Sonia Pérez
Executive Director
UDIBI-IPN
/
View from the Top

Fostering a Culture of Mexican Scientific Innovation

By Miriam Bello | Wed, 03/16/2022 - 11:58

Q: How has UDIBI helped Mexico navigate the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: When the pandemic started, Mexico and its developers of medical products did what the rest of the world did: they redirected all efforts, platforms, workers and projects toward this emergency. During this time, UDIBI reinvented itself. In fact, we were among the first laboratories approved to deliver diagnostic PCR tests.

Mexico has a technological dependency on foreign countries, from whom we buy everything that is used in a diagnostic or scientific laboratory. As a result, during the first phase of the pandemic, we ran out of diagnostic kits, rapid tests, face masks, PCRs and so on. We recognized that Mexico needed local manufacturing of health consumables. At UDIBI, we have a platform that allows us to obtain the specific antibody sequences of different molecules. We obtained SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and developed them to detect antibodies for immunity detection. We are now developing these into treatments. This is the only case of 100 percent Mexican production being authorized for commercialization by COFEPRIS.

Q: How are you working to shape regulation in Mexico and what is your perception of the changes in COFEPRIS commissioners?

A: Global regulations are based on regulatory science that needs to be in line with scientific advances. In the last 10 years, Mexico had started establishing a scientific base within COFEPRIS through the creation of committees composed of experts in the industry, and there was a great deal of growth. Clinically, each new committee imprints its influence by addressing the problems presented to the commission. Today, there have been changes focused on battling corruption, which from my point of view has not always been proven. However, those changes sacrificed scientific advancements. Mexico was already certified by the WHO for vaccines but there was a change in public health policies and COFEPRIS started to be directed by doctors rather than economists, who have a deeper regulatory knowledge. There have been advancements at INNOVAPRIS and EDUCAPRIS, but I think it is still a commission that is closed off to the industry.

Globally, regulatory administrations work with the industry, they understand the role of the commission as ensuring the safety of the population but also accompany the industry because it is a benefit for medical accessibility. I think we still need a commission that is much more willing to accompany Mexican developments from their earliest stages.

Q: What role does UDIBI play in helping Mexican developments enter the market?

A: We manufacture proteins and we support developers. To start seeing market results and having more 100 percent Mexican products in the market, you need to push development and overcome that Death Valley of having no venture capital in Mexico. There is no venture capital investment, much less for doctors who are neither business savvy nor trained to deliver results based on venture capital commitments. The risk and the preparation that you need for this is different. UDIBI must continue supporting this effort but we must also foster a different Mexican scientific culture. There has to be a differentiated selection of innovation. UDIBI must also grow to offer more services. Each university should have their own UDIBI because there are limitless technological opportunities for development. But there must also be an increased investment. This is the only way to achieve an economy based on science; there has to be a cycle of innovation.  

Globally, investment in science was overwhelming and scientific advancements in the last two years have equaled the advancements made in the previous decade. In Mexico, we also had support that we did not have before. For example, AMEXCID gave us more support, which allowed UDIBI to double in size, but this was more the exception than the rule. There was not an increased investment in science because of the pandemic. There was a realignment in how that budget was organized. There were funds to buy vaccines and for hospitals but there was not a substantial increase for Mexican science and technology.

Q: How is tech being integrated in the education and training of scientists in Mexico?

A: It is not as fast as the world is evolving. Machine learning, data science, metaverses and other advances are creating a generational challenge. We will have to catch up eventually but technology is advancing much faster than our country is adapting it.

Q: From your work in R&D, why are gender perspectives important in healthcare?

A: I think that there are still some glass ceilings we need to break through. Fortunately, science is an area with a much more level playing field as far as salaries and merit go. But there is a difference in time. Women who decide to actively parent see themselves limited in their jobs and productivity, which is then reflected in salary because we are paid depending on results. I think we owe women support in all senses; we need to continue pushing for increased participation of women in STEM as there are still gender prejudices in these segments, especially for women in rural areas who want to enter these fields. All of this is affected by primary education: young girls attracted to science should be encouraged to go into those fields. 

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

A: I’d like to highlight the importance of fostering Mexican companies with a technological foundation. UDIBI is an example of how a product with high-tech services generates resources with which you can hire talent, generate infrastructure, generate a virtuous circle and generate institutional benefits. I think it is very important for that model to be explored. Not all scientists will be entrepreneurs but those who want to should be able to. We have to foster this culture in Mexico. The US generates hundreds of technology companies every year; many fail, but there is an entrepreneurial system there that Mexico does not have.

 

UDIBI specializes in the discovery, development, production and characterization of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products, relying on its infrastructure and experience to provide innovative solutions.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst