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Clinical trials and COVID: Why cancer research can’t stop

Three ways this team kept advancing potentially life-saving medications during a pandemic.

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Drug development is a capricious job by nature. But even a 20-plus year career in the pharmaceutical industry couldn’t have prepared Tracey Posadas for the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but nonetheless her team rose to the challenge of championing the patient voice.

Tracey Posadas, Asset Strategy Leader at AbbVie

An Asset Strategy Leader at AbbVie, Posadas is responsible for shepherding drugs through the entirety of their life cycle, from development to clinical trial to market. As the world shuttered in early 2020, she and her team needed to continue advancing potentially life-saving drugs, including the coordination of clinical trials for an investigational treatment targeting a rare type of chronic leukemia, myelofibrosis. Here are three ways this team pushed forward through pandemic roadblocks, and what motivated them to stay the course:

  1. Don’t let logistics impede progress. AbbVie’s team faced many logistical obstacles for clinical trials that were already in full swing when the pandemic hit – everything from drug supply delivery issues to participants missing appointments due to lack of transportation to increased COVID-19 safety protocols. But there was never a question of whether to cease progress on a global trial for a potential treatment for myelofibrosis, a rare bone marrow cancer more likely to affect people over age 50. “It was full steam ahead on how we get patients in this trial, because we believe in the science,” Posadas says. “We worked overtime to prevent delays in a time where many companies decided to take a break... our teams really went above and beyond.”
  2. Embrace “red is good.” This 2020-inspired, department-wide philosophy encouraged the team to embrace challenges, even the “red” warnings that signaled a potential roadblock. “Our leadership stepped in and said, ‘What else can you do? Think differently. Go and explore. We’ll help support you,’” Posadas says. The freedom of that mindset helped the team open more trial sites, enroll more participants and complete the trial during the height of the pandemic.
  3. Keep the patient front and center. Despite long hours and many challenges, the team never lost sight of the “why:” the potential to help patients. “Keeping the team motivated and engaged in a mostly virtual environment, in the midst of their own personal struggles and challenges. It was a testament to the human spirit,” Posadas says. “When you have a purpose and you understand the why behind it, you can move mountains.”
Courtesy of AbbVie