Read the Conversation

EF: We call 2020 the year of diagnostics, and 2021 the year of vaccines. When we look back at 2022, what will it be the year of and why? 

EL: 2022 will be the year of generics. Many multinational companies with wide ranges of services are shifting their focus from branded to generic products. During the pandemic, there were shortages of pharmaceuticals and local generics were used, testing the quality and effectiveness of these products. Generics can be produced locally which makes them desirable in the market. Generics have become a trend that will continue in the future.  

Vitalis is a pharmaceutical company based in Colombia, with some facilities in Chile and Mexico. We distribute and supply our products in more than twenty countries with direct subsidiaries in seven other countries. Our regional focus is on LATAM. We have a strong level four regulation agency called INVIMA and are compliant with all the technical, regulatory, and quality standards and frameworks.  

EF: As an executive with diverse experience in the healthcare sector, what attracted you to join Vitalis? 

EL: I was invited to join Vitalis in early 2020. Vitalis is the go-to company for generics because we produce locally. Whilst others were struggling with supply chain issues, Vitalis capitalized on the opportunity by making their products available to everyone. This was something I wanted to be a part of. Our patient safety principles are integral to the organization. 

One of my first tasks was making a targeted investment to increase our capacity and improve our quality. We invested more than $30 million to increase our production capacity, in improving the quality, and we invested in research and development of our generic products. Our mission is to add value to our customers, increase our availability, and build an impressive portfolio in patient safety. We aspire to be the leading patient safety supplier for all physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals in the region. 

We have been working on different initiatives. To differentiate our products from our competitors we are colour coding our products because our competitors use standardized colours. We were recently recognised by the Institute of Safety Medication Practices as advocates of medication safety.  Our packaging is in accordance with international guidelines. Another initiative we are working on is promoting the use of anaesthesia. We created a program where we work alongside hospitals to reduce the use of antibiotics, even though we have antibiotics in our portfolio, patient safety always comes first.  

We export our products to LATAM, Asia, and the Middle East. The products we produce will always be needed, making our portfolio sustainable.  

EF: Can you elaborate on your footprint in Colombia and beyond, and how you see it evolving? 

EL: Currently we have four facilities in Colombia, two in Mexico, and one in Chile, with state-of-the-art design and processes. This year alone we are on track to produce 300 million injectables.  To the pipeline, we will also be adding antibiotics, ophthalmic, vitamins and cardiovascular products.  

Starting from April we are going to double our capacity in some of our facilities. Each facility will be producing its own products and have its own pipeline. The first plant in Mexico produces pharma products and newly formulated products. While the second plant produces glass for products. The new branch in Chile compounds products. Our portfolio boasts of the glass, pharmaceutical, and compounding businesses. Our aim is to understand our customers, improve our processes and understanding of the market, and generate value.  

EF: What impact did the change of ownership have on Vitalis, and how has it strengthened your position within the market?  

EL: We are very happy with the change because it brought resources that have propelled us forward in the market. The company that took over is willing to invest in our portfolio. We want to be the best, which is why our slogan is experts in injectables. We will continue growing, investing, and consolidating our business. We envision ourselves being one of the top companies in the pharmaceutical industry in Latin America.  

We own almost 50% of the market share in comparable units in Colombia and every one in four injectables on the market is from Vitalis. We are trying to replicate this type of success in the other countries we are present in. If physicians want to go into generics or if they are concerned with patient safety, they should come to Vitalis. We are broadening our businesses to become the top company wherever we are.  

EF: As you keep growing globally, how important will Colombia be to the group? 

EL: Colombia is very important as it is our main market with high regulatory standards. The Colombian pharmaceutical market is roughly USD$5 billion and 40% of it is generic, and we expect that it can grow up to 60%. We have the potential to continue the path of accelerated growth. Colombia represents 40% of our sales and is the main country with Mexico. 

Colombia is a strategic move that gives us a competitive edge. We want to replicate the framework and formula in Colombia with quality generics across the board. We have already started replicating what we do in Mexico. I believe we have a very good formula that can be replicated.  

