When the new coronavirus roared on the world scene in late December 2019, scientists rushed to discover information about the mysterious virus and the disease it caused.
At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, investigators began studying the literature surrounding COVID-19 and communicating with partners in China and Singapore to understand how the disease affects children with cancer.
“Right now, we don’t know how to treat COVID-19,” said Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD, executive vice president and director of St. Jude Global. “There is controversy about what type of treatments are available and should be given. We don’t know how this impacts children and the services required to deliver care. The problem is still evolving.”
A national collaboration
In its role as a coordinating center for the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Transplant Network (PIDTRAN), St. Jude is hosting a U.S. registry of pediatric cases of COVID-19, available at pedscovid19registry.com. The network is part of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society and the coordinating center is housed within the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases under the direction of Gabriela Maron, MD. St. Jude, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Seattle Children’s Hospital and Chicago Children’s Hospital collaborated to launch the COVID-19 registry.
The registry opened in March to collect de-identified information about U.S. residents younger than 21 diagnosed with COVID-19. Doctors hope to learn more about the incidence, distribution, clinical presentation, management and outcomes of the infection in children. Health care providers and researchers will use those details to help develop better treatment and prevention strategies for pediatric patients with COVID-19.
By early July, data on more than 3,000 pediatric COVID-19 cases had been submitted to the registry from 127 institutions.
Around the time the registry was gearing up, Miguela Caniza, MD, director of St. Jude Global’s Infectious Diseases Program, led an annual training session on global infectious diseases. Colleagues from 14 countries met at St. Jude for the scheduled course. With the pandemic on everyone’s minds, the meeting quickly turned into a pediatric cancer–COVID-19 working group.
“We are facing a global challenge like never before, and we need to articulate a response that brings together multiple organizations around the world,” says Rodriguez-Galindo. “Not only is this virus placing the lives of children with cancer at risk, but it is also disrupting the entire continuum of cancer care. Access to care around the world is limited, and our international partners, like us, are focusing substantial hospital resources on fighting COVID-19.”
Building on that meeting, St. Jude Global created a website dedicated to the effect of the pandemic on the treatment of pediatric cancer patients around the globe. The Global COVID-19 Observatory and Resource Center for Childhood Cancer is for health care professionals who focus on pediatric cancer. The resource provides a way for providers worldwide to collaborate, connect and find the latest information on COVID-19 as it relates to childhood cancer.
St. Jude and the International Society of Paediatric Oncology (SIOP) developed the site. Clinicians can contribute to or access information from a COVID-19 registry that includes de-identified data on reported cases. Health care professionals around the globe can also consult the site’s resource library or collaborate with their peers through online seminars and workshops.
The virtual center opened in April 2020. By early July, 405 COVID-19–positive de-identified pediatric cancer cases from 28 countries had been added to the registry.
“Through St. Jude Global, this new effort coordinates knowledge-sharing for treating pediatric cancer patients who have COVID-19,” says St. Jude President and CEO James R. Downing, MD. “Development of COVID-19 is particularly worrisome because these patients have suppressed immune systems from cancer treatments. This platform is helping clinicians worldwide develop best practices for treating children with cancer and COVID-19.”
From Promise, Autumn 2020