Feasibility of a randomized controlled trial to assess treatment of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) infection in Saudi Arabia: a survey of physicians

Yaseen M Arabi, Farhan Al-Enezi, Kajsa-Stina Longuere, Hanan H Balkhy, Mohamed Al-Sultan, Awad Al-Omari, Fahad M Al-Hameed, Gail Carson, Nahoko Shindo, Robert Fowler
BMC Anesthesiology 2016 July 12, 16 (1): 36

BACKGROUND: The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is an emerging respiratory pathogen with a high mortality rate and no specific treatments available to date. The purpose of this study was to determine the feasibility of conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of convalescent plasma therapy for MERS-CoV-infected patients by using MERS-CoV-specific convalescent plasma obtained from previously recovered patients.

METHODS: A survey was adapted from validated questionnaire originally aimed to measure network capacities and capabilities within the International Severe Acute Respiratory and emerging Infection Consortium (ISARIC). The questionnaire was modified for this study to include 26 items that were divided into three main domains of interest: (1) the ability to care for critically ill MERS-CoV patients; (2) laboratory capacity to diagnose MERS-CoV and blood bank ability to prepare convalescent plasma; and (3), research capacity to conduct randomized controlled trials. The questionnaire was emailed to physicians.

RESULTS: Of 582 physicians who were invited to the survey, 327 responded (56.2 %). The professional focus of the majority of respondents was critical care (106/249 (43 %)), pediatrics (59/249, (24 %)) or internal medicine (52/249 (21 %)) but none was blood banking. Nearly all respondents (251/263 (95 %)) reported to have access to ICU facilities within their institutions. Most respondents (219/270 (81 %)) reported that intensivists were the most physician group responsible for treatment decisions about critically ill SARI patients. While 125/165 respondents (76 %) reported that they conduct research in ICUs, and 80/161 (49.7 %) had been involved in the conduct of RCTs, including using a placebo comparison (60/161 (37 %)), only 49/226 (21 %) of respondents regularly participated in research networks.

CONCLUSIONS: Our survey indicated that in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), ICUs are the most likely clinical locations for conducting a clinical trial of convalescent plasma therapy for MERS-CoV, and that most ICUs have experience with such research designs.

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