COVID-19 has exposed our vulnerability to pandemic infections and shown what works, and what does not. It has tested the effectiveness of the Oxford-based global, open-source, collaborative approach set up 10 years ago to prevent illness and deaths from infectious disease outbreaks: ISARIC, the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium.

In January 2020, ISARIC launched the dedicated COVID-19 Clinical Characterisation Protocol (CCP) and Case Report Forms (CRF) as well as a free data management platform for researchers to upload their clinical data, globally. The database was open and publicly accessible from 23 January, 2020, when less than a thousand COVID-19 cases had been reported globally.

‘I remember I kept refreshing the database page, waiting for the first patient records to come through,’ said James Lee, ISARIC Senior Clinical Trials Manager.

On 13 February, the first patient record was successfully uploaded onto the platform. Barely a month later, this number reached 10K records.  Now, 18 months into the pandemic, there are more than half-a-million records, and the ISARIC clinical data platform has grown to become the largest international individual patient dataset of COVID-19 hospitalised cases.

It is a model of global peer-to-peer collaboration, with contributions by 788 sites in 62 countries. Cases are about 50:50 from high-income and low- and middle-income countries. This work is in close partnership with IDDO (the Infectious Diseases Data Observatory), which curates and host the data platform.

 On its 10th anniversary, ISARIC demonstrates the crucial role of global preparedness and collaboration for advancing knowledge on infectious disease pandemics.

‘This is what we prepared for, and we successfully facilitated global collaboration and furthered the knowledge on COVID-19,’ said  Sir Peter Horby, ISARIC Executive Director and Oxford Professor of emerging infectious diseases.

The vital elements of a successful response to outbreaks is preparedness: ISARIC has built research tools and a data management platform with an established network of researchers from all over the world.  For 10 years, ISARIC has been championing the use of pre-prepared research tools, global collaboration and research-ready clinical networks. In 2012, ISARIC launched the Clinical Characterisation Protocol (CCP) in collaboration with the WHO.

To make clinical and biological observations within a timeframe that can benefit patient care with COVID-19 and inform policy, coordination of global research must match the speed of spread. ISARIC’s pre-prepared research tools, global collaboration and research-readiness accomplish this. This meant ISARIC was able to implement these tools rapidly at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The effort to gather more evidence continued, and the CRF was translated into five different languages to facilitate global access to these tools.  A new RAPID CRF version was also launched, focused on selected information.

The ISARIC global collaboration adapts to the evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is now gathering evidence on vaccine breakthrough cases, virus variants and Long COVID.

ISARIC is a global federation of clinical research networks, providing a proficient, coordinated, and agile research response to outbreak-prone infectious diseases. ISARIC’s mission is to generate and disseminate clinical research evidence for outbreak-prone infectious diseases, whenever and wherever they occur.

This research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the UK Department for International Development, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.