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EF: If health had its own COP26 and you were a speaker, what would be your message to world leaders?
HB: After months and months of being in a sophisticated situation, things are now looking better. Yet, the pandemic is still not over. While facing huge difficulties, the biotech and pharma sector developed new technologies and provided what the public needed to handle the pandemic. This gave us the perspective to realize we still need to increase our skills to survive beyond the pandemic. I think we have so far passed the Covid test. We have been effective, and society, industry and the government have given us their approval.
EF: Can you elaborate on the role of bioMérieux in Mexico during the pandemic?
HB: In our diagnostics division, we work closely with products for Covid-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, our key role has been monitoring critical patients. We provided all the vital biomarkers, which allowed us to understand how the disease progressed. Initially, nobody knew which markers were the most useful, but after a few months, we were able to identify the most suitable products. We supplied the market flawlessly with these products where mid and low workflow platforms were required -our key segment. In diagnostics, there are high, low and mid-workflow platforms. The high workflow is excellent in facilitating laboratory work, but they aren't available in the less populated areas of Mexico. We were able to provide mid and low workflow platforms in their place. We are one of the government's (IMSS) key providers in microbiology. We were awarded a critical tender in March 2020, making us the first company to install instruments when the pandemic was at its worst. We managed to successfully install the necessary instruments and devices and provide our products. Finally, we were able to accelerate the decision making of critical patients healthcare through our syndromic testing platform, which does multiple testing (respiratory, gastro-intestinal syndromes, etc.). Its power lies in that it can detect SarsCov2 and 20 other pathologies simultaneously, in just 40 minutes.
This way, we were able to make life easier for our doctors and patients. Those were our two key roles in this pandemic in Mexico.
EF: What are the lessons learned from managing during these times?
HB: The first lesson I learned is to trust. I am old-school, as I was used to being in the office. In a blink of an eye, we had to migrate to a remote approach and everything had to continue to work seamlessly. Speed, in terms of providing a solution fast, was the second lesson. I am responsible for digital transformation in Latin America.
All the plans we had for five years, we did it in one year. We were able to set up digital interphases for every stakeholder in record time. By the end of 2020, we were completely digitalized in the key subsidiaries in Latin America.We have since then continuously worked on growing on digital. We turned our digitization project into a digitalization habit.
Nowadays, the first place every person goes to find something is online.
One of my biggest lessons learned is to take care of your people first. Both physically and mentally. We introduced several initiatives to develop a work-life balance.
EF: Can you elaborate on how you are leveraging Digitalization in BioMerieux?
HB: One of our key differentiators for value added solutions is informatics. So right now in mostly the US and Europe, we have begun with a lot of these kinds of solutions that help healthcare professionals to accelerate their diagnostics. This is something we were just beginning in one country here in Latin America, which is Costa Rica. Mexico was next on the list. This informatics technology let’s you gather all the information that all the platforms have diagnosed that are in a hospital, and allows the doctor to have the diagnosis in real time. The Costa Rican government just recently adopted this platform. Hopefully, we can have more information to share with you in the following months regarding Mexico.
EF: How would you rate the level of adoption of digital technologies throughout different countries?
HB: We act as local partners for our customers. We have a global digital transformation staff that accompanies us in ensuring the adoption. There is a specialized team in monitoring how our customers are getting to these technologies. We meet regularly to review the KPIs around technology adoption. When we implemented our customer portal, we had a great reception. After some time, we noticed engagement was decreasing, so we took action to ramp the engagement back up again.
EF: Can you elaborate on the shift in your product portfolio on its evolution?
HB: In the beginning of the pandemic, almost all routine testing was dropped. 2020 and the first semester of 2021 have been the worst months ever in terms of routine testing, mostly due to the fact that we don't have any more surgeries. We have been working with the government for more than seven years. The first tenders used to be for four years. Now, they are shorter and smaller: two years and less volume. We just began to see the recovery. Since then, the government prepared the 100-day plan to recover all the backlog. We hope that in 2022 there will be more resources allocated to healthcare. One very important component is the shift in the role of the integrators, our customers. They are the ones who present the final offering to the government.
There was a strong shift from microbiology into monitoring. Our focus is on taking care of critical care patients, and we were one of the last to register our COVID-19 test. One of the biggest problems was that we got late into the market in terms of rapid-test, but early in terms of monitoring. In the last two quarters, we have seen a recovery in microbiology, but we are still struggling to get to the 2019 levels.
EF: How can we keep the importance of diagnostics moving forward?
HB: At bioMerieux, we believe that ‘diagnostics’ will remain a priority. And precisely the power of syndromic testing, not for the regular community, but I would say for critical to ‘Special Needs’ patients the relevance of it is still very important. So in that syndromic testing arena, I would say we don't get any pandemic waves. What will evolve is how physicians are now used to using these tools. In Brazil, for example, they required vaccination and they also required PCR testing and in Mexico, we are still far beyond to get the herd immunity, that's why we will still have the testing as a major player in the next following at least 24 months. Another very important element that the pandemic left is the awareness of molecular diagnostics.
EF:Do you see that the skill set of the future employee in the pharmaceutical industry in the biotech industry will remain the same? Or what is needed for the future?
HB: Being able to engage outside the regular rules of engagement. Two weeks ago we had our first face to face meeting with my team. 20% of the whole company were hired during the pandemic, and they didn't know each other in person.
It's not the same to share an experience with someone face to face, as it is virtually. Part of the new skills needed would be ‘new rules of engagement’, and ‘soft skills’. Usually, we pay more attention to technical skills, and look for proper talent density. But I would say definitely right now, the soft skills are ruling because you need to have a talented group of people that can work together, even though they're so far apart. I would say that's the first thing not just for the pharma sector for all kinds of sectors.
EF: How do you build the culture in a digital, remote environment?
HB: We had a very solid onboarding process, that is one of our key strengths on bioMerieux in Mexico. During the first two weeks of onboarding, you are completely immersed in our culture. And in the beginning of the pandemic everything was virtual, then we shifted to a hybrid model, and right now we are really focused on engagement.
EF: What was the message at the Rio de Janeiro managers meeting?
HB: It was a very enriching meeting and the key message was the strategic importance of talent diversity for a successful operation. If you don't have the right people, even though you might have a lot of people, you won't be able to succeed. That's our message for 2022. We are really focused on finding the right people and we are really eager to continue this growth. Looking ahead we need a different kind of office, but you still need space and a way to be in contact.
EF: What message would you give to attract the new generation to our sector?
HB: bioMerieux’s employees average age right now is 35, we are a very young company. We are starting to be attractive to the new generation. We recently hired an IT/Tech employee who preferred us to the tech sector because we were able to provide a meaningful career with purpose. We see a re-valorization of the value of health. We are also promoting intrapreneur projects which are more attractive to younger generations. I would like this company to be known in Mexico as an appealing ‘first job’ company.
EF: Let's fast forward five years, 10 years, what would you like this moment in your career to be remembered for?
HB: I would like to be remembered as a key player in one of modern history’s most challenging years. I had to speak with ambassadors, ministers, government officials in order to be able to bring products to Mexico, all stakeholders were united in order to help. If at least one person was able to go back home, because of our efforts then that is the most rewarding year in my career.
In diagnostics, there are several players like Roche, Abbott, BD, Siemens Healthineers. In the last IQVIA numbers, bioMerieux was part of the big 5. Being so relevant when it was needed the most is a big honor. We are specialized in being stewards of the fight against antimicrobial resistance.