'Live saving' chemotherapy drugs could be flown from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight using drones

DRONES could be used to transport chemotherapy drugs from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight following a ‘pioneering’ trial.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 12:31 pm
Updated Friday, 24th September 2021, 1:43 pm

The Isle of Wight NHS Trust has launched a three-month pilot to test the delivery of urgent clinical items over the Solent using un-crewed aerial vehicles (UAVs).

If the research proves successful, the clinical items will include the world’s first delivery of chemotherapy by drone.

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One of the drones used by the Isle of Wight NHS Trust and Apian to transport chemotherapy drugs. Picture: Apian

The trial, which will run from September to November, is being run by the trust with drone company Apian, alongside the University of Southampton, Solent transport and Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust – and comes after the trust used drones last year during the pandemic for deliveries.

Maggie Oldham, chief executive of the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said: ‘We are delighted to be part of this pioneering project researching a revolutionary way of transporting life-saving chemotherapy drugs.

‘During the Covid-19 pandemic we have faced several challenges, including unprecedented supply chain and logistical demands worldwide and this led to us exploring different ways of working to ensure a safe and efficient service for our patients.

‘Moving items by drone across the Solent will help to speed up the delivery of critical supplies from hospitals on the mainland to the Isle of Wight and will ensure our patients receive prescribed chemotherapy drugs efficiently.’

One of the drones used by the Isle of Wight NHS Trust and Apian to transport chemotherapy drugs. Picture: Apian

The UAVs will fly in segregated airspace between Queen Alexandra Hospital’s helipad in Cosham, to Baker Barracks on Thorney Island and on to St Mary’s Hospital’s helipad on the Isle of Wight.

And the chemotherapy drugs will come from the pharmacy manufacturing unit at QA – although, no live chemo will be transported until the stability of the drugs in a drone has been tested.

Apian is funding the trial with a grant from UK Research and Innovation and a contract with Southampton University, supported by Solent Transport.

Chief executive officer of Apian, Alexander Trewby, said: ‘My mother worked for the NHS in Portsmouth her entire life before she passed away from cancer three years ago. This project marks a very important first step in the construction of a network of drone corridors connecting hospitals, pathology labs, GP surgeries, care homes and pharmacies up and down the country so that in the future, everyone's mother will benefit from the delivery of faster, smarter and greener healthcare.’

One of the drones used by the Isle of Wight NHS Trust and Apian to transport chemotherapy drugs. Picture: Apian

A spokesman for the UK Space Agency added: ‘Apian has previously been funded by the UK Space Agency, as part of an NHS clinical entrepreneur programme, to establish a network of secure air corridors for electric drones to navigate via satellite-enabled GPS.

‘Each drone will be able to carry Covid-19 samples, test-kits and PPE. This will avoid courier call-out waiting times, free-up NHS staff, reduce unnecessary physical contact and minimise the risk of secondary transmission of the virus.’

The UAVs will be based at the Baker Barracks on Thorney Island and flown by former RAF, Royal Navy and airline pilots.

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