April 22, 2020 / All Stories

How science moves forward during a global pandemic

Join a handful of dedicated scientists as they venture back into the lab to continue advancing research.

AbbVie researchers keep science moving forward even during the a COVID-19 global pandemic.

Some experiments can’t be paused, and some questions still need to be answered. Even during a global pandemic, when most everyone is required to stay home. Despite the COVID-19 global pandemic, there are heroes in laboratories, hospitals, clinics and manufacturing plants who continue to report to work to keep society running. At AbbVie, there are hundreds of scientists and researchers currently on call to ensure the science of today stays on track, so the medicines of tomorrow can continue to move forward.

Meet a few of our essential scientists who continue to report into their (much quieter) labs – sometimes in around the clock rotations – as they make the best of a tough situation.

“I work in the Proteostasis Biology Area where we focus on the way our cells regulate the turnover of proteins, which potentially can help lead us to the identification of new medicines for complex human disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. I’m currently growing human induced pluripotent stem cells (or iPSC)-derived neurons and applying different treatments to these cultures. These cells require quite some time and attention in order to keep them happy until the cultures are used for future experiments. Because these long-term experiments are key to future decisions, it was decided to complete these experiments as safely as possible.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of people in the laboratory has been significantly decreased here in our Ludwigshafen labs. Although there are less people at work, the team is incredible. We are working together to share the load and have established a rotation system to prevent crowded working areas.

Currently, I work both from home and in the lab. At home, I try to simulate an office in our guest room and one big advantage in this work-from-home setting is the dress-code: getting to work in my sweatpants all day long is quite enjoyable. But I do miss the company of my colleagues in the lab and am looking forward to getting back to work all together again soon. There is really nothing better than doing my bench work and monitoring my experiments with the motivation that our results will potentially contribute to development of novel therapeutics someday.”

“In my role, I measure and monitor the properties of biological molecules in our therapeutic pipeline. This work helps to drive the development of new biologics which will hopefully provide new or improved treatment options for patients. It also helps to ensure our biologics in the market are supported with the required analytical analyses to enable continued production for patients.

There are several biologics in the development pipeline that are actively being produced and prepared for testing in clinical trials. These biologics require analytical analyses to support regulatory filings that are submitted to seek approval for initiating clinical trials. Delivering necessary analytical results for these biologics, in a timely manner, is essential for ensuring production schedules and regulatory filing timelines are not impacted.

The COVID-19 outbreak has limited our resources that are essential to complete required on-site analytical support. We have increased virtual communication and activities to ensure the limited resources do not hinder our ability to deliver essential and necessary results in a timely manner. Specifically, we have prioritized activities on a weekly basis to keep on-site personnel to a minimum while maintaining deliverables. Individual tasks have been divided and distributed based on required on-site work, and our off-site personnel capabilities have been leveraged to support on-site personnel.”

“We develop and perform tests to see if anti-cancer medicines are functioning in the capacity for which they are made. We also test the stability of these products in order to determine their shelf-life. This testing ultimately ensures that patients are not only receiving the correct form of any given product, but that the product is also effective.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic does not lessen the importance of our lab work. It makes it more important than ever to ensure we continue testing products as many patients depend on them, especially those patients enrolled in clinical trials. Performing analysis on our products, generating the relevant data, and delivering the results to key participants is an essential activity to keep projects moving in order to get them to our patients on time. We must continue delivering data to ensure the products the patients are receiving are still safe and effective.

To ensure the continued safety of myself and my colleagues, our team has implemented rotating schedules which limit the amount of people in the lab at the same time. Oddly enough, collaboration between colleagues has increased exponentially and is done mostly via online workspaces and video conferencing. Our culture team has also come up with fun little challenges, like a best mug competition and WebEx bingo, to help keep morale high.”

“As part of the Investigative Toxicology & Pathology team, I identify, develop and/or use existing in-vitro models (or study models outside of their normal biological setting) using primary cells, immortalized cell lines and/or tissues to understand the toxicological findings of our compounds in development. Our work helps identify and prioritize compounds that have the best safety profile, which contributes to the overall safety of our marketed compounds.

With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, I am primarily tasked with maintaining critical cell lines for my colleagues that will enable them to run studies for high-priority projects when the stay-at-home order is lifted. Our team has been utilizing technology to maintain some semblance of normalcy to our workdays. I work as efficiently as possible throughout my day so that when I leave for home, I can leave my work at work and focus on my family at home.”

“In my area, we are focused on testing and proving (or disproving) theories which can ultimately lead to new medicines. I work in the cell programming lab, where we grow and transform stem cells into different kinds of neuronal (or nerve) cells. Additionally, I work with different kinds of viruses that allow me to turn on/off different kinds of genes inside these neuronal cells to mimic disease characteristics, which are in turn used to establish assays (or tests) to support experiments across all biological areas. These processes can be quite detailed, requiring a multitude of steps, varying materials and months of work.

Recent long-term experiments involve the growing of these neuronal cells which have undergone genetic modifications and continue to require additional maintenance. I continue my weekly visits to the lab to maintain these neuronal cells in culture, apply the necessary treatments and then prepare the cells for final evaluation. Analysis of these cells will ultimately be evaluated under a high content imaging microscope, but until that time, it is of utmost importance that the data itself remain safe and preserved properly.

To ensure our personal safety, we work in teams to divide the workload and come into the lab at different hours on different days to avoid any unnecessary overlap. When not in the lab, I work from home, having repurposed my guest room as a temporary office. Here I use my time to review late phase experiments and plan for new ones. I miss my colleagues and work environment very much, and look forward to the reopening of our labs in the not-too-distant future.”

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Sheila Galloro
Email: sheila.galloro@abbvie.com
Call: + 1 847-937-2700
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