Laura Merson

Research Area: Global Health
Scientific Themes: Clinical Trials & Epidemiology and Tropical Medicine & Global Health
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Laura Merson joined ERGO and IDDO in 2015 to support new platform initiatives for emerging infections and neglected tropical diseases, including coordination of the Ebola Data Sharing Platform. This joint position integrates many of Laura’s research interests including exploring issues in sharing biomedical research data and in changing the paradigm of clinical research in outbreaks to enable rapid research response to emerging infections. As an executive member of the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infections Consortium (ISARIC), Laura has contributed to the development of standardized, open-access research protocols designed for outbreak response in collaboration with the World Health Organization. Before moving to Oxford, Laura spent more than six years building capacity in research design, implementation and ethics across Asia and Africa as Head of Clinical Trials for the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit Viet Nam.

Name Department Institution Country
Professor Philippe J Guerin Tropical Medicine Oxford University, NDM Research Building United Kingdom
Professor Peter Horby Tropical Medicine Oxford University, Old Road Campus Research Building United Kingdom
Arabi YM, Mandourah Y, Al-Hameed F, Sindi AA, Al Mekhlafi GA, Hussein MA, Jose J, Pinto R, Al-Omari A, Kharaba A et al. 2017. Corticosteroid Therapy for Critically Ill Patients with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Am J Respir Crit Care Med, | Show Abstract | Read more

RATIONALE: Corticosteroid therapy is commonly used among critically ill patients with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), but its impact on outcomes is uncertain. Analyses of observational studies often do not account for patients' clinical condition at the time of corticosteroid therapy initiation. OBJECTIVES: To investigate the association of corticosteroid therapy on mortality and on MERS coronavirus RNA clearance in critically ill patients with MERS. METHODS: MERS ICU patients were included from 14 Saudi Arabian centers between September 2012 and October 2015. We carried out marginal structural modeling to account for baseline and time-varying confounders. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Of 309 patients, 151 received corticosteroids. Corticosteroids were initiated at a median of 3.0 days (Quartile Q1, 3: 1.0, 7.0) from ICU admission. Patients who received corticosteroids were more likely to receive invasive ventilation (141/151 [93.4%] vs. 121/158 [76.6%], p≤0.0001) and had higher 90-day crude mortality (112/151 [74.2%] vs. 91/158 [57.6%], p=0.002). Using marginal structural modeling, corticosteroid therapy was not significantly associated with 90-day mortality (adjusted odds ratio 0.75, 95% CI 0.52, 1.07, p=0.12), but was associated with delay in MERS coronavirus RNA clearance (adjusted hazard ratio 0.35, 95% CI: 0.17, 0.72, p=0.005). CONCLUSIONS: Corticosteroid therapy in patients with MERS was not associated with a difference in mortality after adjustment for time-varying confounders, but was associated with delayed MERS coronavirus RNA clearance. These findings highlight the challenges and importance of adjusting for baseline and time-varying confounders when estimating clinical effects of treatments using observational studies.

Arabi YM, Al-Omari A, Mandourah Y, Al-Hameed F, Sindi AA, Alraddadi B, Shalhoub S, Almotairi A, Al Khatib K, Abdulmomen A et al. 2017. Critically Ill Patients With the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome: A Multicenter Retrospective Cohort Study. Crit Care Med, 45 (10), pp. 1683-1695. | Show Abstract | Read more

OBJECTIVES: To describe patient characteristics, clinical manifestations, disease course including viral replication patterns, and outcomes of critically ill patients with severe acute respiratory infection from the Middle East respiratory syndrome and to compare these features with patients with severe acute respiratory infection due to other etiologies. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study. SETTING: Patients admitted to ICUs in 14 Saudi Arabian hospitals. PATIENTS: Critically ill patients with laboratory-confirmed Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection (n = 330) admitted between September 2012 and October 2015 were compared to consecutive critically ill patients with community-acquired severe acute respiratory infection of non-Middle East respiratory syndrome etiology (non-Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection) (n = 222). INTERVENTIONS: None. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Although Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection patients were younger than those with non-Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection (median [quartile 1, quartile 3] 58 yr [44, 69] vs 70 [52, 78]; p < 0.001), clinical presentations and comorbidities overlapped substantially. Patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection had more severe hypoxemic respiratory failure (PaO2/FIO2: 106 [66, 160] vs 176 [104, 252]; p < 0.001) and more frequent nonrespiratory organ failure (nonrespiratory Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score: 6 [4, 9] vs 5 [3, 7]; p = 0.002), thus required more frequently invasive mechanical ventilation (85.2% vs 73.0%; p < 0.001), oxygen rescue therapies (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation 5.8% vs 0.9%; p = 0.003), vasopressor support (79.4% vs 55.0%; p < 0.001), and renal replacement therapy (48.8% vs 22.1%; p < 0.001). After adjustment for potential confounding factors, Middle East respiratory syndrome was independently associated with death compared to non-Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection (adjusted odds ratio, 5.87; 95% CI, 4.02-8.56; p < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Substantial overlap exists in the clinical presentation and comorbidities among patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection from other etiologies; therefore, a high index of suspicion combined with diagnostic testing is essential component of severe acute respiratory infection investigation for at-risk patients. The lack of distinguishing clinical features, the need to rely on real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction from respiratory samples, variability in viral shedding duration, lack of effective therapy, and high mortality represent substantial clinical challenges and help guide ongoing clinical research efforts.

Arabi YM, Al-Omari A, Mandourah Y, Al-Hameed F, Sindi AA, Alraddadi B, Shalhoub S, Almotairi A, Al Khatib K, Abdulmomen A et al. 2017. Critically Ill Patients With the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome: A Multicenter Retrospective Cohort Study. Crit Care Med, | Show Abstract | Read more

OBJECTIVES: To describe patient characteristics, clinical manifestations, disease course including viral replication patterns, and outcomes of critically ill patients with severe acute respiratory infection from the Middle East respiratory syndrome and to compare these features with patients with severe acute respiratory infection due to other etiologies. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study. SETTING: Patients admitted to ICUs in 14 Saudi Arabian hospitals. PATIENTS: Critically ill patients with laboratory-confirmed Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection (n = 330) admitted between September 2012 and October 2015 were compared to consecutive critically ill patients with community-acquired severe acute respiratory infection of non-Middle East respiratory syndrome etiology (non-Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection) (n = 222). INTERVENTIONS: None. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Although Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection patients were younger than those with non-Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection (median [quartile 1, quartile 3] 58 yr [44, 69] vs 70 [52, 78]; p < 0.001), clinical presentations and comorbidities overlapped substantially. Patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection had more severe hypoxemic respiratory failure (PaO2/FIO2: 106 [66, 160] vs 176 [104, 252]; p < 0.001) and more frequent nonrespiratory organ failure (nonrespiratory Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score: 6 [4, 9] vs 5 [3, 7]; p = 0.002), thus required more frequently invasive mechanical ventilation (85.2% vs 73.0%; p < 0.001), oxygen rescue therapies (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation 5.8% vs 0.9%; p = 0.003), vasopressor support (79.4% vs 55.0%; p < 0.001), and renal replacement therapy (48.8% vs 22.1%; p < 0.001). After adjustment for potential confounding factors, Middle East respiratory syndrome was independently associated with death compared to non-Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection (adjusted odds ratio, 5.87; 95% CI, 4.02-8.56; p < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Substantial overlap exists in the clinical presentation and comorbidities among patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome severe acute respiratory infection from other etiologies; therefore, a high index of suspicion combined with diagnostic testing is essential component of severe acute respiratory infection investigation for at-risk patients. The lack of distinguishing clinical features, the need to rely on real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction from respiratory samples, variability in viral shedding duration, lack of effective therapy, and high mortality represent substantial clinical challenges and help guide ongoing clinical research efforts.

