Just like for all businesses, March 2020 began what would become months of uncharted territory for our Be The Match BioTherapies® team. Overnight, travel to visit with cell therapy partners and potential clients was grounded. Conferences where connections are made…canceled. Even team meetings that were once in person moved online.
But through these challenges, resiliency emerged. The cell therapy industry found new ways to build partnerships, maintain relationships and continue to deliver cell therapies for patients in need. Some of these changes will likely continue even when COVID-19 vaccines become widely available and the pandemic starts to become a memory.
Only time will tell which changes are here to stay, but these are our predictions based on what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Here to stay: Video conference calls
“At the beginning of the pandemic, there was concern that we wouldn’t be able to move projects forward with new or existing clients if we couldn’t see them in person. We quickly shifted to video calls so we could better cultivate, maintain and grow those relationships,” said Erin Rasch, MS, Vice President, Sales and Business Development, Be The Match BioTherapies.
“In the past, we relied on a lot of audio calls with customers. We’ve found video calls allow us to better establish those relationships. It’s something that seems so simple, but it’s definitely made a difference. It’s something I believe we’ll continue to do even after travel resumes,” Erin added.
When travel does resume, many meetings that may have been done in person before will likely stay virtual. There are efficiencies and cost savings when you don’t have to get on a plane and fly across the country to meet another team.
“I think the industry has found that using web conferencing platforms can substitute for some of those initial in-person interactions. With all of the technology and tools we have, we can continue to move projects forward, we can continue to build relationships, we continue to maintain relationships. It doesn’t have to stop,” Erin shared.
Here to stay: Upfront contingency planning for risk management
Our business requires us to reliably move time-sensitive cell therapies around the world. That requires logistics contingency planning for every shipment … pandemic or no pandemic. But COVID-19 brought a new need to light: contingency plans for cell sourcing.
“If a customer needs only a small number of collections to provide starting material for development of their therapy, we would typically onboard only one apheresis center to support their needs. We’re now onboarding more than one center in different parts of the country so there is a backup site. We can continue to collect from donors even if one location becomes a hotspot,” Erin explained.
It’s a need Erin said will go beyond the pandemic.
“There are other issues that impact logistics that could also impact a collection site. For example, a natural disaster. Fortunately, we have a large network of apheresis centers across the U.S. This allows us to selectively choose sites that will meet a client’s needs and mitigate risk in a manner that other vendors can’t,” she added.
In addition, our Emergency Management and Business Continuity team developed relationships over the years that have proven critical for business continuity management. They’ve allowed cell therapy collections and shipments to continue around the world throughout the pandemic.
“The systems that we have in place, and have had in place for years, have allowed us to continue to support our cell therapy clients and patients. The robust infrastructure, the relationships with TSA, Customs and Border Protection, and officials in the U.S. government–not every vendor has that,” Erin said.
“In fact,” she added, “we had courier companies coming to us asking how we were continuing to get shipments across the globe because their shipments were getting stuck. Same thing with cell sourcing. It makes me so proud to work for an organization that can deliver for clients and patients in times of crisis.”
Likely here to stay: Remote vendor qualification and auditing
With on-site audits out of the question during COVID-19, cell therapy companies had to look for creative ways to qualify new vendors and collection sites.
“Qualifying vendors is a critical business function for cell therapy companies. That couldn’t stop for the pandemic. Companies quickly found ways to effectively audit and qualify vendors remotely. They’re relying more on questionnaires and web conferencing platforms to keep these activities moving forward,” Erin explained.
“I think remote audits could continue in many situations. For example, our company operates using a distributed model. Coming to our Coordinating Center in Minneapolis probably isn’t necessary for them to get the information they need. These remote audits and the associated tools we’ve developed to make them better have evolved so much that I think companies will feel more comfortable continuing them in the future,” she said.
Be The Match BioTherapies has also added virtual onboarding and auditing of apheresis centers as an option. This allows cell therapy companies to continue to move their therapies forward when in-person visits aren’t possible.
Not here to stay: Virtual conferences and events
There have been pluses to virtual conferences and events. There is no need to travel, so companies have saved time and money. Many conferences offer sessions on-demand so you can watch when you have time.
But, networking at a virtual conference is a challenge.
“When you’re at an in-person conference, you’ll bump into someone during a coffee break that you’ve been wanting to see. Or, you’ll have a more informal conversation over happy hour that allows you to build a relationship. That’s not possible in a virtual conference environment,” Erin shared. “Being back in person and seeing people at conferences again is something I’m looking forward to.”
Always here to stay: Our commitment to you and to patients
From the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic our commitment to our clients and the patients we serve never wavered. Our operations never stopped. We didn’t have all of the answers, but we proactively worked on solutions.
It’s the way it’s always been. And it’s the way it will always be. Because we know that patients are relying on your continued cell therapy development and delivery.
Start a conversation with our team on how we can support your company during COVID-19 and beyond.