Corona turns the world upside down. But cancer never pauses. Time is key for cancer patients all over the world and they cannot wait until we have found “the new normal” to seek their essential treatment. A logistical challenge - not only but especially in these times.
Every day people go to the doctor or to hospitals to receive medical care. Every day, tons of products are shipped from A to B all over the world, including essential medicines. Usually. The corona pandemic has changed a lot: Hospitals must shift resources, doctors help treat Covid-19 patients, supply chains break down because air traffic is restricted, to name just a few examples. Many things can wait, but medical care cannot. Especially for cancer patients it is of utmost importance that they get their treatment without delay. With great commitment and creative solutions, many teams from Bayer are working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that cancer patients receive their medication within their required treatment schedule under these difficult conditions.
48 Hours to Reach Advanced Prostate Cancer Patients
With the Corona outbreak and the air traffic restrictions around the world, the shipment of Bayer’s radiopharmaceutical medication for advanced prostate cancer which has spread to the bone, has become a new dimension. The product is an alpha particle emitter and production and shipment are a complex and constant challenge even in normal times. Since the product contains alpha particles, the time factor plays a very important role because the radioactivity of the medication is reduced gradually. Due to the short shelf life of the product, it is not possible to build safety stocks in the countries in order to absorb disruptions in the supply chain. The medicine needs to reach the patient within 48 hours after production in order to ensure the right level of activity can be administered for treatment. Produced in Oslo, Norway, the product is usually delivered either by ground transport or, in the case of overseas markets, by airline partners which are familiar with the transport of this special product.
Due to the pandemic, no civil airliner could fly into certain markets in Europe anymore as many countries and islands were under lock-down. However, in some of those countries there were patients who were due to receive their next treatment cycle with this radiopharmaceutical medication. Waiting would not have been an option as the recommended treatment schedule requires the patients to receive the drug every four weeks. Bayer investigated many options to supply the patients with the urgently needed medicine; especially in more remote places such as islands: Is a military cargo flight an option? Or could patients from islands be flown out to the mainland with a charted jet where they can be treated in a hospital? Charter an own plane to supply those patients - potentially multiple times until we return to “normal”? Finally, a solution for all patients in need was found: the product that had been shipped from the production site in Oslo to the Middle East, was redirected to Europe with the help of a cargo flight that the team identified. That way, it was possible to deliver the required medication doses to those patients in need. Global logistics for the alpha particle emitter remains a tremendous challenge for the foreseeable future, but our teams remain vigilant to respond to any challenge in times when flight operations might still be constrained due to the Corona pandemic.
Bringing a New Treatment Option to Patients in Germany
A new prostate cancer treatment has been approved by the European Medicines Agency in the midst of the Corona outbreak in Europe. The team in Germany has diligently worked on the launch preparations for months to ensure the new product does not only reach the patients as soon as possible following the approval from a logistical standpoint, but also to ensure that they can start to inform physicians immediately on the drug to ensure appropriate use. While the outbreak of the pandemic was in full swing and the country and hospitals were planning for the worst-case scenario freeing up capacities wherever possible and putting treatment that was not time sensitive on hold, the team revised the launch communication activities literally overnight. Sales representatives were trained virtually. Important advisory board and webinars with physicians were hosted in a virtual and interactive manner to discuss and inform about the new treatment option. Newsletters were sent on a regular basis to support physicians during this crisis situation. A social media campaign was initiated to empower patients to still seek their cancer treatment and ask for all their available options while people were locked at home. Waiting to launch the product at a later point in time was not an option as it is critical for these patients to receive treatment in order to delay the progression of the disease.
Radium 223 and the Fight against Prostate Cancer
Therapy Could Be Continued in Home Country
For some patients, there is no approved therapy to treat their cancer. In this case, they can access to an investigational medicine if their doctor believes that it could help them. Often this is done in a clinical trial, but in some cases when a regular clinical trial is not available for a patient, also via single patient access as compassionate use. In the case of a cancer patient from a country in south Asia, the patient would normally receive such an investigational medicine from Bayer at a US clinic involved in such a program. The investigational therapy is a highly selective treatment currently in development and a global charity supporting underserved patients was helping this patient to get in care in the US. In times of travel restrictions across the world it was however impossible for the patient to get there -but he needed to continue the therapy. and so Bayer was able to ensure safe shipment of therapy to the respective country in Asia and the patient continues to respond well to treatment according to the local physician.
For this patient, despite several obstacles, including flight restrictions, a hospital and government shutdown in the home country and normal supply routes out of action, the Bayer team successfully ensured therapy could be provided to the patient remotely. The Bayer teams were mobilized into action: in particular with the work of Jasmin Ashour, Study Manager ensuring regular contact with couriers, the clinic in the U.S., the hospital and cancer institute in the patient’s home country, and James Travis from Bayer’s Governmental Relations team in the US, who led discussions with consulates and a former US ambassador to mobilize connections in Asia, finally a route could be opened up for shipment of therapy. ”Failure was not an option”, said Binita Patel, Clinical Project Manager for the respective program. With the support of the extended Bayer family the patient could remain on therapy.