Le T, Kinh NV, Cuc NTK, Tung NLN, Lam NT, Thuy PTT, Cuong DD, Phuc PTH, Vinh VH, Hanh DTH et al. 2017. A Trial of Itraconazole or Amphotericin B for HIV-Associated Talaromycosis. N Engl J Med, 376 (24), pp. 2329-2340. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Talaromyces marneffei infection is a major cause of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related death in South and Southeast Asia. Guidelines recommend initial treatment with amphotericin B deoxycholate, but this drug has substantial side effects, a high cost, and limited availability. Itraconazole is available in oral form, is associated with fewer unacceptable side effects than amphotericin, and is widely used in place of amphotericin; however, clinical trials comparing these two treatments are lacking. METHODS: In this open-label, noninferiority trial, we randomly assigned 440 HIV-infected adults who had talaromycosis, confirmed by either microscopy or culture, to receive either intravenous amphotericin B deoxycholate (amphotericin) (219 patients), at a dose of 0.7 to 1.0 mg per kilogram of body weight per day, or itraconazole capsules (221 patients), at a dose of 600 mg per day for 3 days, followed by 400 mg per day, for 11 days; thereafter, all the patients received maintenance therapy with itraconazole. The primary outcome was all-cause mortality at week 2. Secondary outcomes included all-cause mortality at week 24, the time to clinical resolution of talaromycosis, early fungicidal activity, relapse of talaromycosis, development of the immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS), and the side-effect profile. RESULTS: The risk of death at week 2 was 6.5% in the amphotericin group and 7.4% in the itraconazole group (absolute risk difference, 0.9 percentage points; 95% confidence interval [CI], -3.9 to 5.6; P<0.001 for noninferiority); however, the risk of death at week 24 was 11.3% in the amphotericin group and 21.0% in the itraconazole group (absolute risk difference, 9.7 percentage points; 95% CI, 2.8 to 16.6; P=0.006). Treatment with amphotericin was associated with significantly faster clinical resolution and fungal clearance and significantly lower rates of relapse and IRIS than itraconazole. The patients who received amphotericin had significantly higher rates of infusion-related reactions, renal failure, hypokalemia, hypomagnesemia, and anemia than patients in the itraconazole group. CONCLUSIONS: Amphotericin was superior to itraconazole as initial treatment for talaromycosis with respect to 6-month mortality, clinical response, and fungicidal activity. (Funded by the Medical Research Council and others; IVAP Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN59144167 .).

Bang ND, Caws M, Truc TT, Duong TN, Dung NH, Ha DTM, Thwaites GE, Heemskerk D, Tarning J, Merson L et al. 2016. Clinical presentations, diagnosis, mortality and prognostic markers of tuberculous meningitis in Vietnamese children: a prospective descriptive study. BMC Infect Dis, 16 (1), pp. 573. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Tuberculous meningitis in adults is well characterized in Vietnam, but there are no data on the disease in children. We present a prospective descriptive study of Vietnamese children with TBM to define the presentation, course and characteristics associated with poor outcome. METHODS: A prospective descriptive study of 100 consecutively admitted children with TBM at Pham Ngoc Thach Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City. Cox and logistic regression were used to identify factors associated with risk of death and a combined endpoint of death or disability at treatment completion. RESULTS: The study enrolled from October 2009 to March 2011. Median age was 32.5 months; sex distribution was equal. Median duration of symptoms was 18.5 days and time from admission to treatment initiation was 11 days. Fifteen of 100 children died, 4 were lost to follow-up, and 27/81 (33 %) of survivors had intermediate or severe disability upon treatment completion. Microbiological confirmation of disease was made in 6 %. Baseline characteristics associated with death included convulsions (HR 3.46, 95CI 1.19-10.13, p = 0.02), decreased consciousness (HR 22.9, 95CI 3.01-174.3, p < 0.001), focal neurological deficits (HR 15.7, 95CI 1.67-2075, p = 0.01), Blantyre Coma Score (HR 3.75, 95CI 0.99-14.2, p < 0.001) and CSF protein, lactate and glucose levels. Neck stiffness, MRC grade (children aged >5 years) and hydrocephalus were also associated with the combined endpoint of death or disability. CONCLUSIONS: Tuberculous meningitis in Vietnamese children has significant mortality and morbidity. There is significant delay in diagnosis; interventions that increase the speed of diagnosis and treatment initiation are likely to improve outcomes.

Pisani E, Aaby P, Breugelmans JG, Carr D, Groves T, Helinski M, Kamuya D, Kern S, Littler K, Marsh V et al. 2016. Beyond open data: realising the health benefits of sharing data. BMJ, 355 pp. i5295. | Read more

Merson L, Gaye O, Guerin PJ. 2016. Avoiding Data Dumpsters--Toward Equitable and Useful Data Sharing. N Engl J Med, 374 (25), pp. 2414-2415. | Read more

Dunning J, Sahr F, Rojek A, Gannon F, Carson G, Idriss B, Massaquoi T, Gandi R, Joseph S, Osman HK et al. 2016. Experimental Treatment of Ebola Virus Disease with TKM-130803: A Single-Arm Phase 2 Clinical Trial. PLoS Med, 13 (4), pp. e1001997. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: TKM-130803, a small interfering RNA lipid nanoparticle product, has been developed for the treatment of Ebola virus disease (EVD), but its efficacy and safety in humans has not been evaluated. METHODS AND FINDINGS: In this single-arm phase 2 trial, adults with laboratory-confirmed EVD received 0.3 mg/kg of TKM-130803 by intravenous infusion once daily for up to 7 d. On days when trial enrolment capacity was reached, patients were enrolled into a concurrent observational cohort. The primary outcome was survival to day 14 after admission, excluding patients who died within 48 h of admission. After 14 adults with EVD had received TKM-130803, the pre-specified futility boundary was reached, indicating a probability of survival to day 14 of ≤0.55, and enrolment was stopped. Pre-treatment geometric mean Ebola virus load in the 14 TKM-130803 recipients was 2.24 × 109 RNA copies/ml plasma (95% CI 7.52 × 108, 6.66 × 109). Two of the TKM-130803 recipients died within 48 h of admission and were therefore excluded from the primary outcome analysis. Of the remaining 12 TKM-130803 recipients, nine died and three survived. The probability that a TKM-130803 recipient who survived for 48 h will subsequently survive to day 14 was estimated to be 0.27 (95% CI 0.06, 0.58). TKM-130803 infusions were well tolerated, with 56 doses administered and only one possible infusion-related reaction observed. Three patients were enrolled in the observational cohort, of whom two died. CONCLUSIONS: Administration of TKM-130803 at a dose of 0.3 mg/kg/d by intravenous infusion to adult patients with severe EVD was not shown to improve survival when compared to historic controls. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Pan African Clinical Trials Registry PACTR201501000997429.

Beardsley J, Wolbers M, Kibengo FM, Ggayi A-BM, Kamali A, Cuc NTK, Binh TQ, Chau NVV, Farrar J, Merson L et al. 2016. Adjunctive Dexamethasone in HIV-Associated Cryptococcal Meningitis. N Engl J Med, 374 (6), pp. 542-554. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Cryptococcal meningitis associated with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection causes more than 600,000 deaths each year worldwide. Treatment has changed little in 20 years, and there are no imminent new anticryptococcal agents. The use of adjuvant glucocorticoids reduces mortality among patients with other forms of meningitis in some populations, but their use is untested in patients with cryptococcal meningitis. METHODS: In this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, we recruited adult patients with HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Uganda, and Malawi. All the patients received either dexamethasone or placebo for 6 weeks, along with combination antifungal therapy with amphotericin B and fluconazole. RESULTS: The trial was stopped for safety reasons after the enrollment of 451 patients. Mortality was 47% in the dexamethasone group and 41% in the placebo group by 10 weeks (hazard ratio in the dexamethasone group, 1.11; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.84 to 1.47; P=0.45) and 57% and 49%, respectively, by 6 months (hazard ratio, 1.18; 95% CI, 0.91 to 1.53; P=0.20). The percentage of patients with disability at 10 weeks was higher in the dexamethasone group than in the placebo group, with 13% versus 25% having a prespecified good outcome (odds ratio, 0.42; 95% CI, 0.25 to 0.69; P<0.001). Clinical adverse events were more common in the dexamethasone group than in the placebo group (667 vs. 494 events, P=0.01), with more patients in the dexamethasone group having grade 3 or 4 infection (48 vs. 25 patients, P=0.003), renal events (22 vs. 7, P=0.004), and cardiac events (8 vs. 0, P=0.004). Fungal clearance in cerebrospinal fluid was slower in the dexamethasone group. Results were consistent across Asian and African sites. CONCLUSIONS: Dexamethasone did not reduce mortality among patients with HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis and was associated with more adverse events and disability than was placebo. (Funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development and others through the Joint Global Health Trials program; Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN59144167.).

