Ricardo Valverde (Fiocruz News Agency)
Last Monday, April 11, was the first day of the international workshop Innovation by Entrepreneurship, promoted by Fiocruz in a partnership with the Pasteur Institute. The purpose of the event, which will continue on Tuesday, April 12, is to present the results of entrepreneurship initiatives of both institutions and to promote a debate between their researchers. Marco Krieger, Fiocruz vice-president of Production and Innovation in Health, opened the workshop stating that “this is a great opportunity to discuss these issues with one of Fiocruz’s historical partners, which has served as a model for the Foundation to become an institution committed to health and to facing challenges”. Krieger said the genesis that created the Pasteur Institute also helped to create Fiocruz. “Pasteur’s successful initiatives will help us perfect our innovation system, so that the knowledge developed at the Foundation can continue getting to the [Unified Health System] SUS and to the society, in addition to incorporating innovative technologies to our portfolio”.
International workshop Innovation through Entrepreneurship: the cases of Fiocruz and the Pasteur Institute
The next speaker, Fiocruz president Nísia Trindade Lima, mentioned the historical cooperation between the two institutions. The year of 2022 corresponds to the 200th anniversary of Louis Pasteur and the 150th anniversary of Oswaldo Cruz. “These two men left a legacy in their countries: the notion of the institutionalism of science to solve the challenges of public health. The goal of the debate we’re beginning today, at this workshop, is therefore to update a shared agenda between the institutions”. Lima mentioned that Fiocruz approved its Innovation Policy in 2018 and that it needs to move forward in entrepreneurship issues, by means of an institutional action that focuses on meeting the SUS demands. “In this sense, the exchange of experiences with the Pasteur Institute is crucial”, she said.
Lima also mentioned the publishing, in 2005, of the book Louis Pasteur & Oswaldo Cruz, which narrates the trajectory of cooperation between the Pasteur Institute and Fiocruz throughout the 20th century. The partnership is considered one of the most successful experiences in the history of scientific relations between Brazil and Europe. She was the one responsible for organizing the book, together with the then honorary secretary-general of the Pasteur Institute, Marie-Hélène Marchand.
Mario Moreira, Fiocruz vice-president for Institutional Development and Management and moderator of the event, highlighted that the SUS is unique in terms of size: it’s the world’s largest public health service, providing services to more than 200 million people. “About 75% of Brazilians depend exclusively on the SUS, which shows the importance of extending the range of services and products provided to this population. The SUS must be given autonomy and sovereignty, with a strong industrial and technological foundation. Entrepreneurship reinforces this ability to meet demands in various areas, such as vaccines, drugs, testing, and others.
For Marco Krieger, who addressed Fiocruz’s innovation strategy, the driving force that led to the creation of the Pasteur Institute was the same one that gave rise to the Foundation. Krieger described the role played by Fiocruz in the fight against arbovirus diseases all over its history and mentioned how the institution acted in the fight against yellow fever, in the production of the Immunobiological Technology Institute (Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz), and in the work conducted at the Drug Technology Institute (Farmanguinhos/Fiocruz). He stated that this system began to be designed early in the 20th century, at the then Manguinhos Institute, precursor of current Fiocruz, in the fight against diseases such as smallpox, bubonic fever, and yellow fever.
Krieger said that the public health issue was not the beginning of scientific activities in the country, but it was the first time the society noticed its benefits. “At that time Brazil began having technological scientific knowledge that favored its population. Innovation is in the DNA of this institution”, he said, making an allusion to Oswaldo Cruz, Carlos Chagas and other famous researchers of the Foundation. According to Krieger, “We are creating an environment that expands the internal development of technological innovation projects, never forgetting to incentivize the enterprising character of researchers”.
The vice-president emphasizes the breakthroughs made by Fiocruz researchers in the fight against diseases such as zika, yellow fever, dengue fever, and, more recently, Covid-19, showing agility and response capacity. Regarding the pandemic, he also mentioned technological innovations such as the platforms for the production of genetic vaccines, which led the World Health Organization (WHO) to select the Immunobiological Technology Institute (Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz) as a center for the development and production of vaccines with messenger RNA technology for Latin America.
Maria Celeste Emerick coordinator of the Fiocruz Entrepreneurship Program, spoke next. According to Emerick, much of the knowledge that is generated is not incorporated to the health system. For various reasons, research is unable to attract industrial partners or investors, as it is not always developed with the creation of a product or service in mind. The Fiocruz Entrepreneurship Program will help mature projects, with the goal of overcoming the so-called “Valley of Death”.
The specific goals of the program were highlighted. They are: dissemination of a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at the institution; training in innovation and entrepreneurship for Fiocruz employees; support to the development of health solutions; incentivizing the incorporation of solutions, generated by means of the Foundation’s units, of co-development with external partners and its licensing for third parties; and support to the creation of companies of scientific and technological basis in health as an additional channel to carry new products and services through to the society.
All this takes two axis into account: support to the maturation of projects of innovation in health, based on entrepreneurship, with the goal of incorporating them to the health system; dissemination of a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship at the institution.
According to Emerick, the program has been helping accelerate projects. Its efficacy is the result of the methodology it employs, combining training for all groups, with mentorship sessions every fortnight with each individual group.
She mentioned three pilot cases that are working as models and learning examples in this process. They are three technologies developed in different Brazilian states: a biosensor for the early diagnosis of breast cancer (Fiocruz Paraná); a piece of equipment for neurophysiological research and diagnosis (IFF/Fiocruz); and a digital platform for care to dependent elderly people (Fiocruz Ceará). Three researchers, one from each of these projects, told the story of these initiatives.
They were followed by Isabelle Buckle, executive vice-president of Transference of Technology and Industrial Partnerships of the Pasteur Institution, who made a summary of the historical initiatives of entrepreneurship at the Institute. Founded 135 years ago, the Pasteur Institute was, in Buckle’s words, a start up at its time. With 10 Nobel prizes in its history over the years, and currently with 2.8 thousand employees from 70 countries, the Pasteur is a powerhouse of innovation and entrepreneurship, especially in the areas of vaccines, cancer, antimicrobial resistance, and brain diseases, since it developed its first vaccines against rabies in 1888. Buckle detailed the work of the offices for Patents and Inventions, Innovation Development, and Technology Transference.
Among the tactics employed by the Institute to promote these initiatives are incentivizing a research environment that allows for technological development, diffusion of innovation, promotion of entrepreneurship, and reduction of the gap between the beginning of a research and its final product, which is currently 5 to years, on average. In the case of Covid-19, the strong mobilization of the Institute when faced with this challenge led to the involvement of more than 500 researchers and to the development of 25 patents. One hundred and seven contracts have been signed.
The intervention of the Pasteur Institute’s Chief of the Innovation Office, Michel Perez, addressed the projects and initiatives to accelerate and boost projects and their applications. Among the criteria adopted are stimulation of innovations that break paradigms, the needs of the health market, and competitiveness of the patent. Researcher Alexandre Batch wrapped up the first day of the workshop talking about entrepreneurship in France.
The second day of the workshop took place in person, at the auditorium of the Immunobiological Technology Institute (Bio-Manguinhos/Fiocruz), for about 70 professionals related to the subject. This will be an opportunity to have both institutions further develop a dialogue on innovation and entrepreneurship, on the strong assets of both programs, and on the challenges that are currently being faced.
Fiocruz and the Pasteur Institute are historical partners. The Foundation is a member of the Pasteur Network, a global scientific meeting consisting of 33 institutions from all over the world, from all continents. The Network deepens relations between institutions and provides a remarkable support to the discussion of the issue of entrepreneurship at Fiocruz.