The movement of fresh cellular starting material or a manufactured cell and gene therapy is a critical and time-sensitive piece of the supply chain ecosystem. At Be The Match BioTherapies®, these transports are coordinated and monitored by experienced logistics coordinators. In many cases, it’s our volunteer couriers who hand carry and deliver these products.
“Our volunteer couriers are critical in the safe, on-time transport and delivery of products for our clients. They are the heart of this program and understand the importance of the role that they play,” said Jennifer St. John Saenz, Manager of Logistics at Be The Match BioTherapies.
“When a volunteer courier is transporting the product, we have confidence the handoff to the manufacturer or hospital will happen at the time it needs to happen,” she added.
How volunteer Be The Match BioTherapies couriers get their start
The volunteer couriers who transport products for Be The Match BioTherapies start by hand carrying fresh products for the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP)/Be The Match® (Be The Match BioTherapies is part of the NMDP/Be The Match). These products are collected from an adult donor and transported to a patient who needs an allogeneic hematopoietic blood stem cell transplant (HSCT).
All volunteer couriers receive extensive training before taking their first NMDP/Be The Match courier trip (trips for Be The Match BioTherapies require additional training). Every courier also must pass required refresher trainings each year, including training on packaging and container use.
The NMDP/Be The Match limits the number of volunteer couriers to ensure each courier can meet an annual trip quota. This quota allows each courier to do enough transports every year to keep their skills sharp and ensure competency. The couriers who participate are so dedicated to the mission that applications for new couriers are not often sought.
However, that changed during the COVID-19 pandemic when many volunteer couriers were unable to travel due to safety protocols. That led to an opportunity for people like Razvan, who had wanted to join the volunteer courier program for years.
A personal experience led Razvan to the NMDP/Be The Match courier program
Like many other couriers, Razvan’s desire to join the program was personal. He first learned about the NMDP/Be The Match in 2010 after his daughter was diagnosed with very high-risk AML and the search began for a donor. She received a cord blood transplant, but her leukemia was so aggressive that it eventually took her life.
Through his family’s experience, he knew how important it was for these donor cells to be delivered to a waiting patient.
“I know what my wife and I went through trying to do everything we could to help save our daughter. I was not afraid to travel [during the pandemic].
“Those patients, they definitely needed their cells and they are going through so much. Somebody should be able to provide them with help. So that’s why I jumped in and joined,” Razvan shared.
After doing many courier trips for the NMDP/Be The Match, Razvan saw an opportunity to transport cells for Be The Match BioTherapies. As the director of software for a company that builds DNA sequencers, he was intrigued to see what the opportunity was all about.
“I was drawn to the opportunity because of the field I am in, but I honestly didn’t know a lot about these therapies,” he said.
“It’s less important for me where the cells came from or are going. It’s important that somebody provides cells with a hope that somebody is going to get saved by them. To me, that is the mission. You are trying to save a patient,” Razvan shared.
Checklists and training to help ensure compliance
Razvan expected the experience transporting a therapy for a Be The Match BioTherapies client would be the same as it is for the NMDP/Be The Match. What he found is that there are additional complexities.
“The training is different than for the typical NMDP/Be The Match couriers. When I first saw the whole checklist and questionnaires I thought, ‘This is more complicated than I think it is!’ But you realize that’s all for a reason,” he said.
The reason, Jennifer shared, is to make sure the time-critical products arrive on time and that the courier follows the protocols set by the cellular therapy client.
“These are products that are being reviewed by the FDA to see if they can go on the market for commercial use. They have the potential to save thousands of lives someday. We have to follow the rules specifically that are set by the company so the FDA doesn’t question the process.
“In addition, these are fresh products. They need to get to the manufacturing site at a specific time so the client doesn’t lose the manufacturing slot. And the therapy needs to arrive at a specific time for the patient,” she said.
From before the trip to product delivery, help is a phone call (or WebEx) away
To ensure Be The Match BioTherapies couriers understand the criticality of each step of the process, the logistics coordinator and courier have a trip call before the transport, even if a courier has done a Be The Match BioTherapies transport before.
“We meet virtually for 30 minutes where we run through the very detailed checklist so they understand exactly what needs to be done at every step. For example, when to turn on the log tag. We discuss the most important items in the chain of custody that must be reviewed and signed,” Jennifer explained.
The courier’s contact with the logistics coordinator doesn’t stop there. When the courier picks up the product, they’ll do a real time review with the logistics coordinator.
“The courier takes photos of the paperwork and product for us and sends those to us. Our team reviews it day or night. We will double check that everything looks good and then give the courier the go-ahead to transport the product,” Jennifer said.
Razvan said the training and checklists he received also made his experience simpler in some ways than a transport for HSCT.
“Those checklists actually make your life somewhat easier because you follow step-by-step what you are supposed to do,” Razvan shared.
He said that having the support of the logistics coordinators and the travel team is critical whether the transport is for Be The Match BioTherapies or a traditional transplant. While his Be The Match BioTherapies transport went smoothly, problems can arise.
“Being a courier is a rewarding experience, but it’s also a very stressful experience. You have somebody’s potentially life-saving cells in your possession.
“Some trips go very smooth and nothing is out of plan. Other trips it feels like everything can go out of plan. So the support, when things go south, I think it’s very important,” he said.
He added, “The logistics team is always good to have in the background. And I have to give a shoutout to the travel team that is always there to make changes.”
He gave the example of a non-Be The Match BioTherapies trip where he arrived at his airport gate and discovered a computer blackout for a regional airline meant his flight wasn’t taking off anytime soon. But he had cells that needed to be delivered. He immediately got on the phone with the travel team.
“I explained what happened and they got me on another plane that was leaving in 20 minutes. It’s a great support to have and they’re always up to whatever challenges come their way,” Razvan said.
The Be The Match BioTherapies courier program gains client trust
The concept of using a volunteer courier to transport cell therapy products is new to many cell therapy developers. That unfamiliarity can lead to some uncertainty at first.
“Every day I see the dedication our volunteer couriers have and how seriously they take this job. As our clients see the dedication and results from our volunteer couriers, that uncertainty fades and their trust grows,” Jennifer said.
“Our couriers get it,” she added. “They understand that these new cell therapies are the start of something wonderful.”