Arjyal A, Basnyat B, Nhan HT, Koirala S, Giri A, Joshi N, Shakya M, Pathak KR, Mahat SP, Prajapati SP et al. 2016. Gatifloxacin versus ceftriaxone for uncomplicated enteric fever in Nepal: an open-label, two-centre, randomised controlled trial. Lancet Infect Dis, 16 (5), pp. 535-545. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Because treatment with third-generation cephalosporins is associated with slow clinical improvement and high relapse burden for enteric fever, whereas the fluoroquinolone gatifloxacin is associated with rapid fever clearance and low relapse burden, we postulated that gatifloxacin would be superior to the cephalosporin ceftriaxone in treating enteric fever. METHODS: We did an open-label, randomised, controlled, superiority trial at two hospitals in the Kathmandu valley, Nepal. Eligible participants were children (aged 2-13 years) and adult (aged 14-45 years) with criteria for suspected enteric fever (body temperature ≥38·0°C for ≥4 days without a focus of infection). We randomly assigned eligible patients (1:1) without stratification to 7 days of either oral gatifloxacin (10 mg/kg per day) or intravenous ceftriaxone (60 mg/kg up to 2 g per day for patients aged 2-13 years, or 2 g per day for patients aged ≥14 years). The randomisation list was computer-generated using blocks of four and six. The primary outcome was a composite of treatment failure, defined as the occurrence of at least one of the following: fever clearance time of more than 7 days after treatment initiation; the need for rescue treatment on day 8; microbiological failure (ie, blood cultures positive for Salmonella enterica serotype Typhi, or Paratyphi A, B, or C) on day 8; or relapse or disease-related complications within 28 days of treatment initiation. We did the analyses in the modified intention-to-treat population, and subpopulations with either confirmed blood-culture positivity, or blood-culture negativity. The trial was powered to detect an increase of 20% in the risk of failure. This trial was registered at ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01421693, and is now closed. FINDINGS: Between Sept 18, 2011, and July 14, 2014, we screened 725 patients for eligibility. On July 14, 2014, the trial was stopped early by the data safety and monitoring board because S Typhi strains with high-level resistance to ciprofloxacin and gatifloxacin had emerged. At this point, 239 were in the modified intention-to-treat population (120 assigned to gatifloxacin, 119 to ceftriaxone). 18 (15%) patients who received gatifloxacin had treatment failure, compared with 19 (16%) who received ceftriaxone (hazard ratio [HR] 1·04 [95% CI 0·55-1·98]; p=0·91). In the culture-confirmed population, 16 (26%) of 62 patients who received gatifloxacin failed treatment, compared with four (7%) of 54 who received ceftriaxone (HR 0·24 [95% CI 0·08-0·73]; p=0·01). Treatment failure was associated with the emergence of S Typhi exhibiting resistance against fluoroquinolones, requiring the trial to be stopped. By contrast, in patients with a negative blood culture, only two (3%) of 58 who received gatifloxacin failed treatment versus 15 (23%) of 65 who received ceftriaxone (HR 7·50 [95% CI 1·71-32·80]; p=0·01). A similar number of non-serious adverse events occurred in each treatment group, and no serious events were reported. INTERPRETATION: Our results suggest that fluoroquinolones should no longer be used for treatment of enteric fever in Nepal. Additionally, under our study conditions, ceftriaxone was suboptimum in a high proportion of patients with culture-negative enteric fever. Since antimicrobials, specifically fluoroquinolones, are one of the only routinely used control measures for enteric fever, the assessment of novel diagnostics, new treatment options, and use of existing vaccines and development of next-generation vaccines are now a high priority. FUNDING: Wellcome Trust and Li Ka Shing Foundation.

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Heemskerk AD, Bang ND, Mai NTH, Chau TTH, Phu NH, Loc PP, Chau NVV, Hien TT, Dung NH, Lan NTN et al. 2016. Intensified Antituberculosis Therapy in Adults with Tuberculous Meningitis NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, 374 (2), pp. 124-134. | Read more

Heemskerk AD, Bang ND, Mai NTH, Chau TTH, Phu NH, Loc PP, Chau NVV, Hien TT, Dung NH, Lan NTN et al. 2016. Intensified Antituberculosis Therapy in Adults with Tuberculous Meningitis. N Engl J Med, 374 (2), pp. 124-134. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Tuberculous meningitis is often lethal. Early antituberculosis treatment and adjunctive treatment with glucocorticoids improve survival, but nearly one third of patients with the condition still die. We hypothesized that intensified antituberculosis treatment would enhance the killing of intracerebral Mycobacterium tuberculosis organisms and decrease the rate of death among patients. METHODS: We performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected adults and HIV-uninfected adults with a clinical diagnosis of tuberculous meningitis who were admitted to one of two Vietnamese hospitals. We compared a standard, 9-month antituberculosis regimen (which included 10 mg of rifampin per kilogram of body weight per day) with an intensified regimen that included higher-dose rifampin (15 mg per kilogram per day) and levofloxacin (20 mg per kilogram per day) for the first 8 weeks of treatment. The primary outcome was death by 9 months after randomization. RESULTS: A total of 817 patients (349 of whom were HIV-infected) were enrolled; 409 were randomly assigned to receive the standard regimen, and 408 were assigned to receive intensified treatment. During the 9 months of follow-up, 113 patients in the intensified-treatment group and 114 patients in the standard-treatment group died (hazard ratio, 0.94; 95% confidence interval, 0.73 to 1.22; P=0.66). There was no evidence of a significant differential effect of intensified treatment in the overall population or in any of the subgroups, with the possible exception of patients infected with isoniazid-resistant M. tuberculosis. There were also no significant differences in secondary outcomes between the treatment groups. The overall number of adverse events leading to treatment interruption did not differ significantly between the treatment groups (64 events in the standard-treatment group and 95 events in the intensified-treatment group, P=0.08). CONCLUSIONS: Intensified antituberculosis treatment was not associated with a higher rate of survival among patients with tuberculous meningitis than standard treatment. (Funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Li Ka Shing Foundation; Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN61649292.).

Dunning J, Kennedy SB, Antierens A, Whitehead J, Ciglenecki I, Carson G, Kanapathipillai R, Castle L, Howell-Jones R, Pardinaz-Solis R et al. 2016. Experimental Treatment of Ebola Virus Disease with Brincidofovir. PLoS One, 11 (9), pp. e0162199. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: The nucleotide analogue brincidofovir was developed to prevent and treat infections caused by double-stranded DNA viruses. Based on in vitro data suggesting an antiviral effect against Ebola virus, brincidofovir was included in the World Health Organisation list of agents that should be prioritised for clinical evaluation in patients with Ebola virus disease (EVD) during the West African epidemic. METHODS AND FINDINGS: In this single-arm phase 2 trial conducted in Liberia, patients with laboratory-confirmed EVD (two months of age or older, enrolment bodyweight ≥50 kg) received oral brincidofovir 200 mg as a loading dose on day 0, followed by 100 mg brincidofovir on days 3, 7, 10, and 14. Bodyweight-adjusted dosing was used for patients weighing <50 kg at enrolment. The primary outcome was survival at Day 14 after the first dose of brincidofovir. Four patients were enrolled between 01 January 2015 and 31 January 2015. The trial was stopped following the decision by the manufacturer to terminate their program of development of brincidofovir for EVD. No Serious Adverse Reactions or Suspected Unexpected Serious Adverse Reactions were identified. All enrolled subjects died of an illness consistent with EVD. CONCLUSIONS: Due to the small sample size it was not possible to determine the efficacy of brincidofovir for the treatment of EVD. The premature termination of the trial highlights the need to establish better practices for preclinical in-vitro and animal screening of therapeutics for potentially emerging epidemic infectious diseases prior to their use in patients. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Pan African Clinical Trials Registry PACTR201411000939962.

Jaenisch T, Tam DTH, Kieu NTT, Van Ngoc T, Nam NT, Van Kinh N, Yacoub S, Chanpheaktra N, Kumar V, See LLC et al. 2016. Clinical evaluation of dengue and identification of risk factors for severe disease: protocol for a multicentre study in 8 countries. BMC Infect Dis, 16 (1), pp. 120. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: The burden of dengue continues to increase globally, with an estimated 100 million clinically apparent infections occurring each year. Although most dengue infections are asymptomatic, patients can present with a wide spectrum of clinical symptoms ranging from mild febrile illness through to severe manifestations of bleeding, organ impairment, and hypovolaemic shock due to a systemic vascular leak syndrome. Clinical diagnosis of dengue and identification of which patients are likely to develop severe disease remain challenging. This study aims to improve diagnosis and clinical management through approaches designed a) to differentiate between dengue and other common febrile illness within 72 h of fever onset, and b) among patients with dengue to identify markers that are predictive of the likelihood of evolving to a more severe disease course. METHOD/DESIGN: This is a prospective multi-centre observational study aiming to enrol 7-8000 participants aged ≥ 5 years presenting with a febrile illness consistent with dengue to outpatient health facilities in 8 countries across Asia and Latin America. Patients presenting within 72 h of fever onset who do not exhibit signs of severe disease are eligible for the study. A broad range of clinical and laboratory parameters are assessed daily for up to 6 days during the acute illness, and also at a follow up visit 1 week later. DISCUSSION: Data from this large cohort of patients, enrolled early with undifferentiated fever, will be used to develop a practical diagnostic algorithm and a robust clinical case definition for dengue. Additionally, among patients with confirmed dengue we aim to identify simple clinical and laboratory parameters associated with progression to a more severe disease course. We will also investigate early virological and serological correlates of severe disease, and examine genetic associations in this large heterogeneous cohort. In addition the results will be used to assess the new World Health Organization classification scheme for dengue in practice, and to update the guidelines for "Integrated Management of Childhood Illness" used in dengue-endemic countries. TRIAL REGISTRATION: NCT01550016. Registration Date: March 7, 2012.

