Researchers hold ‘study-a-thon’ to tackle COVID-19

By Jenni Spinner contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Ca-ssis)
(Image: Getty/Ca-ssis)

Related tags: COVID-19, Coronavirus, study, Research

The Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics community gathered virtually from around the globe to create studies based on health databases.

Over the course of four days, participants in the event got to work creating and executing various studies on an international set of observational health databases, including data culled from insurance claims and electronic health records. The goal of the event was to help in industry decision-making involving the COVID-19 pandemic.

Study goals

Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics (OHSDI) collaborator Patrick Ryan is vice President of observational health data analytics with Janssen Research and Development, as well as adjunct assistant professor, in the Department of Biomedical Informatics of Columbia University Medical Center. He told Outsourcing-Pharma that the goal of the study is much like the goal of any typical study: to generate real-world evidence to inform decision-making by health professionals.

Additionally, Ryan said, the study-a-thon participants hoped to make a difference in how the pandemic is handled.

We have a robust international database, and though there were limited COVID-19 data at the time of our study, we believed we could make both present and future impacts on the pandemic​,” he said. “As COVID-positive data become more robust, we will work with our global community of data partners to execute studies to generate reliable evidence​.”

Before the study-a-thon event, Ryan explained, organizers asked the OHDSI community to come up with matters they thought would be important to study. They whittled down questions shared by national governments, public health agencies, health-related institutions and other parties to focus the event.

We made it clear at both the beginning and the end of the 88-hour study-a-thon that this is just the start of a long journey of COVID-19 research, and we continue to design and execute studies that we believe will aid the response to this pandemic​,” he said.

In total, more than 330 people from 30 countries signed up to collaborate in the study-a-thon. It wrapped up on March 29 with a global presentation from multiple study leads to announce both designs and preliminary findings.

Focused topics

One of the studies is the first large-scale characterization of COVID-19 patients located in both the US and Asia. According to organizers, six databases including COVID-19 patients (found in the US and South Korea) have already begun running data on this project, and with databases being sought to collaborate in the study.

Another study constitutes the largest ever conducted to determine the safety of hydroxychloroquine, designed and executed across an international set of databases. Looking at data from more than more than 130,000 patients around the world, it focuses on the overall safety profile of the drug, currently being evaluated as a potential treatment for the virus.

Yet another study designed the first prediction model externally validated on COVID-19 patients in order to support triage decisions in an effort to flatten the curve. This model (intended to determine which symptomatic patients are most likely to require hospitalization) was developed using US data, then tested on South Korean data.

‘Inspiring’ event

Daniel Prieto-Alhambra, professor of pharmaco- and device Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said taking part in the opportunity to pitch in during the global crisis was “humbling​."

Prioritized questions from governments, health care agencies, and institutions helped direct our efforts, and it was inspiring to see how our community rallied together to make important progress on this research effort​,” he said.

George Hripcsak, Vivian Beaumont Allen Professor and chair of the Columbia Department of Biomedical Informatics, said while much was accomplished during the COVID-19-focused event, a long road lies ahead.

I am extremely proud to see what our community accomplished, but we are well aware that this is merely the beginning stage of a long research agenda​,” he said. “Our international network is committed to continuing work in this area until this pandemic has ended​.”

Other study designs were presented during the final global update, including safety profiles of other drugs potentially used to treat COVID-19. Currently, results are being evaluated and papers are submitted to journals for peer review.

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