FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
The Biovac Institute was founded in 2003 through a partnership with the South African government as the Biologicals and Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa. The CEO of Biovac, Dr Morena Makhoana, has been onboard since almost the beginning as he joined the company in 2004. He is also a member of the Biovac board and the executive team. Dr Makhoana spoke with PSM about the company’s role in the region and its values.
PSM: WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR MAJOR MILESTONES AT BIOVAC?
DR MORENA MAKHOANA (MM):
The major achievement for Biovac has been the ability to start a vaccine company from scratch in an environment where there was virtually no biotechnology sector. We are proud to attract top scientific talent from all over South Africa, thereby creating meaningful employment and contributing to the bioeconomy. We employ just over 300 staff members, 60 percent of whom have a tertiary qualification. Our demonstrated capability and the calibre of both our people and manufacturing infrastructure have enabled Biovac to attract reputable foreign investment from multinational vaccine companies and donors. Such international recognition is a significant achievement, particularly for a company like ours, located on a continent where our capabilities are often viewed as lagging behind the global biotechnology industry. PSM: PLEASE SHARE OUR THOUGHTS ON THE VALUE OF UBUNTU AND PARTNERING WITH OTHER ORGANISATIONS IN THE PURSUIT OF SUCCESS.
Biovac could not have made the achievements and progressed to where it is today without our key stakeholders: our valued and talented employees, the communities in which we operate, our suppliers, our technology transfer partners, national government and our funders. Biovac’s ability to forge partnerships across the value chain and, through this, to protect life within our communities throughout Africa, as well as in the developing world, reflects the true sense of Ubuntu. We realise that we are more than a business – we are an enabler for human beings to live healthy lives. We just cannot exist nor be successful and sustainable without others who give us a purpose and the means to do what we do every day. PSM: HOW DOES BIOVAC SUBSCRIBE TO THE CURRENT GOOD MANUFACTURING PRACTICE (CGMP)?
The cGMP is the backbone of our industry. It is a critical quality benchmark that we naturally comply with to ensure safety to vaccine end-users through good quality vaccine production and supply. The ‘c’ in the cGMP stands for ‘current’ to ensure that we remain abreast of latest quality assurance standards, guidelines and trends. In 2018 Biovac received approval from the South
African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to manufacture vaccines in vials. This was in addition to our existing approved operations of secondary packaging
and distribution of vaccines. As part of the Biovac quality culture we also undergo ongoing internal and external audits to maintain and ensure that our manufacturing capability and reputation remain top notch. PSM: PLEASE SPEAK ABOUT “REGIONALLY RELEVANT VACCINES” AND THE IMPACT THEY ARE HAVING BEYOND OUR BORDERS.
Since populations and diseases differ regionally, it is important that Biovac focuses on vaccines that are relevant for the African continent, as this is the region within which we operate and serve. Africa is vulnerable to outbreaks, as evidenced by the flu pandemic of 2009 and the recent Ebola outbreak. Without African vaccine manufacturing capacity, our region will struggle to respond to its own vaccine-preventable diseases and it will remain vulnerable. In addition to manufacturing, the local development of vaccines is critical if we are to tackle diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. Product development continues to happen in either more resourced countries (for example, Western countries) or in countries with historically large manufacturing bases
(for example, Asia). Africa consumes a large part of the world’s volume of vaccines, but it contributes relatively little vaccine development and production. PSM: HOW DO YOU ENSURE THE INSTITUTE CONTINUES TO BE A CENTRE OF EXCELLENCE?
We continuously reinvest in our intellectual property, our people and our assets. Biovac has developed its in-house technical knowhow and expertise in some niche areas within vaccine development and has even out-licenced some of the technologies to major partners in the USA and in Asia. We invest in our staff through continuous training and development either in South Africa or overseas. It is equally critical that we use the latest cutting-edge technology that is available globally. PSM: HOW HAVE THE DEVELOPMENTS IN TECHNOLOGY IMPACTED BIOVAC’S WORK?
Any developments in technology must be embraced by companies in order to continuously be relevant and be kept up to date. The upfront challenge is the cost of acquiring those newer technologies; however, the payback comes with time as they can make our manufacturing and product development processes run much smoother and with fewer costs in the long run.
PSM: HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE SUCCESS?
Because vaccine development and manufacturing have a long, multiyear turnaround time from start to finish, we have recognised over the years that the recognition and celebration of smaller, more frequent milestone successes drives our team to stay on track, keep momentum and push onward and upward. Such recognition is given in the form of adhoc “on the spot” incentives as and when greatness is identified, as well as monthly, quarterly and annual ‘bioSTAR’ individual and team awards. Over and above cash incentives, we also offer our employees long-lasting experiences, such as a memorable weekend away, a trip to the movies and public acknowledgement in front of peers. Longer-term milestones are recognised through performance-based bonuses and profit-sharing, where possible and depending on overall company and financial performance. At Biovac, we recognise both behaviour, in terms of how our employees display the Biovac way, and performance, in terms of which key performance indicators were successfully achieved on time, with quality and in budget. We regard collaborative behaviour and effective work performance as equally important in achieving individual, team and company success. It is a continuous process that never ends.
CEO of Biovac, Dr Morena Makhoana.