Qui PT, Khanh TH, Trieu HT, Giang PT, Bich NN, Thoa LPK, Nhan LNT, Sabanathan S, Van Doorn R, Toan ND et al. 2016. Intravenous magnesium sulfate for the management of severe hand, foot, and mouth disease with autonomic nervous system dysregulation in Vietnamese children: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 17 (1), pp. 98. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Over the last 15 years, hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) has emerged as a major public health burden across the Asia-Pacific region. A small proportion of HFMD patients, typically those infected with enterovirus 71 (EV71), develop brainstem encephalitis with autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysregulation and may progress rapidly to cardiopulmonary failure and death. Although milrinone has been reported to control hypertension and support myocardial function in two small studies, in practice, a number of children still deteriorate despite this treatment. Magnesium sulfate (MgSO4) is a cheap, safe, and readily available medication that is effective in managing tetanus-associated ANS dysregulation and has shown promise when used empirically in EV71-confirmed severe HFMD cases. METHODS/DESIGN: We describe the protocol for a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of intravenous MgSO4 in Vietnamese children diagnosed clinically with HFMD plus ANS dysregulation with systemic hypertension. A loading dose of MgSO4 or identical placebo is given over 20 min followed by a maintenance infusion for 72 h according to response, aiming for Mg levels two to three times the normal level in the treatment arm. The primary endpoint is a composite of disease progression within 72 h defined as follows: development of pre-specified blood pressure criteria necessitating the addition of milrinone, the need for ventilation, shock, or death. Secondary endpoints comprise these parameters singly, plus other clinical endpoints including the following: requirement for other inotropic agents; duration of hospitalization; presence of neurological sequelae at discharge in survivors; and neurodevelopmental status assessed 6 months after discharge. The number and severity of adverse events observed in the two treatment arms will also be compared. Based on preliminary data from a case series, and allowing for some losses, 190 patients (95 in each arm) will allow detection of a 50 % reduction in disease progression with 90 % power at a two-sided 5 % significance level. DISCUSSION: Given the large numbers of HFMD cases currently being seen in hospitals in Asia, if MgSO4 is shown to be effective in controlling ANS dysregulation and preventing severe HFMD complications, this finding would be important to pediatric care throughout the region. TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01940250 (Registered 22 August 2013).

Arabi Y, Balkhy H, Hajeer AH, Bouchama A, Hayden FG, Al-Omari A, Al-Hameed FM, Taha Y, Shindo N, Whitehead J et al. 2015. Feasibility, safety, clinical, and laboratory effects of convalescent plasma therapy for patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection: a study protocol. Springerplus, 4 (1), pp. 709. | Show Abstract | Read more

As of September 30, 2015, a total of 1589 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). At present there is no effective specific therapy against MERS-CoV. The use of convalescent plasma (CP) has been suggested as a potential therapy based on existing evidence from other viral infections. We aim to study the feasibility of CP therapy as well as its safety and clinical and laboratory effects in critically ill patients with MERS-CoV infection. We will also examine the pharmacokinetics of the MERS-CoV antibody response and viral load over the course of MERS-CoV infection. This study will inform a future randomized controlled trial that will examine the efficacy of CP therapy for MERS-CoV infection. In the CP collection phase, potential donors will be tested by the enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and the indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) techniques for the presence of anti-MERS-CoV antibodies. Subjects with anti-MERS-CoV IFA titer of ≥1:160 and no clinical or laboratory evidence of MERS-CoV infection will be screened for eligibility for plasma donation according to standard donation criteria. In the CP therapy phase, 20 consecutive critically ill patients admitted to intensive care unit with laboratory-confirmed MERS-CoV infection will be enrolled and each will receive 2 units of CP. Post enrollment, patients will be followed for clinical and laboratory outcomes that include anti-MERS-CoV antibodies and viral load. This protocol was developed collaboratively by King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC), Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Infection Control Center Group and the World Health Organization-International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium (ISARIC-WHO) MERS-CoV Working Group. It was approved in June 2014 by the Ministry of the National Guard Health Affairs Institutional Review Board (IRB). A data safety monitoring board (DSMB) was formulated. The study is registered at http://www.clinicaltrials.gov (NCT02190799).

Merson L, Phong TV, Nhan LNT, Dung NT, Ngan TTD, Kinh NV, Parker M, Bull S. 2015. Trust, Respect, and Reciprocity: Informing Culturally Appropriate Data-Sharing Practice in Vietnam. J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics, 10 (3), pp. 251-263. | Show Abstract | Read more

International science funders and publishers are driving a growing trend in data sharing. There is mounting pressure on researchers in low- and middle-income settings to conform to new sharing policies, despite minimal empirically grounded accounts of the ethical challenges of implementing the policies in these settings. This study used in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with 48 stakeholders in Vietnam to explore the experiences, attitudes, and expectations that inform ethical and effective approaches to sharing clinical research data. Distinct views on the role of trust, respect, and reciprocity were among those that emerged to inform culturally appropriate best practices. We conclude by discussing the challenges that authors of data-sharing policies should consider in this unique context.

Bull S, Cheah PY, Denny S, Jao I, Marsh V, Merson L, Shah More N, Nhan LNT, Osrin D, Tangseefa D et al. 2015. Best Practices for Ethical Sharing of Individual-Level Health Research Data From Low- and Middle-Income Settings. J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics, 10 (3), pp. 302-313. | Show Abstract | Read more

Sharing individual-level data from clinical and public health research is increasingly being seen as a core requirement for effective and efficient biomedical research. This article discusses the results of a systematic review and multisite qualitative study of key stakeholders' perspectives on best practices in ethical data sharing in low- and middle-income settings. Our research suggests that for data sharing to be effective and sustainable, multiple social and ethical requirements need to be met. An effective model of data sharing will be one in which considered judgments will need to be made about how best to achieve scientific progress, minimize risks of harm, promote fairness and reciprocity, and build and sustain trust.

Tuan TA, Thanh TT, Hai NTT, Tinh LBB, Kim LTN, Do LAH, Chinh B'Krong NTT, Tham NT, Hang VTT, Merson L et al. 2015. Characterization of hospital and community-acquired respiratory syncytial virus in children with severe lower respiratory tract infections in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2010. Influenza Other Respir Viruses, 9 (3), pp. 110-119. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an important community and nosocomial pathogen in developed countries but data regarding the importance of RSV in developing countries are relatively scarce. METHODS: During a 1-year surveillance study in 2010, we took serial samples from children admitted to the Emergency Unit of the Respiratory Ward of Children's Hospital 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. RSV was detected within 72 hours of admission to the ward in 26% (376/1439; RSV A: n = 320; RSV B: n = 54; and RSV A and B: n = 2). Among those negative in the first 72 hours after admission, 6.6% (25/377) acquired nosocomial RSV infection during hospitalization (RSV A: n = 22; and RSV B: n = 3). RESULTS: Children with nosocomial RSV infection were younger (P = 0.001) and had a longer duration of hospitalization (P < 0.001). The rate of incomplete recovery among children with nosocomial RSV infection was significantly higher than among those without (P < 0.001). Phylogenetic analysis of partial G gene sequences obtained from 79% (316/401) of positive specimens revealed the co-circulation of multiple genotypes with RSV A NA1 being predominant (A NA1: n = 275; A GA5: n = 5; B BA3: n = 3; B BA9: n = 26; and B BA10: n = 7). The RSV A GA5 and RSV B BA3 genotypes have not been reported from Vietnam, previously. CONCLUSION: Besides emphasizing the importance of RSV as a cause of respiratory infection leading to hospitalization in young children and as a nosocomial pathogen, data from this study extend our knowledge on the genetic diversity of RSV circulating in Vietnam.

