Dr. Miguel Beristain Hernández
Director
f Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) School of Life Sciences
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View from the Top

Connecting Academia and Industry

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 10:19

Q: What is ITESM Mexico City Campus’s relationship with research?

A: ITESM is endeavoring to be the best academic institute in Latin American and, to achieve this, our main focus is strengthening our production of academic research. Although we have excellent researchers, the vast majority of our expertise has been centered on teaching. Mexico City Campus still has no medical graduates yet since the medical curriculum is relatively new, but each semester, 20 nutritionists, 30 biotechnologists and 17 medical biologists graduate. To strengthen research, a year ago we decided that all professors had to generate an adequate research profile under which to develop projects to attract financing from international or private funds. Our professors now spend less time in seminars and devote most of the day to research areas of interest. A success example is Dr. Jorge Valdez’s research in biotechnology, for which he has been awarded the Rosenkranz prize.

Q: What are some of the main challenges facing the country?

A: Mexico faces a significant challenge as, despite possessing advanced epidemiological profiles, patient mortality is high due to inadequate medical training. To some extent the country is a contradiction. Within its borders highly qualified doctors and progressive medicine can be found, but the inequitable distribution of specialized medical treatment is evident. Fortunately, in Mexico there are expert physicians willing to distribute their time between both high-tech private hospitals and hospitals lacking in proper facilities. The School of Life Sciences is adapting to the shifting epidemiological profile by focusing on chronic diseases, as well as continuing its work on contagious infections. Work on non-transmittable illnesses should not impede research on still-prevalent infectious diseases. It remains crucial to work on solid information systems to accurately detect possible disease outbreaks.

Q: Much of the University research carried out in Mexico is never commercialized - why is this?

A: The majority of public universities focus their efforts on basic research. Before developing a new treatment, numerous clinical trials must be performed in order to gain FDA or COFEPRIS approval. Our researchers work extensively on the same molecules to minimize the required amount of testing. Most researchers in public universities unfortunately do not have the financial resources to carry out molecular tests on biological systems, so normally only conduct in vitro and in vivo tests. We focus more on preclinical and clinical areas as well as biotechnology and biomedical therapies. One of our Directors created a diagnostics platform through information systems under ITESM’s intellectual property and its technology has been applied to the early detection of cervical cancer. Our university has helped companies engage in the generation of technology. Our greatest achievement lies in our creation of a greater diffusion of medical prevention and early diagnosis.

Q: How important are partnerships between academia, public bodies, and the private sector?

A: Research represents a common interest to all parties. We are building links with international universities in order to create research networks to accelerate the exchange of medical information. We are also working with industrial and biomedical engineers to improve hospital processes and address key shortcomings in the technical and administrative management of hospitals. This way, we seek multidisciplinary partnerships to improve processes so that patients receive quality, efficient, and humane care. We have been asked to support a research center in the US dedicated to cancer research due to the low prevalence of evolved cancers in that population. ITESM also collaborated with the EU and ProMéxico on a project to help certify 40 clinical research centers. On undertaking this project I became aware of the size of the clinical research market globally, but noted that Mexico lacked the same impact in the industry. Despite a high level of bioscience expertise and significant talent in Mexico, there seems to be a national and international reluctance to conduct studies here as it is perceived that protocols are not strictly followed and quality is not guaranteed. There have been instances of data manipulation, which has serious implications across the medical industry. As a result, even the smaller Mexican clinical sites are now seeking to be certified under quality standards and, measuring by current progress, we expect to be close to certifying 37 of the 40 clinical sites.