Dr. Hugo Barrera Saldaña
Founder and CEO
Vitaxentrum
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View from the Top

A Nucleus for R&D and Innovation

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 14:20

Q: How was Vitaxentrum created and how has it evolved over the years?

A: Vitaxentrum is the home of two companies, Innbiogem, a consulting firm, and Vitagénesis, a biotech and genomics start-up. After starting Vitagénesis we built Vitaxentrum to both host and create a nucleus of R&D and innovation in order to translate discovery and invention capacities into solutions that benefit society. We spent two years in UANL’s incubator program before acquiring the necessary equipment through state funding and CONACYT. With Vitaxentrum, the outcome was quality scientific research to render great technology, which in turn opened up interesting business opportunities. The next step was to expand the region’s biotech and genomics industrial ecosystem. To achieve this, we started with the worldclass biomedical research and graduate program we had initiated in the mid 1980’s at UANL, and then we developed technology services units. Subsequently, we helped to create the university’s technology transfer center. We then continued with the creation of a new university undergraduate program on genomic biotechnology. Finally, we proposed, designed, and raised funds for new entrepreneurship infrastructure in the form a bio-incubator at the State Technology Park in Monterrey.

Q: What types of clients does the company attract in the sector?

A: The first are those who hire us to improve their bioprocesses, given our proficiency in molecular biology, genetic engineering, and genomics. The second are big pharmaceutical companies and hospitals often needing DNA testing to help them better diagnose or predict a patient’s treatment outcome. The third are the clinics, hospitals, and physicians, which are always seeking support in our specialist areas of molecular diagnosis, prognosis, and prediction. Furthermore, we are constantly writing applications for grants and collaborating with leading international institutions so that Vitagénesis can acquire new technology and remain at the forefront of global developments. Finally, we regularly publish our discoveries and inventions in prestigious scientific papers, and are seeking to gain international quality certifications.

Q: Which of these areas do you think presents the biggest growth potential?

A: Mexico has huge scientific capacity, especially in agricultural and industrial biotechnology, but there are very few good human health genomics and modern biotechnology experts, despite the many opportunities in that field. The area of diagnostics is always evolving, whether due to new regulations or to the release of new products to combat cancer and other conditions. Recent conferences I have attended revolved around such cuttingedge innovations as liquid biopsy, a new technique for analyzing blood to detect cancer cells and their DNA. Many new applications will continue to emerge as the market moves forward.

Q: With all of Vitagénesis’ results being published in scientific journals, does the company also file for patents?

A: We secured a couple of very important patents when I was at university. The first was a new process to produce recombinant human growth hormone, which was granted in the US, Europe, and Japan. We even licensed that technology to a leading Mexican biotech company. A gene therapy patent was also granted, though it remains unlicensed because Mexico is not fully ready to begin gene therapy at the clinical level. A major obstacle in producing our clinical-grade gene therapy vectors has been the absence of a production facility. However, while funding used to be difficult to secure in this field, the Mexican government has now allocated more grants to high-tech endeavors. However we remain far behind the US in terms of regulatory oversight and development programs for the healthcare industry.

Q: How can different players boost entrepreneurship in Mexico’s healthcare sector?

A: True entrepreneurship, where people take real personal risks in starting companies, is a very new concept in Mexico, and young graduates still prefer to start companies in traditional sectors. The healthcare industry has not been seen as a major target for entrepreneurs. To help with this, at Vitaxentrum, Innbiogem identifies important needs, and works with Vitagénesis to contribute high-tech solutions and move them forward within the market.