Day J, Imran D, Ganiem AR, Tjahjani N, Wahyuningsih R, Adawiyah R, Dance D, Mayxay M, Newton P, Phetsouvanh R et al. 2014. CryptoDex: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase III trial of adjunctive dexamethasone in HIV-infected adults with cryptococcal meningitis: study protocol for a randomised control trial. Trials, 15 (1), pp. 441. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Cryptococcal meningitis (CM) is a severe AIDS-defining illness with 90-day case mortality as high as 70% in sub-Saharan Africa, despite treatment. It is the leading cause of death in HIV patients in Asia and Africa.No major advance has been made in the treatment of CM since the 1970s. The mainstays of induction therapy are amphotericin B and flucytosine, but these are often poorly available where the disease burden is highest. Adjunctive treatments, such as dexamethasone, have had dramatic effects on mortality in other neurologic infections, but are untested in CM. Given the high death rates in patients receiving current optimal treatment, and the lack of new agents on the horizon, adjuvant treatments, which offer the potential to reduce mortality in CM, should be tested.The principal research question posed by this study is as follows: does adding dexamethasone to standard antifungal therapy for CM reduce mortality? Dexamethasone is a cheap, readily available, and practicable intervention. METHOD: A double-blind placebo-controlled trial with parallel arms in which patients are randomised to receive either dexamethasone or placebo, in addition to local standard of care. The study recruits patients in both Asia and Africa to ensure the relevance of its results to the populations in which the disease burden is highest. The 10-week mortality risk in the control group is expected to be between 30% and 50%, depending on location, and the target hazard ratio of 0.7 corresponds to absolute risk reductions in mortality from 30% to 22%, or from 50% to 38%. Assuming an overall 10-week mortality of at least 30% in our study population, recruitment of 824 patients will be sufficient to observe the expected number of deaths. Allowing for some loss to follow-up, the total sample size for this study is 880 patients. To generate robust evidence across both continents, we aim to recruit roughly similar numbers of patients from each continent. The primary end point is 10-week mortality. Ethical approval has been obtained from Oxford University's Tropical Research Ethics Committee (OxTREC), and as locally mandated at each site. TRIAL REGISTRATION: International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number: ISRCTN59144167 26-July-2012.

Dunning JW, Merson L, Rohde GGU, Gao Z, Semple MG, Tran D, Gordon A, Olliaro PL, Khoo SH, Bruzzone R et al. 2014. Open source clinical science for emerging infections. Lancet Infect Dis, 14 (1), pp. 8-9. | Read more

Shieh M, Thompson C, Phan Vu Tra M, Thi Thuy Linh V, Tediosi F, Merson L, Farrar JJ, Manh Tuan H, Lu Viet H, Thi Ngoc Tuyet P, Baker S. 2013. The policy of free healthcare for children under the age of 6 years in Vietnam: Assessment of the uptake for children hospitalised with acute diarrhoea in Ho Chi Minh City Tropical Medicine and International Health, 18 (12), pp. 1444-1451. | Show Abstract | Read more

Objective: To assess the proportion of, and reasons for, households not utilising the policy of free healthcare for children under 6 years of age (FCCU6) for hospitalisation with diarrhoea, and assess the risk of catastrophic expenditure for households that forgo FCCU6 and pay out of pocket. Methods: Invoices detailing insurance information and charges incurred from 472 hospitalised diarrhoeal cases in one paediatric hospital in Ho Chi Minh City were retrieved. Hospital charges and the utilisation of elective services were analysed for patients utilising and not utilising FCCU6. Associations between socio-economic factors with non-utilisation of FCCU6 were evaluated. Results: Overall, 29% of patients were FCCU6 non-users. The FCCU6 non-users paid a median hospital charge of $29.13 (interquartile range, IQR: $18.57-46.24), consuming no more than 1.4% of a medium-income household's annual income. Seventy per cent of low-income FCCU6 non-users utilised less-expensive elective services, whereas only 43% of medium income patients and 21% of high-income patients did (P = 0.036). Patients from larger households and those with a parent working in government were more likely to use FCCU6. Conclusions: The rate of FCCU6 non-usage in this study population was 29%. A significant proportion of those that did not use FCCU6 was from lower income households and may perceive a justifiable cost-benefit ratio when forgoing FCCU6. Although a single diarrhoeal hospitalisation is unlikely to induce a catastrophic expenditure, FCCU6 non-usage may disproportionately increase the risk of catastrophic expenditure for lower income households over multiple illnesses. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Nhu NTQ, Heemskerk D, Thu DDA, Chau TTH, Mai NTH, Nghia HDT, Loc PP, Ha DTM, Merson L, Thinh TTV et al. 2014. Evaluation of GeneXpert MTB/RIF for diagnosis of tuberculous meningitis. J Clin Microbiol, 52 (1), pp. 226-233. | Show Abstract | Read more

Tuberculous meningitis (TBM) is the most severe form of tuberculosis. Microbiological confirmation is rare, and treatment is often delayed, increasing mortality and morbidity. The GeneXpert MTB/RIF test was evaluated in a large cohort of patients with suspected tuberculous meningitis. Three hundred seventy-nine patients presenting with suspected tuberculous meningitis to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, between 17 April 2011 and 31 December 2012 were included in the study. Cerebrospinal fluid samples were tested by Ziehl-Neelsen smear, mycobacterial growth indicator tube (MGIT) culture, and Xpert MTB/RIF. Rifampin (RIF) resistance results by Xpert were confirmed by an MTBDR-Plus line probe assay and all positive cultures were tested by phenotypic MGIT drug susceptibility testing. Overall, 182/379 included patients (48.0%) were diagnosed with tuberculous meningitis. Sensitivities of Xpert, smear, and MGIT culture among patients diagnosed with TBM were 59.3% (108/182 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 51.8 to 66.5%]), 78.6% (143/182 [95% CI, 71.9 to 84.3%]) and 66.5% (121/182 [95% CI, 59.1 to 73.3%]), respectively. There was one false-positive Xpert MTB/RIF test (99.5% specificity). Four cases of RIF resistance (4/109; 3.7%) were identified by Xpert, of which 3 were confirmed to be multidrug-resistant (MDR) TBM and one was culture negative. Xpert MTB/RIF is a rapid and specific test for the diagnosis of tuberculous meningitis. The addition of a vortexing step to sample processing increased sensitivity for confirmed TBM by 20% (P = 0.04). Meticulous examination of a smear from a large volume of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) remains the most sensitive technique but is not practical in most laboratories. The Xpert MTB/RIF represents a significant advance in the early diagnosis of this devastating condition.

South East Asia Infectious Disease Clinical Research Network. 2013. Effect of double dose oseltamivir on clinical and virological outcomes in children and adults admitted to hospital with severe influenza: double blind randomised controlled trial. BMJ, 346 (may30 2), pp. f3039. | Show Abstract | Read more

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the validity of recommendations in treatment guidelines to use higher than approved doses of oseltamivir in patients with severe influenza. DESIGN: Double blind randomised trial. SETTING: Thirteen hospitals in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. PARTICIPANTS: Patients aged ≥ 1 year admitted to hospital with confirmed severe influenza. INTERVENTIONS: Oral oseltamivir at double dose (150 mg twice a day/paediatric equivalent) versus standard dose (75 mg twice a day/paediatric equivalent). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Viral status according to reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for influenza RNA in nasal and throat swabs on day five. RESULTS: Of 326 patients (including 246 (75.5%) children aged <15), 165 and 161 were randomised to double or standard dose oseltamivir, respectively. Of these, 260 (79.8%) were infected with influenza virus A (133 (40.8%) with A/H3N2, 72 (22.1%) with A/H1N1-pdm09, 38 (11.7%) with seasonal A/H1N1, 17 (5.2%) with A/H5N1) and 53 (16.2%) with influenza virus B. A further 3.9% (13) were false positive by rapid antigen test (negative by RT-PCR and no rise in convalescent haemagglutination inhibition titers). Similar proportions of patients were negative for RT-PCR on day five of treatment: 115/159 (72.3%, 95% confidence interval 64.9% to 78.7%) double dose recipients versus 105/154 (68.2%, 60.5% to 75.0%) standard dose recipients; difference 4.2% (-5.9 to 14.2); P=0.42. No differences were found in clearance of virus in subgroup analyses by virus type/subtype, age, and duration of illness before randomisation. Mortality was similar: 12/165 (7.3%, 4.2% to 12.3%) in double dose recipients versus 9/161 (5.6%, 3.0% to 10.3%) in standard dose recipients. No differences were found between double and standard dose arms in median days on supplemental oxygen (3 (interquartile range 2-5) v 3.5 (2-7)), in intensive care (4.5 (3-6) v 5 (2-11), and on mechanical ventilation (2.5 (1-16) v 8 (1-16)), respectively. No important differences in tolerability were found. CONCLUSIONS: There were no virological or clinical advantages with double dose oseltamivir compared with standard dose in patients with severe influenza admitted to hospital. REGISTRATION: Clinical Trials NCT00298233.

