One Mother’s Journey Turns into Advocacy Organization to End Drug Shortages

By Corrie Pellegrino - February 01, 2024

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each year, Moffitt Cancer Center’s Women in Oncology group hosts a Grand Rounds event in honor of National Women Physicians Day on Feb. 3. This year’s guest speaker is Laura Bray, chief change maker at Angels for Change.

Laura Bray is chief change maker and founder of Angels for Change. Founded in October 2019, Angels for Change is a global volunteer-supported nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring access to lifesaving drugs. Its mission is to end drug shortages through advocacy, awareness and a resilient supply chain.

Bray’s advocacy journey began when her daughter Abby was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in November 2018. As Abby was hooked up to a standard chemotherapy treatment for the first time, she screamed for her mother to help her breathe. The 9-year-old was having an anaphylactic reaction to a critical drug, pegaspargase (PEG). Abby would not be able to take PEG again, so her only hope for treatment was Erwinaze, another chemotherapy drug that was in short supply. This medicine had been on and off shortage for years. Abby couldn’t miss this important medicine.

Laura and Abby Bray, Angels for Change
Drug shortages threatened Abby Bray's life when the then-9-year-old was undergoing cancer treatment. Her mother, Laura, fought fiercely for the medications her daughter needed. Now she fights to change the system.

Doctors told Bray that getting the drug quickly would be impossible. There was no advocacy organization to call. So Bray fought like only a mother can. With a background in business management, she had an acute understanding of supply chains. She knew what questions to ask. After thousands of calls to hospitals, pharmacies, lawmakers and pharmaceutical companies, she found Erwinaze for Abby in 10 days. It was a miracle.

Abby faced two more drug shortages during her treatment, and Bray fought through them. Today, Abby is a 13-year-old cancer survivor. Meanwhile, Bray has become a pioneer in the fight to end drug shortages for all.

Through Angels for Change, Bray advocates fiercely on behalf of patients who are on hold from lifesaving treatment due to drug shortages. The organization also advocates for proactive solutions by bringing together industry stakeholders and working with policymakers to build drug shortage awareness. Angels for Change has worked closely with Moffitt Cancer Center’s pharmaceutical team and individual Moffitt patients to resolve drug shortages.

Prior to leading Angels for Change, Bray taught as an adjunct business professor at Hillsborough Community College and worked in marketing strategy and small business management and consulting. Bray graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and from the University of South Florida with a Master of Business Administration. She lives in Valrico with her husband, Mike, and their three children, Shelby, Abby and Cooper.

Although her children haven’t decided yet what exactly the future holds for them, Bray recently found a crumpled-up piece of paper in Abby’s backpack that held a clue. The assignment asked: What are you going to be when you grow up? Abby wrote: “I will start a nonprofit and seek out an end to injustice.”

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE THE TRANSITION FROM PERSONAL TO PROFESSIONAL ADVOCATE?

Our experience really haunted me. First, I couldn’t believe there was such a thing as a drug shortage for a known medicine when we know how many children have this disease. Second, I couldn’t believe there was no one to help me. No one had the answers. I was left with two options: Just wait, or take on the largest global supply chain in the world, the pharmaceutical supply chain, and try to find a needle in a haystack.

For a while, I was trying to find who’s helping families like mine. But there was no one doing it. At a certain point, I just had to decide: Am I going to try to be the change I want to see in the world, or am I going to let this go and move on with my life? And I just couldn’t move on.

Every morning I woke up with new questions about why this happened. Every night I went to bed researching the pharmaceutical supply chain and drug shortages.

So I decided to jump in. I didn’t know what I could do, but I knew I could make sure someone else didn’t have to do it alone again.

HOW CAN DOCTORS AND CANCER CENTERS LIKE MOFFITT HELP IN THIS MISSION?

First, we need to be united in recognizing that this is a crisis that deserves to be resolved and needs urgency. In 2019, it was a very hidden health care crisis. It was hidden on the backs of hospitals and pharmacists who had to do herculean efforts all the time to try to figure out how to get drugs that were in short supply. So the crisis didn’t have as many pressure points — or people pushing for change — to resolve it. Now, we need to say, “Let’s do this together. We’re going to end drug shortages together. It is feasible. It is possible. This is a crisis.”

The second thing is we need a total dynamic shift in the marketplace where we are not removing patients from protocol due to drug shortages. I want that to be an unthinkable choice. But it’s the current standard operating procedure. So we’ve got to have that dynamic shift that, no, we’re not removing patients from protocol. We’re going after additional supply. How are we going to do that? Not as a single organization, but as a society that’s making sure there’s enough supply.

The last thing, for physicians, is: Be honest with your patients. It’s a really difficult conversation that no one wants to have, and no one wants to hear. But physicians are experts at difficult conversations. Many of them know that outlining a situation honestly and truthfully is a key component to building trust.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT BEING AN EFFECTIVE ADVOCATE?

One of the things that makes me most effective is remembering why I’m here — remembering what it felt like to be a desperate and hopeless mom fighting for her child. In the busyness of running an organization, we never forget the reason we’re here. At the heart of what we’re doing is making sure no one’s left behind again, no one has to feel that hopelessness.

So that’s why I’m most effective. I bring the humanity back into the supply chain. I don’t let it just be a business or a product. I’m reminding everybody that there’s a patient at the end of the supply chain — reminding people of the humanity.

One of the big things that we always say is: All we can do is try. If you don’t try, nothing can happen. But if you do try, extraordinary things can happen.

HOW DO YOU KEEP A GOOD WORK/LIFE BALANCE?

It is hard. I set boundaries the way any working mom does. But I don’t turn off patient needs. An emergency trumps all else. If a patient is in a crisis, we work whenever we can, wherever we can, whatever time. But other than the patient in dire need, I put my family first.

WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE TO YOU?

With Angels for Change, success means ending drug shortages so there is a reliable and resilient pharmaceutical supply chain. It doesn’t have failures. It doesn’t need somebody fixing it or standing in and helping to protect patients. The supply chain can weather a storm — a supply disruption, a market failure or a quality assurance issue — and patients are not impacted. That’s what success looks like for me as chief change maker at Angels for Change.

What success looks like for me as Laura Bray is that I can raise three children who know that we live in a country where if you see injustice, you can do something about it. And that we as a family do not become a statistic of the pediatric cancer journey. The statistics are terrifying after a pediatric cancer diagnosis. Families struggle, they break. The diagnosed child and their siblings struggle with mental health issues. People lose jobs and face financial difficulties for years. Families are faced with the unthinkable: losing their child. We are determined to do all within our power not to become a statistic and help as many others to not face those challenges. I want to look back 20 years from now and know that our kids came out stronger, our relationships came out stronger, our faith came out stronger and so did any others who reached out to us for support.

Laura Bray family photo
Laura Bray with her husband, Mike, and children Cooper, Abby and Shelby.

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Corrie Pellegrino Senior Managing Editor 813-745-0833 More Articles

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