Read the Conversation
EF: What are BioManguinhos' priorities for 2023?
MZM: Our efforts are focused on several directions. Regarding the viral vector COVID vaccine, we are in discussions with AstraZeneca and Oxford University to update the vaccine to the new strain and variant. Next year we aim to produce an updated version of the vaccine, to supply not only the Ministry of Health but also participate in the tenders of UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), looking into the possibility of providing the vaccine to other countries.
Although we are currently manufacturing COVID vaccines in the viral vector system, we are now able to produce other products in the mRNA platform too. Some vaccines in this framework are already under development and will be unveiled to the public soon.
We also intend to develop oncological products. We are investing in this platform and receiving important support from Brazilian MoH and organizations such as PAHO, which are part of the development of a new Covid-19 vaccine. When we succeed in this development, we are committed to transferring the technology or manufacturing the vaccine at a low cost to the countries of the region. PAHO is supporting us so that we can speed up the process.
EF: How can Brazil take the lead as an innovator in a global setting?
MZM: Compared to other countries in the Global South, we are already ahead when it comes to the development of mRNA vaccines.
It is important to reposition this region. In multiple international events, I assisted, the importance of relying on the global south as manufacturers have often been emphasized.
Data shows that during the pandemic, the global south manufacturers were leading suppliers to the world of COVID vaccines. About 60 per cent of all COVID vaccine supplied worldwide was produced in the Global South, with India and China as the biggest manufacturers.
To increase the global capacity for producing vaccines, we need to invest more in the already existing global south manufacturers.
This is an important message that we have been pushing to international agencies. Although we supplied about 60 per cent of the total COVID vaccine to the world, we received only five per cent of the global investments.
EF: How do you balance your public and private partnerships, and how do you think we can use this dual system to bring more investment to Brazil?
MZM: The partnerships we have with private companies, especially Big Pharma, have been very important for us to build new capabilities, get access to new technology, and also introduce new products to the Ministry of Health faster.
As big actors are able to invest billions of dollars every year, sometimes it is very difficult for us to compete from a financial standpoint. In 2021, Brazil invested around 10 billion dollars in innovation, while one big pharma company alone allocated 14 billion dollars in research.
We need to strengthen our capabilities to enable us to develop and innovate faster and respond quicker. We learn a lot from our private partnerships. They help us build production capacity and allow us to respond to the demands of the Ministry of Health. One result is that we are now able to develop products on our mRNA platform faster and in-house.
Innovation is made through partnerships; however, we have become less dependent on everything we have learned along the way.
In molecular diagnostics, we are at the frontier and have the capacity and capability to develop molecular diagnostics very quickly. We are beginning to create molecules for biopharmaceuticals and working with new platforms in viral vectors and mRNA on vaccines.
In cases where we cannot meet the immediate needs of the government, but the product needed is already available, we opt to do a technology transfer. In a mix of strategies, we balance tech transfer with our big partners and the in- and out-house developments with other companies.
Bio-Manguinhos has grown, and our visibility has increased. We now have more capacity to collaborate and to develop our own products and partnerships in the future.
EF: What is the importance of self-reliance for a country in the manufacture of vaccines?
MZM: We have always said that the manufacture of vaccines is a matter of national security. The region is relying on us to support the other countries that are not able to have the same performance. Furthermore, we are actively forging stronger partnerships with other companies, as there are numerous potential collaborations that we can pursue. Our responsibility has increased as PAHO and other institutions are asking us to extend our support in Latin America.
Even though several countries in Latin America & Caribbean have produced their own vaccines in the past, often it was not feasible due to the rapid introduction of new technologies and more stringent regulatory requirements for production.
To produce a vaccine, a viable ecosystem is crucial. You need education, shaping people in the areas, a strong regulatory authority, substantial market demand, and a good supply of materials.
In Brazil, we are not dependent on the international supply of vials, labels, cartons, and other materials, although most of the materials still come from abroad. We are in discussions with the government to formulate an industrial policy that protects our national industry and enables us to bring some other technologies to Brazil so that we can be less dependent on international suppliers.
EF: Does BioManguinhos have any initiatives to educate people about the importance of vaccination and immunization programs?
MZM: We have exceptional individuals dedicated to projects of this nature. Dr. Akira Homma and Dr. Lurdinha Maia are two remarkable advisors of Bio-Manguinhos that, together, are currently coordinating a project established in partnership with the National Immunization Program and Brazilian Immunization Society, in which they implemented their experience and innovative ideas in order to increase the vaccination coverage of Brazil as a pilot program in Paraiba and Amapa states. These states have achieved the highest vaccination coverage in the country among the vaccines included in the pilot program. We have demonstrated that our model has the potential to be replicated by the Ministry of Health around the country. Still, certain investments, particularly in information technology for efficient data management, are crucial for its success.
EF: A key element to keeping innovation in the country flourishing is attracting a new workforce. What would be your advice to the next generation of scientists as a leader of one of Brazil's most renowned technology institutes?
MZM: This biological industry is very specific. It is the fastest-growing area in the pharmaceutical field. Often, people are unaware of the nature of our work or the employment opportunities available to them. Consequently, we are actively working towards demystifying this realm. We offer internal training courses and master's degree programs to our personnel and actively engage with society. Recently, we hosted a visit from a group of Pharma students from one of our federal universities in Rio de Janeiro. The primary objective of this visit was to showcase the various career prospects within the vaccine and biological industry.
We showcased our internal pharmacists' roles, including production quality control, clinical trials, and quality assurance. We demonstrated the diverse opportunities available to pharmacists in this industry, aiming to stimulate and inspire students for their future careers. Ten of our pharmacists spoke to the students, sharing their experiences and expertise in various fields. This approach serves as a means to encourage students and ignite their passion for the future.
EF: Do you have any final message to our readers that you think is important?
MZM: We are diligently preparing ourselves to provide more support to international agencies, the public health system in Brazil, and other countries in the region. Our focus is on strengthening our capacity to fulfill this role effectively. Recently, we engaged in discussions with the Argentinean government regarding the transfer of our yellow fever technology to assist them in producing the vaccine domestically. As part of our commitment to the region, we actively support countries in bolstering their manufacturing capabilities, education, and healthcare systems. Fiocruz plays a crucial role in our region, and we are fully aware of its importance.
Our region was neglected. We have 10 per cent of the world's population, but we registered 30 per cent of the COVID deaths in the world. The international community has not given adequate attention to this matter. In the absence of external recognition, we take it upon ourselves to acknowledge and prioritize these issues. We are resolute in our commitment to support our MoH, PAHO, and our region, recognizing the pressing need for attention and action.