Quadruple Helix Model Helps Cluster Find OpportunitiesBy Alicia Arizpe | Wed, 10/21/2020 - 12:44
Q: What makes Jalisco an innovation hub for the medical industry?
A: Jalisco has built strong innovation capabilities in many sectors thanks to its great universities and academic programs in engineering, medicine and many other specialties. Local universities have comprehensive healthcare-focused programs, such as a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering, and many more that complement these capabilities, such as industrial engineering and marketing. The state also has one CONACYT center and one CINVESTAV center with research focused on IoT and biotechnology, supporting many activities within the cluster. This concentration of knowledge brings interesting opportunities to the medical industry and has allowed the state to develop its Una Salud por Jalisco (Health for Jalisco) program, which follows WHO’s recommendations on creating a transversal model for healthcare.
Q: What unique opportunities in healthcare has the cluster identified?
A: The cluster brings together universities, research centers, government and the industry in a quadruple helix that allows us to identify opportunities that might otherwise go unnoticed. Alongside the German Healthcare Alliance, the medical arm of the German Industry Federation, we have learned to look for transversal opportunities that go beyond our work with doctors and nurses. While we look for opportunities in classic sectors, such as medical devices, we have also worked with the textile industry, agrobusiness and shoe industry. For instance, the cluster worked with Guanajuato’s shoe industry to create regulations concerning shoes for diabetic patients. We also worked with the furniture industry to study the long-term effects of sitting in front of a computer for eight to 10 hours as many office workers do. Such achievements are possible thanks to our role as a cluster in bringing together engineers, doctors, industry representatives and the government.
Q: How have the cluster’s projects supported the needs of Jalisco’s population?
A: We work closely with UNICEF, especially to increase awareness on the importance of breastfeeding, which has proven to have essential health benefits for newborns as it promotes the generation of essential gut microbiota. Infants under six months of age do not get this microbiota from formula so they are at a disadvantage. Furthermore, many newborns in Mexico are born to mothers under 18 years of age and are at greater risk of being born premature, which increases their risk of infections. Treatments with antibiotics at such a young age also have a detrimental effect in gut microbiota. At this point, there are still significant gaps in our knowledge of the Mexican population’s gut microbiota, so most food and pharmaceutical companies selling probiotics base them on foreign information. Generating this information is fundamental for the food industry. We are now working with the National System for Integral Family Development (DIF) to study the microbiota of the Mexican newborn and its potential links to obesity in later stages of life. We also see significant opportunities in senior care and equipment, for instance in the development of wheelchairs.
We have submitted several initiatives to local authorities to increase access to care alongside local institutions and those of other states. Alongside CONCAMIN, we began working with IMSS to build breastfeeding rooms in local companies. This program was paused when we changed government administrations. However, we are working with the current state administration in a program called The First 1,000 Days, which has a much broader scope as it starts during pregnancy and follows the mother and infant for two years. We also worked with the state government on a project in their Municipal Sport Council (COMUDE) centers to bring users wearables developed by a local startup to timely detect diabetes and hypertension. This program had great reception among adults between 21 to 88 years of age.
Q: How is the cluster supporting the introduction of local SMEs to the medical field?
A: Mexican startups face significant challenges to bring their products to market and later to maintain high production volumes. There are cases of successful Mexican startups but they are few. We can identify 20 or 30 companies that have lasted over four years in the market. We saw examples of this in the recent efforts of local companies to build ventilators to address the COVID-19 outbreak. While many companies developed products, some were unable to move forward in the process and bring their products to market.
We are working with the Ministry of Innovation to support startups to enter the market and with technology transfer offices such as Pragmatec, and with the Ministry of Economy, to identify niches and bring these products to market. In 2019, we helped 10 SMEs fill the paperwork to submit their products to COFEPRIS and then sell their products in the national and international market.
Q: What has been the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the cluster’s activities?
A: The COVID-19 outbreak interrupted several projects we were working on but our collaboration with the European Connected Health Alliance will allow us to continue monitoring every project remotely. Moreover, it will allow us to work with the state government to identify needs that have emerged and that can be addressed by telehealth. We also worked with a private company in the development of a remote pregnancy risks monitor called MADRE that has been used with 3,000 pregnant women at a secondary care center. Furthermore, we collaborated with the European Healthcare Alliance to present to Latin American countries the benefits of telemedicine, from prevention to real-time secondary care.
Q: What will be the cluster’s short-term priorities considering the economic and safety challenges the country faces?
A: In the future, we will focus on addressing chronic-degenerative diseases while supporting projects in infectious diseases common in Jalisco, including dengue, COVID-19 and influenza. We are also working with Colegio de Ingenieros Biomédicos (CIB), composed mainly of women, and Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE) in the development of a telehealth ecosystem that will be presented to the local government.
We will continue mapping the capabilities of local companies, universities and startups working in the healthcare sector. We will also continue guiding entrepreneurs on how to best acquire financial support, especially now that local and federal resources are limited, and in helping researchers to bring their applied solutions to the market. The local healthcare sector will be hurt by the new international purchasing schemes that the federal government is planning, so local companies need to find new and better ways to compete. Finally, we will continue working with international organizations to learn best practices and develop projects that support local needs faster.
Cluster Médico Jalisco is a civil organization that integrates the industry, universities and government bodies to develop new technologies for healthcare applications. The cluster also aims to support the local industry, substitute imports and promote medical tourism