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April 15th, 2020

Biotech shares sanitiser with senior citizens

Photographed by Tami Zeigler, a research technician at Cook for over 10 years, she captures Martha Spicer, a research technician at Cook for over 15 years, hard at work bottling the sanitiser.

Much of what is done by the Discovery and Biosciences team at Cook Biotech never makes it out of the lab. It’s the nature of the job that you have to fail often to finally find a solution that will work. It’s a process that can take months or years.

But in early March, Mike Hiles, Biotech’s senior vice president of Research & Development and chief scientific officer, went to Claus Soendergaard, the manager of the Discovery and Biosciences team, with recipes from Cook and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for hand sanitiser and said, ‘Can you guys make this’?

‘Sure, that’s easy’, Claus said. ‘We can go back and do it right now’.

Hand sanitisers are used throughout all Cook facilities, including in the controlled manufacturing areas (CMAs), but you can’t take just any hand sanitiser you want into production— only those with FDA approval are allowed. With a shortage looming because of COVID-19 and their on-hand supply dwindling, the Engineering Logistics team began going around the facility gathering all of the hand sanitiser and wipes that were approved for use in production, leaving none for the non-production areas.

So, Claus and his team took the sanitiser recipes back to their lab, whipped up a batch, and loaded it into the same type of squirt bottles that were being used for the powdered SIS wound care product that Biotech was manufacturing. The Biotech Engineering Logistics team created labels for all of the bottles and then distributed them to the employees at non-production workstations around the building.

A couple of days later, though, the stay-at-home order came out, so almost all of the non-production employees at Biotech were sent home to begin working remotely.

‘At that point, there wasn’t a tremendous need for the sanitiser beyond that initial little batch we had made’, Claus said.

Turns out, that first batch had just been a dress rehearsal.

In the last week of March, Mike went back to Claus and asked if his team could produce more sanitiser. Because production was still up and running, they needed sanitiser for people to use in common areas like the cafeteria, bathrooms, and reception areas.

Then, shortly after that, Mike was talking to a former Cook employee who now works for a retirement home not far from West Lafayette, Indiana, where Cook Biotech is located. The retirement home was starting to run low on sanitiser, so Mike offered to send them some of what Biotech was making. The plan escalated from there— with the decision to reach out to other retirement homes and senior citizen communities in the West Lafayette area to see if there was additional need for the sanitiser.

‘Our team was super excited when we found out we could do this’, Claus said. ‘On our team, we have a pharmacologist, we have a chemist, we have a toxicologist, we have senior scientists. We have people who have the necessary skills. In the early days of the pandemic, they were like, “What can we do? We want to do something”‘.

The team immediately jumped on WebEx Teams for a meeting, and within a couple of hours, a plan for production and labelling was in place, supplies were ordered, and sources for bottles were identified.

‘Everybody is really pumped that there is something we can do that actually matters immediately’, he continued. ‘Usually what we do— it all matters a lot, but it’s on a different timescale— it’s months to years. As a research team, we are used to planning and execution which normally takes more time. Everybody is pretty excited. We hope that we can pull it off’.

‘It’s difficult to be honest, we are not the only ones who want to do this, so getting all the bits and pieces is really challenging. But we want to try help the community in whatever way we can’.

Special thanks to the folks that helped with this sanitiser project:

Engineering Logistics – Kelsey Wickstrom
Product Development – Christopher Fecteau
Discovery and Biosciences – Martha Spicer, Tami Zeigler, Sharon Krebs, Rae Ritchie, Mike Hiles, Bhavin Shah, and Claus Soendergaard