Kolader M-E, Vinh H, Ngoc Tuyet PT, Thompson C, Wolbers M, Merson L, Campbell JI, Ngoc Dung TT, Manh Tuan H, Vinh Chau NV et al. 2013. An oral preparation of Lactobacillus acidophilus for the treatment of uncomplicated acute watery diarrhoea in Vietnamese children: study protocol for a multicentre, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Trials, 14 (1), pp. 27. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Diarrhoeal disease is a major global health problem, particularly affecting children under the age of 5 years. Besides oral rehydration solution, probiotics are also commonly prescribed to children with acute watery diarrhoea in some settings. Results from randomised clinical trials (RCTs) in which investigators studied the effect of probiotics on diarrhoeal symptoms have largely shown a positive effect; yet, the overall quality of the data is limited. In Vietnam, probiotics are the most frequently prescribed treatment for children hospitalised with acute watery diarrhoea, but there is little justification for this treatment in this location. We have designed a RCT to test the hypothesis that an oral preparation of Lactobacillus acidophilus is superior to placebo in the treatment of acute watery diarrhoea in Vietnamese children. METHODS: This RCT was designed to study the effect of treatment with L. acidophilus (4 × 109 colony-forming units/day) for 5 days for acute watery diarrhoea against a placebo in 300 children ages 9 to 60 months admitted to hospitals in Vietnam. Clinical and laboratory data plus samples will be collected on admission, daily during hospitalisation, at discharge, and at follow-up visits for a subset of participants. The primary end point will be defined as the time from the first dose of study medication to the start of the first 24-hour period without diarrhoea as assessed by the on-duty nurse. Secondary endpoints include the time to cessation of diarrhoea as recorded by parents or guardians in an hourly checklist, stool frequency over the first 3 days, treatment failure, rotavirus and norovirus viral loads, and adverse events. DISCUSSION: The existing evidence for the use of probiotics in treating acute watery diarrhoea seems to favour their use. However, the size of the effect varies across publications. An array of different probiotic organisms, doses, treatment durations, study populations, designs, settings, and aetiologies have been described. In this trial, we will investigate whether probiotics are beneficial as an adjuvant treatment for children with acute watery diarrhoea in Vietnam, with the aim of guiding clinical practice through improved regional evidence. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN88101063.

Shieh M, Thompson C, Phan VTM, Van TTL, Tediosi F, Merson L, Farrar JJ, Ha MT, Ho LV, Pham TNT, Baker S. 2013. The policy of free healthcare for children under the age of 6 years in Vietnam: assessment of the uptake for children hospitalised with acute diarrhoea in Ho Chi Minh City. Trop Med Int Health, 18 (12), pp. 1444-1451. | Show Abstract | Read more

OBJECTIVE: To assess the proportion of, and reasons for, households not utilising the policy of free healthcare for children under 6 years of age (FCCU6) for hospitalisation with diarrhoea, and assess the risk of catastrophic expenditure for households that forgo FCCU6 and pay out of pocket. METHODS: Invoices detailing insurance information and charges incurred from 472 hospitalised diarrhoeal cases in one paediatric hospital in Ho Chi Minh City were retrieved. Hospital charges and the utilisation of elective services were analysed for patients utilising and not utilising FCCU6. Associations between socio-economic factors with non-utilisation of FCCU6 were evaluated. RESULTS: Overall, 29% of patients were FCCU6 non-users. The FCCU6 non-users paid a median hospital charge of $29.13 (interquartile range, IQR: $18.57-46.24), consuming no more than 1.4% of a medium-income household's annual income. Seventy per cent of low-income FCCU6 non-users utilised less-expensive elective services, whereas only 43% of medium income patients and 21% of high-income patients did (P = 0.036). Patients from larger households and those with a parent working in government were more likely to use FCCU6. CONCLUSIONS: The rate of FCCU6 non-usage in this study population was 29%. A significant proportion of those that did not use FCCU6 was from lower income households and may perceive a justifiable cost-benefit ratio when forgoing FCCU6. Although a single diarrhoeal hospitalisation is unlikely to induce a catastrophic expenditure, FCCU6 non-usage may disproportionately increase the risk of catastrophic expenditure for lower income households over multiple illnesses.

Hien TT, Thuy-Nhien NT, Phu NH, Boni MF, Thanh NV, Nha-Ca NT, Thai LH, Thai CQ, Toi PV, Thuan PD et al. 2012. In vivo susceptibility of Plasmodium falciparum to artesunate in Binh Phuoc Province, Vietnam. Malar J, 11 (1), pp. 355. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: By 2009, there were worrying signs from western Cambodia that parasitological responses to artesunate-containing treatment regimens for uncomplicated Plasmodium falciparum malaria were slower than elsewhere which suggested the emergence of artemisinin resistance. Vietnam shares a long land border with Cambodia with a large number of migrants crossing it on a daily basis. Therefore, there is an urgent need to investigate whether there is any evidence of a change in the parasitological response to the artemisinin derivatives in Vietnam. METHODS: From August 2010 to May 2011, a randomized controlled clinical trial in uncomplicated falciparum malaria was conducted to compare two doses of artesunate (AS) (2mg/kg/day versus 4 mg/kg/day for three days) followed by dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (DHA-PPQ) and a control arm of DHA-PPQ. The goal was characterization of the current efficacy of artesunate in southern Vietnam. The primary endpoint of this study was the parasite clearance half-life; secondary endpoints included the parasite reduction ratios at 24 and 48 hours and the parasite clearance time. RESULTS: 166 patients were recruited into the study. The median parasite clearance half-lives were 3.54 (AS 2mg/kg), 2.72 (AS 4mg/kg), and 2.98 hours (DHA-PPQ) (p=0.19). The median parasite-reduction ratio at 24 hours was 48 in the AS 2mg/kg group compared with 212 and 113 in the other two groups, respectively (p=0.02). The proportions of patients with a parasite clearance time of >72 hours for AS 2mg/kg, AS 4mg/kg and DHA-PPQ were 27%, 27%, and 22%, respectively. Early treatment failure occurred in two (4%) and late clinical failure occurred in one (2%) of the 55 patients in the AS 2mg/kg group, as compared with none in the other two study arms. The PCR-corrected adequate clinical and parasitological response (APCR) rates in the three groups were 94%, 100%, and 100% (p=0.04). CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrated faster P. falciparum parasite clearance in southern Vietnam than in western Cambodia but slower clearance in comparison with historical data from Vietnam. Further studies to determine whether this represents the emergence of artemisinin resistance in this area are needed. Currently, the therapeutic response to DHA-PPQ remains satisfactory in southern Vietnam. TRIAL REGISTRATION: NTC01165372.

Nguyen NM, Tran CNB, Phung LK, Duong KTH, Huynh HLA, Farrar J, Nguyen QTH, Tran HT, Nguyen CVV, Merson L et al. 2013. A randomized, double-blind placebo controlled trial of balapiravir, a polymerase inhibitor, in adult dengue patients. J Infect Dis, 207 (9), pp. 1442-1450. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Dengue is the most common arboviral infection of humans. There are currently no specific treatments for dengue. Balapiravir is a prodrug of a nucleoside analogue (called R1479) and an inhibitor of hepatitis C virus replication in vivo. METHODS: We conducted in vitro experiments to determine the potency of balapiravir against dengue viruses and then an exploratory, dose-escalating, randomized placebo-controlled trial in adult male patients with dengue with <48 hours of fever. RESULTS: The clinical and laboratory adverse event profile in patients receiving balapiravir at doses of 1500 mg (n = 10) or 3000 mg (n = 22) orally for 5 days was similar to that of patients receiving placebo (n = 32), indicating balapiravir was well tolerated. However, twice daily assessment of viremia and daily assessment of NS1 antigenemia indicated balapiravir did not measurably alter the kinetics of these virological markers, nor did it reduce the fever clearance time. The kinetics of plasma cytokine concentrations and the whole blood transcriptional profile were also not attenuated by balapiravir treatment. CONCLUSIONS: Although this trial, the first of its kind in dengue, does not support balapiravir as a candidate drug, it does establish a framework for antiviral treatment trials in dengue and provides the field with a clinically evaluated benchmark molecule. CLINICAL TRIALS REGISTRATION: NCT01096576.

van Doorn HR, Kinh NV, Tuan HM, Tuan TA, Minh NNQ, Bryant JE, Hang VTT, Uyen LTT, Thinh LQ, Anh TTN et al. 2012. Clinical validation of a point-of-care multiplexed in vitro immunoassay using monoclonal antibodies (the MSD influenza test) in four hospitals in Vietnam. J Clin Microbiol, 50 (5), pp. 1621-1625. | Show Abstract | Read more

Point-of-care (POC) diagnostic tests for influenza can considerably shorten the time to clinical decision making. An investigational POC test based on a multiplexed immunoassay was developed by Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC (MSD), with the objective to make a more sensitive rapid test that can also subtype influenza A viruses (1977 H1, H3, and H5). Between February and November 2010, we conducted a prospective multicenter study at four hospitals in Vietnam and compared the performance of this test to that of the WHO/CDC real-time reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) on nasal and throat swab specimens from patients presenting with influenza-like illness. Five hundred sixty-three adults and children with a median age of 25 months were enrolled. Sensitivity and specificity of the test with combined results from nasal and throat swab samples were 74.0% (131/177) and 99.7% (351/352), respectively, compared to RT-PCR. The POC test was as sensitive for influenza virus B as for influenza virus A (74.4% [64/86] versus 73.6% [67/91]). The positivity rate was associated with lower cycle threshold values (a marker for higher viral loads), sample type (73.6% for nasal swab versus 52.4% for throat swab), and younger age. A total of 210 (18.7%) out of 1,126 MSD tests failed, and for 34 (6%) of patients, both test samples failed (these were excluded from the performance analysis). Subtyping could be assessed only for influenza virus A/H3N2, as 1977 H1N1 was not circulating at the time and no H5N1-infected patients were enrolled, and was successful only in 9/54 patients infected with H3 influenza virus who had a positive POC test result for influenza virus A. This novel POC test provided highly sensitive detection of influenza viruses A and B compared to the reported sensitivities of other rapid tests. However, 18.7% of tests failed for technical reasons and subtyping for H3 was poor. Drawbacks to the technology include the requirement for a dedicated reader instrument and the need for continual updating of subtyping antibodies within the test array.

