Acuitas: (noun) insight, perception, sharpness.

Notes from the Lab – It’s My Job

F.T. is Acuitas Therapeutics’ Lab Manager. Among her many responsibilities is managing all of the communication and general business traffic that comes into Acuitas. She coordinates many elements – making sure that each person has the information they need, the packages they ordered, and the support and supplies required to do their jobs. In some ways, she is the office “wrangler” for Acuitas, ensuring that everything happens at the right time and that nothing gets missed. During a global pandemic, when the Acuitas team was working with their partners – including BioNTech, Pfizer and CureVac – F.T.’s job was even more important. It was also much harder.

In the very early days of the pandemic, F.T. was one of the few people on the administrative side of the team who had to be in the office. She explained: “I was one of a few non-scientist team members who had to come to the lab; almost everyone else was working from home. There was a lot to do – including making sure that the scientists had all of the supplies that they needed for their work in helping to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Not an easy task to achieve in a time when supply chains were being affected because of border closures and other events that were out of our control.”

F.T. also describes the importance of managing the packages that were being sent back and forth between Acuitas’ partners and the team. One lost package could mean that there was a risk of delay in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Many of the packages were coming from Europe – and that meant that F.T. had to ensure that customs papers were filled out and that the parcels received expedited shipping. At that time, there were real challenges with packages being delayed as a result of reduced work staff in courier facilities. Except for essential workers, the world was being told to stay home. Said F.T.: “I was worried every day. We were dealing with tight timelines and international customs declarations. I spent a lot of time tracking things online and watching the door for the courier. I checked the status updates of packages a lot. I might have even refreshed the tracking every few minutes. At least it felt like it! I wanted to make sure that I knew where they were, at every moment. I knew how important these packages were to the world.”

She described what it was like to be at work while most of the world was self-isolating. “The whole time, we were learning more about the virus and how it spread. And we were watching the numbers of infections and deaths skyrocket in Canada and around the world. Nothing could have prepared us for this and yet the whole team stepped up. We supported and encouraged each other. And we took care of each other. That is who we are at Acuitas – our company culture is founded on collaboration, teamwork, respect and support – and that happened even more during the pandemic.”

“The streets were deserted. The office building where we work was so quiet. I didn’t see any other people except our team,” F.T. said. “It was eerie.”

Then, she said, it got very exciting. “It is hard to describe the feelings I had when we started receiving packages from BioNTech, Pfizer or CureVac and I knew that what was in them had to do with the vaccine development. We were working on something that could be so important to people all around the world.” She added: “It was like being in a movie – to be tracking such an important package from its origin to the Acuitas office. It felt so big and important – and yet, in many ways, I was just doing my job. We all were.”

Many people – family and friends – kept asking F.T. when they were going to have a vaccine. “Everyone was anxious for good news,” she said. “We were working hard to give it to them.”

When Acuitas President & CEO Dr. Thomas Madden told the team that the mRNA vaccine that they were developing with BioNTech and Pfizer had data from the clinical trials that showed that it was safe and effective, F.T. said she felt a huge relief – and a surge of happiness. “This was such a huge accomplishment. We did it! We were going to help save the world. I can’t tell you how amazing that felt.”

F.T. laughed and added: “I can’t wait to tell my grandchildren that their grandmother was a part of a team of superheroes! I look forward to that.”

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