Can cheap and readily available treatments like steroids and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs help save the sickest of H1N1 patients? New efforts by researchers in Canada, the United States and France could help answer this pressing question.

Randomized controlled studies looking at whether corticosteroids, statins or a combination of the two could contribute to improved survival rates in gravely ill pandemic flu patients are being organized in the three countries by linked networks of intensive care specialists, according to Dr. John Marshall, chair of the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group.

The aim is to try to gather data fast enough to answer the questions in real time, a goal that eluded researchers during SARS.

Toronto physicians treating SARS cases tried to mount a clinical trial to see whether the antiviral drug ribavirin — which was routinely given to SARS patients for lack of other options — was actually helping. But before the trial could be approved, the disease disappeared. The same could happen with this effort, admits Marshall.