Our #CapePioneers series showcases innovative local businesses that adapted to build resilience in the face of COVID-19. This week we speak to Task, a leading research facility based in the Western Cape that has received global attention for their ongoing trial to deliver a BCG vaccine in the fight against the virus.
“In times of challenge, it’s your agility, your ability to adapt to your market demands, that dictates your success, your relevance, and whether you're actually going to sustain yourself in these times.”
What does Task focus on?
We’ve expanded multi-laterally – out of need and out of opportunity – so we are involved in all kinds of medical research. Historically in TB, recently in vaccine and medical devices, and looking to the future, most-to-all Phase One to Three clinical trials. We cut our teeth in TB (research) and have world-wide recognition in that field, while we now also have world-wide recognition in our vaccine portfolio and our vaccine trials, and we’ve recently entered into the medical device market. Looking towards the future, we’ve got our six trial facilities across the Western Cape where we can do Phase One to Three clinical trials, depending on who wants to do the trials.
How has your business adapted to respond to the Covid challenge?
It’s been a very interesting time. Most of our international trials have been placed on hold and those that we could recruit for that were perhaps our sponsor was lenient or we were running ourselves, we didn’t necessarily have access to our patients or were unable to recruit participants on these trials. So we decided to look at what we could do, and we identified what we could do in the short term, what we can do in the medium term, what we can do in the, in the long term.
In the short term, we realized that our unique position with infectious diseases puts us at an advantage to add value specifically in time of global pandemic. So we looked at what we could leverage from the TB world and the BCG vaccine has been shown to have positive effects on respiratory infections that were non-TB related. We found two other countries that were running a BCG Covid-19-related study. After looking at the protocols we decided to run a clinical trial with BCG against Covid-19 with a SA context, which is a traditionally high-burden TB environment and we are predominantly BCG-vaccinated at birth. And so we added those elements into our specific clinical trial and that's currently running at the moment.
In the medium-term, we planned around what we could and couldn't do in the various different states of lockdown. We could operate as an essential service, but our external service providers, and the people we relate to, couldn't necessarily work if they weren't identified in the health value chain that's there.
Then finally, in the long term; we identified how to manage this interruption, by planning and executing a strategy to mitigate any damaging changes, in part by freezing any non-essential costs and then by finding new business. By bolstering our efforts, we avoided retrenchments, avoided downscaling, which I think contextually speaking is very good for Global TB research that Task can continue doing its work.
Tell us about the BCG trial and how it could change the game if successful
There was anecdotal evidence that BCG lessened the severity of respiratory tract infections or respiratory infections and disease in non-TB-related instances, but that was just a side part of one specific to study a couple of years ago. This was an opportunity to leverage our unique position in TB and infectious disease research.
If it’s proven that BCG lessens the severity of SARS Cov-2 (the technical term for the disease), which was caused by Covid-19, this will offer a cheap and easy access medicine to protect South Africans and the rest of the world against the disease - until we have a true vaccine or total herd immunity. So the ramifications of this trial if it works are of global significance. Whether you are rich or poor living a New York apartment or in the slums of India, this is going to affect you. This is a cheap and easy access medicine which we can scale up the production of and offer to individuals, whilst we wait for a vaccine. From a South African perspective, where we've got an immune-compromised or a high portion of immunocompromised part of society, it could be a game changer.
What has been a success for Task during this time?
if you forget the rest, just the fact that we managed to keep 150 clinical researchers in clinical research, from a South African context that is vastly important. From a global point of view, if we had to scale down our operations, that would have had a significant effect on the global TB drug-development pipeline, which we obviously don’t want. So the fact that we can retain the assets and infrastructure those are the big wins.
On top of that the BCG research has been receiving a lot of international media attention. Internationally, we’ve been featured in, amongst others, the New York Times, Reuters, Al Jazeera, while from a local standpoint, the SABC and several other local publications that have run interviews with us.
What lessons have been learnt during this time?
We recognised how quickly the demand can change and that requires agile action. The culture that has emerged in our organization is that it's not about the individuals, but about the collective and I think in many ways, that has had an effect on our success story. In times of challenge like this, your agility, your ability to adapt to your market demands, dictates your success and your relevance and whether you're actually going to sustain yourself in these in these times.
Share your story of COVID-19 resilience with us and email firstname.lastname@example.org