More than a partner: How Labcorp Central Laboratories managed the 65-day Shanghai lockdown

27 May 2022

With five global central laboratories, Labcorp understands the value of around-the-clock support to advance clinical trial testing, but the recent 65-day lockdown at their Shanghai facilities gave new meaning to “around the clock.”

Understanding the severity of the situation

On March 28, 2022, the entire population of Shanghai was suddenly placed under a lockdown, mandated by the government due to a new COVID-19 outbreak in the city. With Shanghai being one of the largest cities in the world, nearly 25 million people were required to stay at home or shelter in government-run quarantine centers. Flights were canceled and most vehicles were prevented from moving in and out of the city.

With no definite lockdown end date, shortages of food and other daily necessities were common as people had to rely on community-coordinated deliveries and were only allowed to leave their residences for mandatory COVID-19 testing.

Rapidly responding to a unique situation

The global network of Labcorp central laboratories has experienced the effects of several major storms and even a trade embargo, but the severity of the Shanghai lockdown was nothing like what the team had experienced before. Honggang Bi, senior vice president and head of Asia Pacific Drug Development, shared how the team initially evaluated how they could continue to provide critical data to patients and sponsors.

“In January 2022, we had a brief, two-day lockdown in Shanghai after an isolated COVID-19 outbreak. At that point, our crisis management team recognized that we needed to prepare for similar lockdowns in the future and prepared plans for potentially staying in the office for up to 10 days,” he said. “But no one predicted that we would be in lockdown for more than two months.”

Making a commitment to sponsors, sites and patients

Knowing that clinical trial samples were en route to their sites, the Labcorp Shanghai teams recognized the importance of receiving samples within stability and processing them to return reliable results. They asked employees if they would be willing to live on-site during a lockdown to become what was called the “Dragon Team.”

“We started with about 30 Dragon Team volunteers who stayed on-site, day and night, to work with our customers’ safety tests and short stability samples,” said Bi. “Coupled with people working from home, we prioritized anything urgent that we received.”

During this time, the Shanghai teams met often to develop and continually refine a comprehensive risk mitigation plan to:

  • Navigate logistical constraints: The team collaborated with local courier partners to transmit samples and testing reagents and also prepared options to reroute samples to alternative cities if they would be impacted by Shanghai customs.
  • Process critical samples: A rapid feedback loop was implemented to track incoming sample volumes and provide continuous monitoring of critical samples with dynamic, risk-adjusted staffing.
  • Address kit distribution: The distribution channels for kits were reevaluated as the team found alternative strategies to overcome both lockdown challenges and supply chain issues to maintain partial kit assembly and distribute kits to investigator sites.

As the lockdown continued, the Dragon Team was able to add more people to live on-site, growing to 256 employees. Many people took on additional responsibilities, cross-training one another for different roles and tasks that were needed on site.

Caring for each other and the community

Beyond safety testing and processing samples with short stabilities, the Shanghai teams worked together to maintain the health and well-being of their colleagues and the greater Shanghai community. They made bulk purchases of groceries, coordinated deliveries to reach people in their homes and even joined community volunteer groups to support COVID-19 testing.

“In my usual job, my role is managing the safety testing department,” said Zhiyong Cao. “During lockdown, my new role also included supporting work-life balance of our on-site staff. I gave people positive advice and determined how we could help them and their families during this time.”

“I saw how we had such a dedicated team that overcame countless challenges,” said Bi.

“Despite the hardship of the lockdown, they not only volunteered to help the Shanghai community but also provided critical data to our patients and sponsors, delivering absolutely great service.”

Working tirelessly to keep studies on schedule

Now that the most restrictive aspects of the lockdown have ended, the Labcorp Shanghai sites can reflect on how their dedication demonstrated their commitment to each other and their customers.

“At Labcorp, our people understood that we had to work together, and they made a lot of sacrifices to maintain service delivery times, when possible,” said Bi. “Our local and even our international clients understood the severity of the situation. They sent us their recognition letters and thank you notes for helping keep their program on schedule during these difficult times. We proved we were willing to do whatever we can to support each other, our clients and the patients we serve.”