Whitehorn J, Van Vinh Chau N, Truong NT, Tai LTH, Van Hao N, Hien TT, Wolbers M, Merson L, Dung NTP, Peeling R et al. 2012. Lovastatin for adult patients with dengue: protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Trials, 13 (1), pp. 203. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Dengue is the most important vector-borne viral infection of man, with approximately 2 billion people living in areas at risk. Infection results in a range of manifestations from asymptomatic infection through to life-threatening shock and haemorrhage. One of the hallmarks of severe dengue is vascular endothelial disruption. There is currently no specific therapy and clinical management is limited to supportive care. Statins are a class of drug initially developed for lipid lowering. There has been considerable recent interest in their effects beyond lipid lowering. These include anti-inflammatory effects at the endothelium. In addition, it is possible that lovastatin may have an anti-viral effect against dengue. Observational data suggest that the use of statins may improve outcomes for such conditions as sepsis and pneumonia. This paper describes the protocol for a randomised controlled trial investigating a short course of lovastatin therapy in adult patients with dengue. METHODS/DESIGN: A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial will investigate the effects of lovastatin therapy in the treatment of dengue. The trial will be conducted in two phases with an escalation of dose between phases if an interim safety review is satisfactory. This is an exploratory study focusing on safety and there are no data on which to base a sample size calculation. A target sample size of 300 patients in the second phase, enrolled over two dengue seasons, was chosen based on clinical judgement and feasibility considerations. In a previous randomised trial in dengue, about 10% and 30% of patients experienced at least one serious adverse event or adverse event, respectively. With 300 patients, we will have 80% power to detect an increase of 12% (from 10% to 22%) or 16% (from 30% to 46%) in the frequency of adverse events. Furthermore, this sample size ensures some power to explore the efficacy of statins. DISCUSSION: The development of a dengue therapeutic that can attenuate disease would be an enormous advance in global health. The favourable effects of statins on the endothelium, their good safety profile and their low cost make lovastatin an attractive therapeutic candidate. TRIAL REGISTRATION: International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number ISRCTN03147572.

Heemskerk D, Day J, Chau TTH, Dung NH, Yen NTB, Bang ND, Merson L, Olliaro P, Pouplin T, Caws M et al. 2011. Intensified treatment with high dose rifampicin and levofloxacin compared to standard treatment for adult patients with tuberculous meningitis (TBM-IT): protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 12 (1), pp. 25. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Tuberculous meningitis is the most severe form of tuberculosis. Mortality for untreated tuberculous meningitis is 100%. Despite the introduction of antibiotic treatment for tuberculosis the mortality rate for tuberculous meningitis remains high; approximately 25% for HIV-negative and 67% for HIV positive patients with most deaths occurring within one month of starting therapy. The high mortality rate in tuberculous meningitis reflects the severity of the condition but also the poor antibacterial activity of current treatment regimes and relatively poor penetration of these drugs into the central nervous system. Improving the antitubercular activity in the central nervous system of current therapy may help improve outcomes. Increasing the dose of rifampicin, a key drug with known poor cerebrospinal fluid penetration may lead to higher drug levels at the site of infection and may improve survival. Of the second generation fluoroquinolones, levofloxacin may have the optimal pharmacological features including cerebrospinal fluid penetration, with a ratio of Area Under the Curve (AUC) in cerebrospinal fluid to AUC in plasma of >75% and strong bactericidal activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. We propose a randomized controlled trial to assess the efficacy of an intensified anti-tubercular treatment regimen in tuberculous meningitis patients, comparing current standard tuberculous meningitis treatment regimens with standard treatment intensified with high-dose rifampicin and additional levofloxacin. METHODS/DESIGN: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial with two parallel arms, comparing standard Vietnamese national guideline treatment for tuberculous meningitis with standard treatment plus an increased dose of rifampicin (to 15 mg/kg/day total) and additional levofloxacin. The study will include 750 patients (375 per treatment group) including a minimum of 350 HIV-positive patients. The calculation assumes an overall mortality of 40% vs. 30% in the two arms, respectively (corresponding to a target hazard ratio of 0.7), a power of 80% and a two-sided significance level of 5%. Randomization ratio is 1:1. The primary endpoint is overall survival, i.e. time from randomization to death during a follow-up period of 9 months. Secondary endpoints are: neurological disability at 9 months, time to new neurological event or death, time to new or recurrent AIDS-defining illness or death (in HIV-positive patients only), severe adverse events, and rate of treatment interruption for adverse events. DISCUSSION: Currently very few options are available for the treatment of TBM and the mortality rate remains unacceptably high with severe disabilities seen in many of the survivors. This trial is based on the hypothesis that current anti-mycobacterial treatment schedules for TBM are not potent enough and that outcomes will be improved by increasing the CSF penetrating power of this regimen by optimising dosage and using additional drugs with better CSF penetration. TRIAL REGISTRATION: International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number ISRCTN61649292.

Lang TA, White NJ, Tran HT, Farrar JJ, Day NPJ, Fitzpatrick R, Angus BJ, Denis E, Merson L, Cheah PY et al. 2010. Clinical research in resource-limited settings: enhancing research capacity and working together to make trials less complicated. PLoS Negl Trop Dis, 4 (6), pp. e619. | Read more

Premawardhena A, Fisher CA, Olivieri NF, de Silva S, Arambepola M, Perera W, O'Donnell A, Peto TEA, Viprakasit V, Merson L et al. 2005. Haemoglobin E beta thalassaemia in Sri Lanka. Lancet, 366 (9495), pp. 1467-1470. | Show Abstract | Read more

Haemoglobin E beta thalassaemia is the commonest form of severe thalassaemia in many Asian countries, but little is known about its natural history, the reasons for clinical diversity, or its management. We studied 109 Sri Lankan patients with the disorder over 5 years. 25 patients were not receiving transfusion; transfusion was stopped with no deleterious effect in a further 37. We identified several genetic and environmental factors that might contribute to the phenotypic diversity of the disorder, including modifiers of haemoglobin F production, malaria, and age-related changes in adaptive function. Our findings suggest that haemoglobin E beta thalassaemia can be managed without transfusion in many patients, even with low haemoglobin levels. Age-related changes in the pattern of adaptation to anaemia suggest that different and more cost-effective approaches to management should be explored.

Premawardhena A, De Silva S, Arambepola M, Olivieri N, Merson L, Muraco J, Allen A, Fisher C, Peto T, Vichinsky E, Weatherall D. 2004. Thalassemia in Sri Lanka: a progress report. Hum Mol Genet, 13 Spec No 2 (suppl_2), pp. R203-R206. | Show Abstract | Read more

The thalassemias pose an increasing burden for health-care services in many Asian countries. In order to conserve rare resources, it is essential to determine the reasons for the remarkable phenotypic heterogeneity and natural history of these disorders so that the most cost-effective methods for their control and management can be established. A long-term observational study of patients with different forms of thalassemia in Sri Lanka suggests that in addition to the well-defined primary, secondary and tertiary genetic modifiers, environmental factors, particularly malaria, and variation in the ability to adapt to the profound anaemia which characterizes these conditions, may play a significant role in determining their clinical severity. These findings may have important implications for the control and management of thalassemia in Asian populations.

