Enrique Cabrero
Director General
View from the Top

Encouraging Talent Development Through Scholarships

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 09:37

Q: How can Mexican talent be encouraged to stay in Mexico after graduating and not leave to work abroad?

A: CONACYT has several programs to retain and attract highly qualified human capital. One is the Professorships for Young Scholars Program that incorporates young people into the country’s research system. Currently, there are 1,298 professors distributed across universities and research centers, focusing on various topics. We also have repatriation and retention programs. Additionally, we have the Program for the Incorporation of Postgraduates into the Industry. This program has been developed to facilitate the employment of trained professionals to promote competitiveness and innovation. For this program, CONACYT contributes half the salary of the selected candidates.

Q: How do Mexican science and medicine programs rank globally? What more needs to be done to improve them?

A: This year we have 27 medical and health science programs listed as “internationally competitive” in the Mexican Postgraduate Quality Program. CONACYT awards this category in recognition of a program’s longstanding commitment to pioneering research, the best quality in teaching, outstanding academic resources with international standards, as well as international collaborations with prominent institutions around the world. As of March 2017, these programs had 292 students with scholarships provided by CONACYT and they were located in seven different institutions in five states. There were also 25 internationally competitive programs in the fields of biology and chemistry with over 1,500 CONACYT scholarship holders.

To improve the quality of our programs, we have been supporting the acquisition of scientific publications and the expansion of infrastructure through different funds. For instance, the national laboratories call has funded several large initiatives in areas such as radiopharmaceuticals and biotechnological medicines.

Q: In which areas applicable to health does Mexican talent shine the brightest?

A: Most of the brightest Mexican talent focuses on researching chronic and infectious diseases, the leading causes of death and disability. Research is primarily focused on obesity, metabolic syndromes, nephrology, rheumatology, heart diseases and respiratory diseases. Mexico has renowned researchers who focus on the study of infectious diseases, including vector-borne diseases such as dengue and chikungunya, as well as those resulting from a virus like zika.

Many of our scholars have been internationally recognized for their work. For instance, in 2017 the British Council granted the physicist Fátima López the Study UK Alumni Entrepreneurial Award. She completed a Ph.D. in Medical Physics at the University of Sheffield and she is currently responsible for implementing a new national policy that allows IMSS to commercialize new technologies, with royalties bringing in hundreds of millions of pesos that will be reinvested in the Mexican healthcare system.

The British Council also granted Pablo Manrique the Study UK Alumni Social Impact Award. He completed his Ph.D. at the Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is a professor and researcher at the University of Yucatan and focuses on control methods of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main transmitter of dengue, chikungunya, zika and yellow fever.

Last year, L’Oréal, CONACYT, UNESCO and The Mexican Academy of Sciences granted Viridiana González a scholarship for her work on aging and health problems of the elderly. She works in the Department of Health Sciences at the Metropolitan Autonomous University.

Q: What has been done to increase the number of specialized workers, a need identified by CONACYT in 2015?

A: The number of scholarships provided by CONACYT has increased by 34 percent since 2012 and there are 45 percent more members of the National System of Researchers. The number of students enrolled in a program related to medicine or health sciences increased by 43 percent between 2012 and 2017. The number of programs connected with medicine or health sciences registered in the quality graduate programs listing jumped from 207 in 2012 to 365 in 2017, an increase of 76 percent. The number of researchers related to medicine or health sciences registered in the National System of Researchers increased by 60 percent from 2013 to 2017. In addition, the implementation of the professorships for young scholars program has created new academic jobs throughout the country. This has been an outstanding program to support research in Mexico.

Q: CONACYT supports certain companies. What criteria does it use to select them?

A: To fund a project, CONACYT evaluates all submissions and then selects the best ones, prioritizing those that belong to strategic areas such as health, pharmaceutics, bio and nano-technology, aerospace, automotive and energy.

The incentives to innovation program is an instrument to support projects that aim to develop new products, services or processes or to improve existing ones based on technological advances. We have already completed eight competitive calls, supporting 5,549 projects with a total budget of approximately US$1.6 billion, which means an average of US$201,000 per year. Two hundred and forty projects (4.3 percent) were related to pharmaceutical areas. These projects received a total US$55 million. We can also include health projects, of which there were 259 (4.7 percent of total projects funded) and US$81.5 million. Additionally, the program supported 25 projects related to medical devices with US$7.7 million.

Q: Which are the most promising projects being developed in conjunction with or with grants from CONACYT?

A: We are in the last stages of the creation of a consortium in translational medicine to facilitate the application of knowledge obtained from clinical trials and basic research to produce new pharmaceutics, treatments and prevention systems. The Ministry of Health and UNAM are also taking part in this project.

In addition, we have projects for the design, synthesis and preclinical validation of new treatments to prevent drug abuse. The preclinical phase has already concluded and the clinical phase is next. The treatments are being developed in the National Institute of Psychiatry and are supported by the Sectoral Fund of Research in Health and Social Security (FOSISS). Furthermore, people at the UNAM are developing affordable hand prosthetics  and validation protocols for robotic devices for human use. Similarly, the National Institute of Cardiology is developing a coronary stent to aid the treatment of coronary artery diseases. This project, supported by the incentives to innovation program is in a preclinical phase. It is expected to open new markets and trigger industrial and commercial ventures due to its comparatively low price.

Q: How is CONACYT working with international organizations and institutions to showcase Mexican talent abroad?

A: We have fostered international cooperation through agreements with governments and institutions around the world. We have signed more than 200 cooperation instruments and we have supported high-impact research, mobility and participation in international scientific projects. Regarding medicine, we participate actively in the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases through global projects. We are aware that health institutions play a key role in research, so we support them in international initiatives. For instance, we recently channeled a £2.5million Newton Fund initiative to the Sectoral Fund with the Ministry of Health.

Q: What are CONACYT’s main goals for the next few years?

A: CONACYT has set objectives to guide our future work, which include a more efficient and responsible management of public resources and stronger participation of the private sector and universities in expenditure. We are committed to advancing niche sectors in Mexican states and to working with the recently formed consortium to promote regional development. We will also continue to consolidate strategic international alliances, as well as with the institutions of the Science, Technology and Innovation System.

Regarding medicine, we are supporting the development of translational medicine in particular regarding metabolic diseases, in line with the national health priorities. We also promote progress in preventive medicine, especially regarding teenage pregnancy, maternal and child health and infections associated with medical treatment, including the indiscriminate use of antibiotics and the subsequent rise in antibiotic resistance, a rising threat worldwide. Mexico is also following suit in global efforts to develop personalized medicine.