OHDSI & EHDEN virtual study-a-thon shares real-world evidence to combat COVID-19

With the world fighting the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and dealing with rapidly growing numbers of COVID-19 patients worldwide,  clinicians, scientists, governments and the public all want to know more about characterising patients with COVID-19, and if certain treatments are safe and effective.

To this end, on 26-29 March, the Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics (OHDSI) community, supported by EHDEN partners, hosted a COVID-19 virtual study-a-thon to inform healthcare decision-making in response to the current global pandemic.

More than 330 researchers, with thirty-seven healthcare databases from 30 different countries, collaborated to design and execute studies (including insurance claims and electronic health records) on an international set of observational health databases to inform healthcare decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initial results: two high-impact papers assessing the safety of hydroxychloroquine (the largest ever assessment), which is increasing being repurposed to treat COVID-19, and characterising COVID-19 patients will be submitted for peer-review within a week of starting the research. Meanwhile, further analysis and papers will follow after the initial four-day study-a-thon, evaluating other repurposed drugs and prediction studies, which will be announced over the coming weeks.

How it came together: In lieu of the cancelled OHDSI 3rd European Symposium a core group of researchers from Oxford University (UK), Erasmus Medical Center (Netherlands), Columbia University (US), UCLA (US), Ajou University (South Korea), Janssen Research and Development, and IQVIA took the lead in organising this four-day online event.  One of the biggest challenges was the very short timeframe to prepare as study-a-thons normally require many months of preparation and in this case there were only three weeks to get everything up and running.

“The COVID-19 study-a-thon is a major milestone and serves as a great example of why collaboration in an open science framework is necessary. None of this work would have been possible if not for the diverse expertise of the participants, their willingness to collaborate with their data, the availability of standardised analytical tools, and the OMOP Common Data Model,” said Peter Rijnbeek, Associate Professor Health Data Science at the Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands and Coordinator of EHDEN.

“It was a humbling effort to lead the OHDSI community in making a meaningful impact during this COVID-19 crisis,” said Daniel Prieto-Alhambra, MD, MSc, PhD, Professor of Pharmaco- and Device Epidemiology at the University of Oxford. “Prioritised questions from governments, healthcare 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.”

“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,” said George Hripcsak, MD, MS, the Vivian Beaumont Allen Professor and Chair of the Columbia Department of Biomedical Informatics. “Our international network is committed to continuing work in this area until this pandemic has ended.”