Flora Piña
Commercial Director

Comprehensive Solutions for Specialized Areas

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 10:26

Research centers play an important role in the pharmaceutical ecosystem but budget cuts are placing them and their suppliers in a precarious position, says Flora Piña, Commercial Director of Uniparts, a Mexican distributor of scientific materials and equipment for R&D laboratories. “In 2018, CONACYT made a 68 percent budget cut on infrastructure, which hit research centers in their ability to buy reactants and equipment. This also hit all universities and research centers across the country.”

With over 30 years of history, Uniparts provides integrated solutions for highly specialized areas, including biotechnology, molecular biology, cell biology, histocompatibility and diagnostics. The company works mainly with research centers, although it does have corporate clients. From its inception until 2014, the company experienced an annual growth rate of 20 percent, explains Piña. “The past few years have been complex due to budget cuts, so we exploring other alternatives.” Uniparts has five offices in Mexico: Monterrey, Guadalajara, Merida, Queretaro and Mexico City, from where it supplies all state universities. The company is looking into developing its own laboratory services as it expands from its supplier roots. Tighter budgets are just the latest problem hitting Mexican R&D as the sector has also faced a chronic lack of private investment. “There is little interest from pharmaceutical companies to invest in Mexican R&D, but there are exceptions. Furthermore, there is still a gap between academic research and the commercialization of a product.”

Piña explains that this gap has been a problem for decades, as universities lack the know-how related to necessary steps for commercializing their products. “Researchers often lack knowledge on how to develop commercialization strategies. There are no financial incentives from public institutions for researchers to navigate the many barriers that complicate the launch to market of a new product. Other countries like the US have managed to create successful financing schemes for their institutions, helping researchers to develop their products.” Mexico’s problems bringing research to market can be seen in patent registrations, says Piña. “Most of the new patents created in Mexico belong to foreign companies. Patent judges also do not have the necessary training to perform this job, which makes the process too time consuming and inefficient.”

To cope with a reduction in sales, Uniparts decided to capitalize on its extensive experience with state-of-theart technology. Instead of providing the equipment, the company now provides the tests themselves. “We have a strong scientific support division and an engineering department that are in charge of training clients on the use of our products.” One example, Piña adds, is the trend in the global pharmaceutical sector us the use of cell cultures to avoid clinical tests on animals. “In Mexico, this practice is just starting so we hosted a series of conferences to create awareness on cell culture techniques, including 3D-cell culture protocols. Some of our attendees have shown interest in further investigating these topics and have requested workshops from us.”

The next step for the company is to lean on its employees’ experience in many different research lines to develop a testing laboratory. “Our company sells state-of-the-art technology but Mexico is often about seven years behind in technology in comparison to the US and the EU, so we have to make a strong effort to educate our potential customer base on the new techniques that are impacting research development.” Piña says that the laboratory is expected to be ready in 2019 when it will start providing flow cytometry services. Later, it will add more cuttingedge technology, including Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), an area that is trending globally to sequence genomes. “While this technique is extremely popular worldwide, it is uncommon in Mexico, so it is a large area of opportunity.”

Going forward, Uniparts will focus on diversifying its services to weather the budget storm. “We want to generate a strategy to recover the share of the market we have lost due to this period of uncertainty and focus on finishing our laboratory.” The company does see more opportunities ahead. “About 80 percent of the products we distribute are imported so I see a significant opportunity for the company to generate its own molecular diagnostics kits.”