An Army Contracting Command (ACC) team, known as Branch B of the Joint COVID Response Division (JCRD), engaged in the fight against the COVID pandemic by procuring needed monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) to serve as a therapeutic treatment. As cases surged in the Unites States and more COVID variants were identified, this team ensured mAbs were available for Americans and the medical community. This ACC team saved lives.
The JCRD is a virtual contracting task force comprised of members from five contracting centers to include ACC-Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; ACC-Detroit, Michigan; ACC-New Jersey; ACC-Orlando, Florida; and ACC-Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. The JCRD was stood up in March 2021 and consolidated ACC’s COVID response under a single division that supports the COVID acquisition efforts of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“Identified as an ACC priority, the JCRD became a focal point in the fight against the greatest public health crisis of this century,” said Mr. Kenyata L. Wesley, ACC-APG’s executive director. “This group of contracting professionals work tirelessly demonstrating their commitment to the citizens of this nation.”
As JCRD’s Branch B formed, they were assigned two existing mAb contracts and began the contract administration duties associated with each. “As we first came together as a team, there were challenges and a learning curve because few members had experience with medical supplies or therapies,” commented Julia Wertley-Rotenberry, JCRD’s Branch B chief. “Each team member had their own contracting expertise and we all supported each other to form a cohesive team.”
According to the HHS website, mAbs are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight viruses. The human body naturally makes antibodies to fight infection; however, the human body may not have the antibodies to fight a new virus such as those that cause COVID.
As the delta variant began circulating across the U.S. in the summer of 2021, the COVID case count began to skyrocket. The team had to act quickly to procure the needed mAbs.
“The delta variant changed the ballgame,” Wertley-Rotenberry pointed out. “We urgently needed large quantities of doses and we needed to ramp up production. The team worked long hours to meet the demand, supporting each other to make it happen.”
Since delta was a new variant, determinations were made on whether the mAbs from the existing contracts were effective against this virus. A new vendor was identified that had an available supply of mAbs and already had an emergency use authorization in place. Faced with a company ready to sell its supply of mAbs to other countries, the team had to act quickly to award a $280 million contract.
“The team nailed it and awarded the contract in six days,” boasted John Conlin, JCRD chief. “The U.S. never ran out of mAbs!”
In November 2021, information was released that a new variant named omicron had surfaced. The catch was that the mAbs used to treat the delta variant was not effective on the omicron variant.
“So once again, the team had to sprint to acquire more mAbs in order for the U.S. to have an effective supply,” said Conlin. “This team really did save lives.”
According to Wertley-Rotenberry, “Branch B executed $3 billion worth of mAb procurements from different pharmaceutical companies in back-to-back sprints over a six-week period. Team Lead Justin Nabity was largely credited with pushing through the justification and approval documents and negotiating modifications with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Team Lead David Shriner negotiated modifications with Eli Lilly and Company, and Team Lead Trisha Scott wrote the GlaxoSmithKline effort from scratch in record time. The team did amazing work!”
Although the JCRD Branch B has experienced some personnel changes, both the current and past members deserve tremendous credit for their teamwork and ability to adapt to a changing environment. Below are the members who supported the mAb effort:
Julia Wertley-Rotenberry, branch chief, ACC-APG
Sean Doyle, team lead from ACC-NJ
Justin Nabity, team lead from ACC-RSA
David Shriner, team lead from ACC-APG
Trisha Scott, team lead from ACC-APG
Mike Metje, team lead from ACC-RSA
LeMarle McKee, contracting officer from ACC-ORL
Donielle Willis, contract specialist from ACC-RSA
Jason Papadopoulos, contract specialist from ACC-APG
Jorge Canavati, contract specialist from ACC-RSA
Dean Halvatzis, contract specialist from ACC-ORL
Olufemi Obadina, contract specialist from ACC-ORL
Annette Watson-Johnson, contract specialist from ACC-ORL
Rodney Cotten, contract specialist intern from ACC-ORL
Michael Grace, contract specialist intern from ACC-NJ