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Communicating a world first: The drone transport of a pair of lungs over Toronto

Communicating a world first: The drone transport of a pair of lungs over Toronto

When NATIONAL first met with Unither Bioélectronique (Unither), a subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corporation (UT), they explained that they had set their sights on completely transforming the way the world thinks about organ transplants. Fascinating conversations ensued where we talked about an upcoming program in collaboration with leading healthcare stakeholders in Toronto which could see a potential world-first activity. As a proof of concept in collaboration with Ontario’s University Health Network and Ontario Health’s Trillium Gift of Life Network, the program would demonstrate the ability of an unmanned drone to deliver a donor organ safely and quickly from one hospital over the congestion of downtown traffic to an awaiting patient at another hospital. If successful, this program would demonstrate a new mode of transportation of organs that would have the potential to reduce travel times between donors and recipients and in the process, possibly save lives all over the world. The new concept would also have the potential to greatly reduce the impact on the environment of traditional forms of organ transportation, including planes and automobiles.

NATIONAL was brought into the project to develop and execute a strategic approach around the announcement of this world-first, including a thoughtful risk management communications plan, a narrative and media relations program, social media and creative asset development, and executive counsel. This was a complex communications program, but it was aided by having an engaging and truly innovative client who wanted to turn “moonshots into earthshots,” pushing the bounds of medicine and drone aviation technology to do something the world had never seen, and to benefit a real person waiting for an organ transplant.

After navigating an incredible amount of logistics and planning, in late September 2021, Unither finally achieved the impossible by transporting a pair of lungs between two hospitals using its proprietary aerial drone organ transportation technologies. The few-minutes flight from Toronto Western Hospital to Toronto General Hospital was the first time a pair of lungs has been delivered for transplant via aerial drone anywhere in the world. The lungs were transplanted into an awaiting patient who is currently reported as doing well, and on their road to recovery.

Given the complexities of the story, NATIONAL’s media relations program focused on preparing holding statements, in collaboration with UHN, to support potential risks. We then provided exclusive access to the story to a renowned syndicated Canadian media outlet. We also worked with colleagues at Unither’s parent company United Therapeutics and their PR agency to provide a U.S. media exclusive to extend the reach of the story across the continent. Footage of the historical moment were captured for the Unither website and social media assets, with content focused on telling the story of the world first, but also ensuring the content was tied to United Therapeutics’ broader corporate messaging around driving innovation for the betterment of patients with end-stage lung disease.

There is no doubt that our partners at Unither and United Therapeutics will continue to be at the nexus of transforming organ transplantation in North America. As Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics, put it, “Our other aviation strategy at United Therapeutics is to extend the range of drone aircraft. We are now building drones that can fly 100 miles, and then 200 miles. Ultimately, we plan to have droned aircraft deliver lungs, hearts and kidneys throughout all of North America.”

NATIONAL looks forward to continuing using our communications and marketing expertise to support revolutionary healthcare technologies such as Unither’s organ transporting drones. We are proud to be on the forefront of projects that are changing the way Canadians think about organ transplants and changing how we improve the process for those who may need one in the future.