Learned society responds to Covid-19

Article by Claire Macleod

The Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably brought many aspects of chemical engineering in the healthcare sector sharply into public focus. As part of IChemE’s vision to deliver benefit to society and be a vibrant learned society it is important that we are active in this area and respond quickly to rapidly unfolding events. It is a key part of our professional engineering responsibility that we use our skills and expertise to support challenges such as tackling the Covid-19 pandemic where we can. So, it is very encouraging that volunteers have come together to form IChemE’s Covid-19 Response Team.

A group of volunteers from the Pharma SIG and Biochemical Engineering SIG wrote a letter setting out an offer of support from IChemE volunteers and this was shared worldwide through the IChemE regional boards. The resulting response team was created by putting out a call for volunteers direct to our members and to the Institution’s corporate partners asking for their employees’ time to be made available to volunteer on this project.

The response from volunteers has been incredible. More than 40 volunteers from several different countries with expertise in pharmaceutical process scaleup, design and manufacturing; project management; facilities build; and antibody therapeutics offered their time and experience for this project. The volunteers’ networks have been used to co-opt others with relevant expertise and to facilitate discussions with other professional engineering institutions (PEIs).

A team, which is being project managed by IChemE Member Julie Gordon, has set up a number of workstreams covering the different technical areas bringing together the volunteers. The workstreams reflect the areas of chemical engineering expertise in manufacture of small molecule and biological medicines as well as extending to cover diagnostics and hospital service requirements including gases and PPE. 

The vision for the project is to build networks of volunteers in a structured hub so that we can mobilise assistance to address current and future technical gaps. By pooling IChemE’s global resources we will be best placed to respond quickly to calls for assistance from governmental and healthcare organisations and will be able to offer advice and support independent of commercial interests.

At the time of writing, a press interview has been conducted on how to increase testing capacity; a manufacturing map has been produced identifying potential pinch points in supply of reagents and facilities for diagnostics, vaccines, therapies and repurposed APIs; and communication channels set up with the relevant PEIs and trade bodies. The support provided will change as the issues become apparent over the coming weeks. Ultimately if the project team can assist in providing the right support, this will contribute to helping as many patients as possible in a timely manner.

The team is most in need of volunteers with experience in therapeutic antibodies, small molecule therapeutics and vaccines/drug product manufacturing experience including fill/finish.

If you or your organisation has a request for engineering support or you are able to volunteer to be part of this project, please contact the IChemE Covid-19 Response Team via covid@icheme.org

IChemE has also launched a dedicated coronavirus information hub, providing members with ongoing updates and links to resources: https://bit.ly/2x4Ms0Q

Article by Claire Macleod

Health and Wellbeing Lead for IChemE’s Learned Society Committee

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