One year into the project, the TriageTB consortium got together virtually for the Year 1 Meeting on November 16-17, 2020. Despite intermittent lockdowns and ‘the new normal’ this year, the consortium has managed to stay productive.
One year ago, on November 14-15, 2019, the TriageTB consortium met for the project's kick-off meeting in Cape Town, South Africa. This year’s annual meeting was also originally scheduled to be an in-person event. However, due to COVID-19, it was instead, as most events this year, held online.
All consortium members from South Africa, the Gambia, Uganda, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland attended the meeting, which was chaired by Prof Gerhard Walzl, TriageTB’s Coordinator, from Stellenbosch University (SUN).
During the meeting, each work package leader presented their progress from the last year. Overall, the consortium has managed to stay productive and move the study forward despite the many challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic. COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns have forced the TriageTB recruitment team to push back the recruitment start. The initial goal was to pre-screen the first patients this spring, the new aim is to start recruiting in early December.
To make up for the recruitment delay, the consortium applied for a six-month no-cost extension from the funder, the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP). The request was approved and TriageTB is now scheduled to run for four-and-a-half years, until March 2024.
Work Package 4 - Capacity Development and Networking, led by Prof Hazel Dockrell from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), aims to strengthen capacities of both scientific and administrative staff of all TriageTB’s partner institutions.
In a previous article, Prof Dockrell described the flexible set-up of TriageTB’s capacity building scheme and discussed how both mentors and mentees can profit from mentoring. During last week’s meeting, she commented that the support that the scheme offers its participants is especially important in the fast-changing challenging times we currently live in.
Many mentees agreed with this analysis. ‘The stress of this year sometimes leaves me feeling unfocused and speaking to my mentor can help to put things into perspective again. I feel like I have benefited more [from being a mentee] this year than previous years,’ said one mentee.
TriageTB’s capacity building scheme consists of 13 mentor-mentee pairs. To help everyone get the most out of their participation in the scheme, Prof Dockrell hosted two 45-minute brainstorming workshops (one for mentors and one for mentees), conceptualized by Liora Jaffe of LINQ, at the Year 1 Meeting. The sessions offered mentors and mentees a chance to discuss common challenges in their role as mentor/mentee - and strategies for overcoming them. The workshops were held in Mural, an online whiteboard software that enables remote teams to collaborate visually.
One of the most common challenges experienced by the mentor-mentee pairs is finding and prioritizing time to ‘meet’, especially this year when face-to-face communication is not an option. To overcome this challenge, each mentor-mentee pair was asked during the meeting to plan out their meetings for the first half of 2021 and to think about new and creative ways to connect (for example, by using messaging apps and other digital tools).
For next year, presuming that traveling is deemed safe, the plan is to arrange for an exchange programme where a one or more of students from SUN may travel to Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands for training on assay development. There will also be an exchange between Makerere University in Uganda and SUN, where at least one PhD student from Uganda is planned to spend six months in Cape Town.
The TriageTB Year 1 Meeting also included the first official meeting of the project’s Scientific Advisory Board, an independent group of experts that provides oversight of the project as well as expertise and recommendations. The board members participated actively in the discussions and, in a designated session, provided valuable feedback on the status of the project, including a concise SWOT analysis and targeted recommendations. Here, special focus was put on the TriageTB’s collaboration with its new sister project ENDxTB.
ENDxTB, which started in mid-June this year, will receive €6.4 million from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) over five years and aims to evaluate new diagnostics for incident, active, and recurrent TB. It was decided that the two project consortia will hold joint meetings from 2021.