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EF: What were the key takeaways from the international symposiums you had?

MZ: Symposiums foster an interactive and collaborative environment for participants and the industry. Researchers, medical panels and personnel, scholars, and other people build connections and networks in these symposiums. Each symposium progressively becomes more innovative. Many new technologies, research, and projects are presented differently. The learnings from the seminar make Bio-Manguinhos a reference in Brazil and internationally for development, science, and innovation.  

EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics and prevention, 2021 the year of vaccines; what do you think 2022 will be remembered for?

MZ: The main objective of the pandemic is to get everybody vaccinated because Covid is a virus that easily mutates. Every country should keep vaccinating and spreading awareness of the importance of herd immunity. There should be more global vaccination awareness. 2022 reflects our achievements and challenges. Africa and Latin America, for example, had their unique challenges to address and learn from, such as the ultra-dependence on foreign equipment, APIs, and other supplies. This must be resolved, we have to go back to the drawing board and think about what we are doing wrong and re-engineer the process.  

EF: What were the key lessons for Bio-Manguinhos, from capacity to collaborations?

MZ: The pandemic showed us that we could achieve the impossible. We performed beyond our expectations and capacity. Before the pandemic, we used to deliver 120 million vaccine doses to the government. Last year, we managed to increase capacity and produce around 240 million vaccines. Each year, the number of vaccines we deliver grows.  

One of our specialities is “innovation management”, and the pandemic helped us refine this specialization since Covid-19 enabled vaccine development and technology transfers to be completed faster. A technological transfer contract negotiation used to take us two years to complete, now it takes about six months.  

Early on, we ramped up our molecular tests when we saw what was coming, so we were ready for the pandemic. By March 2020, we had already delivered the tests to the Health Minister. We learned how to organize, arrange and accomplish all our tasks.  

To accomplish our mission and vision, we learned how to overcome difficulties. We have molecular tests that analyze donated blood against HIV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and Malaria. We still need to overcome some issues, like how to dispose of non-degradable materials, such as plastic, safely.  

Raising awareness of the importance of innovation and its impact on the economies is a matter of national security. Investing in science and technology rapidly improves the capacity for development. Many companies do not own any laboratories, yet they are innovative enough to produce several products. Innovation is about management.  

EF: Beyond Covid-19, how do you see Bio-Manguinhos' portfolio's capacity and resources being allocated?  

MZ: When developing new products, we try to increase innovation. Innovation is not only about new products, it is about improving past and present outcomes. Companies can be innovative with no new products by improving their published products. We are less dependent since we develop in-house, know-how technology and science work.

We are also looking for similarly innovative platforms to collaborate with. We are partners of companies like AstraZeneca in the tech trans-front and are getting mRNA technology developed to act as a platform for future advances in Brazil. The huge collaboration net on this project allows us to be innovative. A collaborative platform is a gateway to developing other vaccines and other therapeutic products. We managed to be a strategic partner to the government and international organizations by expanding our plans and capacity and looking into the future.

We have a cancer product prototype in the pipeline and are ready to partner with other companies that are seeking to participate and collaborate with us. Domaining platforms and innovative collaborations are the future. Our commitment with WHO is to create local capacity for technology development that makes us less vulnerable in situations like the pandemic.  

EF: What advice would you give to a new administration on the role of science, innovation, and developing local technologies?

MZ: The government's mindset and approach need to change towards science and technology, this is crucial to the country's development. Healthcare is science-based and technology-based, and this sector contributes approximately 10% of Brazil's GDP, making it strategic in economic growth.

EF: How do you see the role of Bio-Manguinhos in the next couple of years?

MZ: We are building a new industrial complex for biotechnology, and the project's first phase is almost complete. It will increase our production capacity tremendously. We are using innovative ways to complete it by having an investor help us build the facility. Getting an investor from the private sector eliminates the complex and arduous burden of going through the public system.  

We talk to UN agents like UNICEF, PAHO, and Gavi because we export some of our vaccines to UNICEF and PAHO with Gavi's support. Gavi funds much of the distribution of the vaccines. We want more vaccines delivered to other countries, so we discussed increasing our vaccine volume with Gavi. I hope Bio-Manguinhos and Gavi will have more collaborations in the future.  

Brazil currently has low vaccination rates, so we are working with the Health Ministry to find ways to recover the vaccination rates. We have started some initiatives to improve our work in the next two to three years and we have recently bought and are installing a new machine that increases the fillings of new vaccines. This will help us complete some of our delayed transfers due to lack of capacity. The security of supply and innovation processes management has a role in this.  

EF: In four years, you will celebrate your fiftieth anniversary; what would you like to celebrate then?

MZ: Our main objective is to create a more independent and autonomous institution, with flexible control and management while creating domains for our new platforms. We hope we can have more autonomy in hiring and budget allocation management. We have succeeded in creating systems and ways to navigate around that, but we’re looking forward to drafting it formally.

Our employees exceeded our expectations during the pandemic. They worked night and day and handled themselves very well. We are proud of the work and accomplishments they achieved during the pandemic. When we focus, we can achieve anything we set our minds to. We are fortunate to be able to contribute to the fight against the pandemic.  

April 2022