures. There were 8,678 hospital admissions related to the H1N1 pandemic that hit Canada in 2009, including 1,473 admissions to intensive care units and 428 deaths.

During the pandemic, it was a challenge to get clinicians to collect data to be analyzed quickly and to provide groups to the World Health Organization.

"We tried to launch some clinical trials of inexpensive readily available treatments, but the challenges there were enormous because you have to develop protocols, you have to get a research ethics board to review it and approve it," Marshall said, according to the Brandon Sun. “Our biggest challenge was in negotiating contracts between countries, and getting indemnification for conducting research that's not being held within Canada. So a lot of those issues really meant that our randomized trial, by the time we had actually been able to launch it, the second wave of the H1N1 pandemic had essentially passed, and we were too late."

Marshall said the goal is to be ready when another pandemic strikes so that the pieces are in place and the scientific community does not have to start from zero.