During the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to innovate to accommodate for the current situation and minimize the impact to operations. We closely follow local governmental measures and apply these as appropriate within our organization, guided and supported by our dedicated COVID-19 task force teams. All local and global task force teams meet regularly and make recommendations directly to the COO.
We report the following impacts:
We implemented strict measures to help prevent the spread of the virus and protect the health of our staff. We rolled out our global and site-specific business continuity plans and took appropriate recommended precautions, including suspending almost all business travel. We continue to believe that during the pandemic most of the international travel can be replaced by virtual meetings, resulting in improved cost efficiency, a better work-life balance, and a reduced carbon footprint. The positive impact of this forced way-of-working will therefore be retained in our future habits and updated work place strategy, called “To the Next Normal.”
During lock-down periods, we arranged for essential tasks to be carried out within our facilities. Employees working on site need an authorization letter signed by the line leader and site head. Consequently, the majority of our Research staff continue working from the offices/labs, with periodic exceptions for local lockdowns during which no staff is allowed to come into the facilities. For those employees coming to the office, we have stringent cleaning and sanitation protocols in place, and we strictly respect social distancing policies at all times in order to minimize risk of exposure. Except for employees with laboratory operations and safety roles which require an on-site presence, over 95% of our staff systematically work from home.
As the global pandemic continues into 2021, we anticipate that we will maintain our measures and protocols to ensure the health of our employees.
- Research portfolio
By prioritizing the most advanced projects very early on, increasing the flexibility of our staff in the labs within projects, and maintaining our hiring efforts and outscourcing as planned, we sustain our research delivery, keep the compound management facility running at all times, and continue our early drug research and the implementation of new modalities for target or drug discovery.
So far, the scorecard of the research department objectives shows a similar productivity compared to previous years, indicating that we continue to minimize the impact of the pandemic.
- Development portfolio
We have a business continuity plan for our clinical development programs. We closely monitor each program in the context of the current global and local situation of the pandemic and the associated specific regulatory, institutional, and government guidance and policies related to COVID-19. Within the boundaries of these guidances and policies, and in consultation with our CROs and clinical trial sites, we applied various measures to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our clinical development programs, with the primary aim to ensure the safety of our trial participants and to preserve the data integrity and scientific validity of the trials. These measures continue to be implemented on a case-by-case basis, tailored to the specific study and country needs at any given time, with specific attention paid to vulnerable populations and the use of investigational medicines with immunosuppressive properties. The measures include, among others, increased, transparent communication to all stakeholders and the direct supply of investigational medicines to patients. For each clinical trial, we actively monitor and document the impact of COVID-19 on the study where necessary and to facilitate the interpretation and reporting of results.
Following the global increase of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, we issued an internal guidance on the impact of testing and vaccinations on clinical trials.
- Filgotinib filing process UC
As of publication of this Q1 report, our collaboration partner Gilead has not been informed by the regulatory agencies in Europe of approval timeline delays related to the pandemic.
- Manufacturing and supply chain
To date, there has been no COVID-19 impact to the commercial supply of filgotinib. Gilead also confirmed that all sites involved in the manufacturing of filgotinib are established sites that currently manufacture other Gilead marketed products and are in good standing with the FDA and are GMP certified. Under the revised agreement with Gilead for filgotinib in Europe, Galapagos plans to become the marketing authorization holder of filgotinib in Europe by year-end 2021, and then become responsible for manufacturing. We intend to work with the same manufacturing sites to ensure continuity.
- Commercial organization
The form of outreach of our commercial teams to physicians and hospitals was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent travel restrictions, becoming virtual instead. The teams invested in virtual channels as part of the overall commercial build strategy, and these channels are being utilized during our commercial launch today. We note as of now no material impact on our commercial operations due to travel restrictions, nor has there been an impact of COVID-19 on our ability to engage in market access discussions thus far. Nevertheless, healthcare systems are under pressure across Europe, increasing the risk of future volatility in reimbursement procedures and potentially reducing the number of new therapy initiations.