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EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021, was the year of vaccines. What do you make of 2022?
JO: We're transitioning from the pandemic years back to normality. We have learned that pre-pandemic Latin America depended on the global economy, a lesson that should change in the future, as a similar situation might occur again. We, therefore, should deduce means to prepare, adjust, adapt, and prevent, if it ever happens again, and capitalize on opportunities that arose due to the pandemic.
EF: What mission did you set for yourself when you started this project?
JO: I have a lot of experience in the technology industry, having previously created a vaccine company. What triggered my instinct was the lack of access to biologicals; I, therefore, resorted to doing something different since my vaccines were not helping people while in freezers. I decided to find a strong partner who can understand and commit to the future in setting up a company in Colombia.
We started from scratch, building my team of around 20 people in our company with different sectors from business development to manufacturing. We now have a director of vaccine manufacturing and plant director, and it's a project unveiling well, projecting to Latin America.
Regarding becoming a hub in Latin America, we hope to export science and technology from Colombia to World, using our global partners to mitigate tropical problem diseases like Zika, Chikungunya, or Dengue. I can see us leading in science and technology from our region and having international partners that help us distribute the vaccines we create to the world.
EF: What are the direct benefits of having vaccines researched and produced locally?
JO: Local production helps the recovery of the domestic pharmaceutical industry. It also sets up a prioritized, efficient, and effective distribution for the entire country, access to public health is improved, and contributes to economic recovery due to the creation of jobs, the generation of resources from exporting the biologicals, and lower costs for those who distribute them.
VaxThera, as a Colombian company, is working with its own capabilities, collaborative networks, leading-edge technology, and national and international experts who will reinforce the transfer of knowledge to achieve vaccine autonomy and thus be prepared for future pandemics.
EF: To what extent does VaxThera promote local innovation within the country?
JO: We are working with the Ministry of Science and Technology to create local vaccines in Colombia and develop our own design. We also understand that this, our promise in our region, requires our approach to doing things.
Our project is studying to fight major cancers in Colombia, to understand the genome and the composition of those tumours, and to have a particular target that could be more towards our population. We are doing the same for local viruses and coordinating with the local problems in the region.
EF: Could you elaborate on the partnership and the benefits it will bring you?
JO: Gennova is a company in India that covers two areas; vaccines using state-of-the-art novel technology and mRNA vaccines. They're making it in a cheaper way than what we see from the major pharmaceutical. They use technology that makes their vaccines last longer at lower degrees, making it feasible to vaccinate people in remote regions of the country.
Gennova gives us access to future technology and can use the same technology to produce other vaccines. We are now basically signing agreements with many different partners in all parts of the world and some other countries that are pushing knowledge in terms of vaccine development and biologicals. Our plan is also a two-way partnership so that our vaccines can be used in their regions as we exchange resources.
EF: How do you plan to use digitalization at VaxThera, and what benefits will it bring?
JO: All the technologies that we use in our development of vaccines are the best available. For us, it is so important to accomplish the gold standards in our processes, including digitalization. Working under digitalization helps us to give a fast response to future outbreaks.
EF: From a manager's perspective, what skills are you looking for in employees in your company?
JO: A vaccine manufacturing facility requires skills in many different areas, not just biotechnology. We need expertise in; business management, legal affairs, biologicals, education and communication, intellectual property, and many other fields, including low-level jobs.
EF: Five years from now, what do you hope to be celebrating?
JO: We hope it happens earlier. We expect to be launching the manufacturing facility; we plan to finish construction at the end of next year and start all the regulatory processes by mid-2024. We hope to be the leading company in Latin America.
EF: Is there a final message you would like to share?
JO: There has been cooperation within the private sector, and we hope to see a commitment from the local and regional governments. We need to work with them to get the vaccines to our people since we can get a high impact in a cooperative way with the government.