Pisani E, Aaby P, Breugelmans JG, Carr D, Groves T, Helinski M, Kamuya D, Kern S, Littler K, Marsh V et al. 2016. Beyond open data: realising the health benefits of sharing data. BMJ, 355 pp. i5295. | Read more

Merson L, Gaye O, Guerin PJ. 2016. Avoiding Data Dumpsters--Toward Equitable and Useful Data Sharing. N Engl J Med, 374 (25), pp. 2414-2415. | Read more

Dunning J, Sahr F, Rojek A, Gannon F, Carson G, Idriss B, Massaquoi T, Gandi R, Joseph S, Osman HK et al. 2016. Experimental Treatment of Ebola Virus Disease with TKM-130803: A Single-Arm Phase 2 Clinical Trial. PLoS Med, 13 (4), pp. e1001997. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: TKM-130803, a small interfering RNA lipid nanoparticle product, has been developed for the treatment of Ebola virus disease (EVD), but its efficacy and safety in humans has not been evaluated. METHODS AND FINDINGS: In this single-arm phase 2 trial, adults with laboratory-confirmed EVD received 0.3 mg/kg of TKM-130803 by intravenous infusion once daily for up to 7 d. On days when trial enrolment capacity was reached, patients were enrolled into a concurrent observational cohort. The primary outcome was survival to day 14 after admission, excluding patients who died within 48 h of admission. After 14 adults with EVD had received TKM-130803, the pre-specified futility boundary was reached, indicating a probability of survival to day 14 of ≤0.55, and enrolment was stopped. Pre-treatment geometric mean Ebola virus load in the 14 TKM-130803 recipients was 2.24 × 109 RNA copies/ml plasma (95% CI 7.52 × 108, 6.66 × 109). Two of the TKM-130803 recipients died within 48 h of admission and were therefore excluded from the primary outcome analysis. Of the remaining 12 TKM-130803 recipients, nine died and three survived. The probability that a TKM-130803 recipient who survived for 48 h will subsequently survive to day 14 was estimated to be 0.27 (95% CI 0.06, 0.58). TKM-130803 infusions were well tolerated, with 56 doses administered and only one possible infusion-related reaction observed. Three patients were enrolled in the observational cohort, of whom two died. CONCLUSIONS: Administration of TKM-130803 at a dose of 0.3 mg/kg/d by intravenous infusion to adult patients with severe EVD was not shown to improve survival when compared to historic controls. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Pan African Clinical Trials Registry PACTR201501000997429.

Dunning JW, Merson L, Rohde GGU, Gao Z, Semple MG, Tran D, Gordon A, Olliaro PL, Khoo SH, Bruzzone R et al. 2014. Open source clinical science for emerging infections. Lancet Infect Dis, 14 (1), pp. 8-9. | Read more

South East Asia Infectious Disease Clinical Research Network. 2013. Effect of double dose oseltamivir on clinical and virological outcomes in children and adults admitted to hospital with severe influenza: double blind randomised controlled trial. BMJ, 346 (may30 2), pp. f3039. | Show Abstract | Read more

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the validity of recommendations in treatment guidelines to use higher than approved doses of oseltamivir in patients with severe influenza. DESIGN: Double blind randomised trial. SETTING: Thirteen hospitals in Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. PARTICIPANTS: Patients aged ≥ 1 year admitted to hospital with confirmed severe influenza. INTERVENTIONS: Oral oseltamivir at double dose (150 mg twice a day/paediatric equivalent) versus standard dose (75 mg twice a day/paediatric equivalent). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Viral status according to reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for influenza RNA in nasal and throat swabs on day five. RESULTS: Of 326 patients (including 246 (75.5%) children aged <15), 165 and 161 were randomised to double or standard dose oseltamivir, respectively. Of these, 260 (79.8%) were infected with influenza virus A (133 (40.8%) with A/H3N2, 72 (22.1%) with A/H1N1-pdm09, 38 (11.7%) with seasonal A/H1N1, 17 (5.2%) with A/H5N1) and 53 (16.2%) with influenza virus B. A further 3.9% (13) were false positive by rapid antigen test (negative by RT-PCR and no rise in convalescent haemagglutination inhibition titers). Similar proportions of patients were negative for RT-PCR on day five of treatment: 115/159 (72.3%, 95% confidence interval 64.9% to 78.7%) double dose recipients versus 105/154 (68.2%, 60.5% to 75.0%) standard dose recipients; difference 4.2% (-5.9 to 14.2); P=0.42. No differences were found in clearance of virus in subgroup analyses by virus type/subtype, age, and duration of illness before randomisation. Mortality was similar: 12/165 (7.3%, 4.2% to 12.3%) in double dose recipients versus 9/161 (5.6%, 3.0% to 10.3%) in standard dose recipients. No differences were found between double and standard dose arms in median days on supplemental oxygen (3 (interquartile range 2-5) v 3.5 (2-7)), in intensive care (4.5 (3-6) v 5 (2-11), and on mechanical ventilation (2.5 (1-16) v 8 (1-16)), respectively. No important differences in tolerability were found. CONCLUSIONS: There were no virological or clinical advantages with double dose oseltamivir compared with standard dose in patients with severe influenza admitted to hospital. REGISTRATION: Clinical Trials NCT00298233.

Heemskerk D, Day J, Chau TTH, Dung NH, Yen NTB, Bang ND, Merson L, Olliaro P, Pouplin T, Caws M et al. 2011. Intensified treatment with high dose rifampicin and levofloxacin compared to standard treatment for adult patients with tuberculous meningitis (TBM-IT): protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials, 12 (1), pp. 25. | Show Abstract | Read more

BACKGROUND: Tuberculous meningitis is the most severe form of tuberculosis. Mortality for untreated tuberculous meningitis is 100%. Despite the introduction of antibiotic treatment for tuberculosis the mortality rate for tuberculous meningitis remains high; approximately 25% for HIV-negative and 67% for HIV positive patients with most deaths occurring within one month of starting therapy. The high mortality rate in tuberculous meningitis reflects the severity of the condition but also the poor antibacterial activity of current treatment regimes and relatively poor penetration of these drugs into the central nervous system. Improving the antitubercular activity in the central nervous system of current therapy may help improve outcomes. Increasing the dose of rifampicin, a key drug with known poor cerebrospinal fluid penetration may lead to higher drug levels at the site of infection and may improve survival. Of the second generation fluoroquinolones, levofloxacin may have the optimal pharmacological features including cerebrospinal fluid penetration, with a ratio of Area Under the Curve (AUC) in cerebrospinal fluid to AUC in plasma of >75% and strong bactericidal activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. We propose a randomized controlled trial to assess the efficacy of an intensified anti-tubercular treatment regimen in tuberculous meningitis patients, comparing current standard tuberculous meningitis treatment regimens with standard treatment intensified with high-dose rifampicin and additional levofloxacin. METHODS/DESIGN: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial with two parallel arms, comparing standard Vietnamese national guideline treatment for tuberculous meningitis with standard treatment plus an increased dose of rifampicin (to 15 mg/kg/day total) and additional levofloxacin. The study will include 750 patients (375 per treatment group) including a minimum of 350 HIV-positive patients. The calculation assumes an overall mortality of 40% vs. 30% in the two arms, respectively (corresponding to a target hazard ratio of 0.7), a power of 80% and a two-sided significance level of 5%. Randomization ratio is 1:1. The primary endpoint is overall survival, i.e. time from randomization to death during a follow-up period of 9 months. Secondary endpoints are: neurological disability at 9 months, time to new neurological event or death, time to new or recurrent AIDS-defining illness or death (in HIV-positive patients only), severe adverse events, and rate of treatment interruption for adverse events. DISCUSSION: Currently very few options are available for the treatment of TBM and the mortality rate remains unacceptably high with severe disabilities seen in many of the survivors. This trial is based on the hypothesis that current anti-mycobacterial treatment schedules for TBM are not potent enough and that outcomes will be improved by increasing the CSF penetrating power of this regimen by optimising dosage and using additional drugs with better CSF penetration. TRIAL REGISTRATION: International Standard Randomised Controlled Trial Number ISRCTN61649292.

Premawardhena A, Fisher CA, Olivieri NF, de Silva S, Arambepola M, Perera W, O'Donnell A, Peto TEA, Viprakasit V, Merson L et al. 2005. Haemoglobin E beta thalassaemia in Sri Lanka. Lancet, 366 (9495), pp. 1467-1470. | Show Abstract | Read more

Haemoglobin E beta thalassaemia is the commonest form of severe thalassaemia in many Asian countries, but little is known about its natural history, the reasons for clinical diversity, or its management. We studied 109 Sri Lankan patients with the disorder over 5 years. 25 patients were not receiving transfusion; transfusion was stopped with no deleterious effect in a further 37. We identified several genetic and environmental factors that might contribute to the phenotypic diversity of the disorder, including modifiers of haemoglobin F production, malaria, and age-related changes in adaptive function. Our findings suggest that haemoglobin E beta thalassaemia can be managed without transfusion in many patients, even with low haemoglobin levels. Age-related changes in the pattern of adaptation to anaemia suggest that different and more cost-effective approaches to management should be explored.

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