The Colombian market is a demanding market which makes our entry into other markets easier. Several markets are beginning to replicate Colombia’s market framework from price control and universal coverage putting pressure on costs. It is why we are exploring Southeast Asian markets, African markets, and beyond because this formula can be used to help us develop globally.  

Colombia is geographically central to North and South America. On average it takes three hours to travel from anywhere within the region. Colombia has all the right ingredients to make it a hub, especially with a strong and well-respected regulatory agency which makes it a stepping stone for the region. It is already a hub for LATAM in travel and export geographically. I will remain firmly based here alongside our CFO, CCO, medical director, and operation officers. 

EF: How does Vitalis collaborate with other companies and what can be achieved through these collaborations? 

EL: The pandemic showed many companies and nations how important collaborations are. National pharmaceutical collaborations are crucial for the growth of the market. I am a board member with a number of other pharmaceutical leaders from different companies where we promote collaborative initiatives and national pharmaceutical policies. National pharmaceutical policies are currently at the top of agenda discussions in the congress of Colombia. There is a proposal to strengthen local pharmaceutical production. We want to attract multinationals to join and establish themselves in Colombia.  

Several companies in Colombia want to enter collaborative partnerships to learn processes in domains out of their expertise. Sharing domain knowledge in different areas is beneficial for everyone. Ten years ago, it was unheard of for a generic brand company to collaborate with a medically licensed company. They are producing a medical device that measures through electric signals the brain activity and anaesthesia response, called smart TIVA. We would like to change the way anaesthesia is administered and monitored in the region. In Europe, there is a 70% adaption rate to change the way the anaesthesia process is carried out. To cause this kind of change, we will need medical devices, innovative solutions, and digital solutions. 

There have been a lot of collaborations between MedTech companies and pharmaceuticals. We are currently in the process of exploring an ICU project because to change the way patients receive their medicines and treatments, medical devices are needed.  

We are collaborating with GS1 to create a universal code. They are experts in tracing technology and medicine. Traceability is well developed in America and Europe, but not in Colombia which is why we want to bring it over. The universal code will make it easier to source, simplify the logistic process, and simplify administrative processes.  To diversify and have a firmer and safer foundation, companies can collaborate with researchers and academic personnel. These collaborations can serve as guiding tools. We are currently reaching out to different companies and industries to feel out the synergy for possible collaborations. Digitalization is accelerating collaborations. 

We have a project that is helping hospitals diminish the use of antibiotics which is counterintuitive because we sell antibiotics. However, if a patient uses too many antibiotics it will have dire consequences in five to ten years because bacteria can quickly adapt to antibiotics. Artificial intelligence combined with all the processes, industries and collaborations is the future. In this sector the patient is always number one, so collaborations are crucial. Putting competition aside and collaborating and aligning goals is something the sector needs to do. 

EF: How do you promote innovation within your company? 

EL: There are two ways, one is product innovation, and the second is processes innovation. For us, innovation is in how we approach the market. Colour-coding medicines and improving hospital systems and processes is the way we approach innovation. We are trying to promote different patient safety measures in hospitals. We are also trying to create a tracking system that shows who is prescribing and consuming our products.  

We have been educating physicians and hospitals on how to use our products to reduce medical errors. If a company is in generics, they need to focus on costs and processes. Innovation in AI and quality control will become a trend in the future. We are working on improving processes through innovation. There is a phrase I appreciate, which reads “innovation in products has patterns, but as soon as the patterns go away, it collapses.” There is added advantage in innovation processes and market approach. 

EF: At the end of the year what achievement will you be celebrating since joining the company? 

EL: As Vitalis, we have a lot to celebrate. We invested in many areas. Our facilities will be receiving GMP certification in November. We are performing very well in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Peru, Mexico, and Chile. These are the quantitative results we will be celebrating. Our biggest celebration is the promotion of patient safety. Our initiatives are saving lives, so we have many things to celebrate. 

Personally, I also have a lot to celebrate. My changeover was challenging but the company’s willingness and flexibility to adapt to the new era is worth it. I am happy with the team I have; they made the transition over to Vitalis smoother for me. My team is the best and is worth celebrating.  

October 2022