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Our R&D Response to COVID-19: A Patients’ First Approach

Picture of author Iris Loew-Friedrich
Posted by
Iris Loew-Friedrich, Patient Value Development Solutions

At UCB, putting patients first in everything we do is at the heart of our mission and I am very pleased that as the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding the teams at UCB kept this principle at the forefront of all their actions and activities. To ensure we continued to meet the needs of our patients, caregivers, healthcare providers and healthcare systems we continuously assessed what we were doing, adapted and took the appropriate steps needed to safeguard the health and safety of the communities we serve.

One of our first actions was to accelerate our focus on using technology to transform our clinical studies and bring clinical studies into the patients’ home. In addition, our teams digitalized our clinical studies protocols, which streamlined our operations to manage the risks and execution of our trials, ensuring less burden on patients. Following this, our actions were focused on three pillars - contributing to basic research and treatment development, offering our expertise globally to increase local testing capabilities, and supporting local communities through donations and direct support to patients and partners.

A few examples of our actions globally included:

  • Working with the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease to identify crystal structures of SARS-CoV-2 proteins.
  • Our research facility in Bedford, Massachusetts, donated safety glasses, gloves, disposable lab coats, protective suits and gowns, and bags of strip PCR tubes from our labs to be used by healthcare institutions and researchers in Massachusetts to test and treat patients with COVID-19.
  • Against the background of the disruption caused by COVID-19, UCB swiftly put in place relevant strategies and procedures for alternative modes of Quality auditing, based on an “audit at a distance” concept, involving remote and virtual auditing using new technologies (e.g. smart glasses).
  • The implementation of remote site monitoring allowing for the assessment of almost 400 patients from home. This enabled an easier process for patients and providers. Key features of the design include increased flexibility around the timing of procedures, direct-to-patient shipment of study medication, home nursing in place of on-site visits, telemedicine, and use of digital platforms for patient´s general feedback. This approach has resulted in strong patient continuation rates in our studies even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Rapid and ongoing review of the potential impact of our medicines on firstly the COVID-19 infection and later the response to vaccines.
  • Clear communication to all study participants and investigators on how to minimize the risks to patients while also enabling continued access to study medication, when to pause recruitment due to overwhelming strain on local healthcare system, and when to limit attendance of study participants to sites until the risk of infection was reduced.
  • UCB is a member of the COVID Research and Development Alliance bringing together the world’s most experienced and accomplished leaders in therapeutic drug research and development, and the resources of their organizations to identify, study, and accelerate the most promising candidates across a broad spectrum of therapies and vaccines.
Beyond our scientific contributions, we recognized we needed to do more for patients, our local communities, and our employees during this difficult time, including:

  1. Supporting our employees with additional engagement and working to ensure their well-being during this difficult time. At UCB, we believe that in order to fulfill our mission of delivering value to patients living with severe disease, we must first ensure the well-being and engagement of our employees. We are engaging our employees in new and creative ways from global wellness and seminars, health & wellness podcasts, newsletters, virtual town halls, and videos – doing what we can to allow for as many opportunities for employees to engage, share their feedback, and tell us how they’re feeling during this time so we can ensure we are meeting their physical, social and mental health needs, together.
  2. Stepping up on contributions to organizations working on the front lines of the COVID-19 relief efforts, totaling support for more than 30 organizations across the country with more than $1 million contributed around the world. Some organizations we were honored to support include hospitals, volunteer and charity organizations, food funds and pantries, as well as local organizations and businesses supporting those on the frontlines of caring for COVID-19 patients.  These contributions are part of our contributions globally to bring much needed relief in other countries where we live and work.
  3. To play our part in the global response to the pandemic, we also launched the new UCB Community Health Fund with an initial contribution of more than $3 million from UCB. Managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, the Fund aims to address health disparities among vulnerable populations. To start, the Fund will focus on contributing to understanding and reducing the medium- and long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the physical, mental, and social well-being of vulnerable youth.

The pandemic required us to not only be adaptive but resilient to the changing landscape. As a global organization we became more collaborative, supportive, and innovative in our response efforts with our true north in mind – the health and safety of our employees, patients and their caregivers.

I am delighted of how our teams at UCB have come together to innovate during this global crisis to continue bringing value to patients living with severe disease. As the pandemic was unfolding, we continuously assessed the appropriate steps which needed to be taken for the health and safety of the communities we serve. In the interest of patients, public health safety, and to reduce the impact on healthcare systems across the world, some activities such as recruitment into clinical studies and the inception of new studies were halted at the start of the pandemic. Thanks to our agility, trials restarted as soon as three months after in countries where it was safe to do so.

We know to get through challenging times, we must support each other and continue towards our common goal of putting patients at the heart of everything we do. UCB continues to be committed and an active contributor to relief efforts for patients across the globe, our local communities, and our UCB family. I am constantly amazed at the authentic leadership of our colleagues at UCB – the accomplishments made over the last year for patients despite a global pandemic is a true testament to their passion and hard work. Thank you for all you do!

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