Cancer drugs to be delivered via drone in UK trial

Cancer drugs via drone are coming to patients in England as part of a trial by the country’s National Health Service (NHS).  

Chemotherapy, which has a short shelf life, will be flown using drones from the pharmacy at Portsmouth Hospital on the south coast of England to St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight lies about 4 miles off the south coast of England.  

It’s hoped that using drones will cut the usual delivery time to 30 minutes from 4 hours, the NHS announced on July 5, 2022. It will also be more convenient for patients living on the Isle of Wight, who often need to travel to the mainland for treatment.   

“Delivering chemo by drone is another extraordinary development for cancer patients and shows how the NHS will stop at nothing to ensure people get the treatment they need as promptly as possible – while also cutting costs and carbon emissions,” NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard commented in a press statement.  

The NHS said each drone delivery would replace at least two car journeys and a hovercraft or ferry journey, thus saving carbon emissions.   

The Isle of Wight trial will be followed by drone deliveries in Northumbria. The scheme could allow same-day orders for medical equipment and other treatments.  

The NHS is working with technology company Apian, a medical drone start-up founded by a team of NHS doctors in training and ex-Googlers, on the trial.  

Apian CEO Alexander Trewby said his mother worked for the NHS in Portsmouth before dying of cancer. Trewby set out ambitions for a drone network across the country.  

“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.” 

Apian says on its website that it works with all different types of electric drones, ranging from fixed-wing hybrid VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) for long range endurance flights, to multi-rotor for easier to launch, shorter flight times. The largest drones it uses have a wingspan of 5m and can carry up to 25kg in weight. 

The drone trial was announced to coincide with the 74th anniversary of the NHS. 


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