Gloria Soberón
Director
UNAM’s Technology Transference Department (DGV)
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Translating Academic Research into Industry Solutions

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 12:50

Q: What are the main challenges in translating academic research into practical products or services for the Mexican health system?

A: There is a significant gap between a promising result obtained in a research laboratory and the commercialization of that product as a pharmaceutical. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Mexico but it is seen in laboratories all over the world. The projects that reach the market are few and far between, as there are many obstacles along the way. One of the main problems is acquiring funds to materialize these projects. For this reason, researchers often have no motivation to undergo the extremely long and expensive process required to patent an invention and convert it into a product that can be commercialized. For a project to succeed, the researcher must submit to this extremely long process. Translational medicine aims to solve this problem by linking laboratory research with final outcomes.

The first step in establishing this connection is for scientists to understand the development process and the requirements and schedules companies have when launching products. UNAM’s DGV finds both interested scientists and companies and acts as a mediator for the creation of collaboration agreements, through which the projects are financed and companies can license successful results. We facilitate the patenting process to researchers. We are also promoting projects alongside the National Consortium of Research in Translational Medicine and Innovation (CONIMETI) to facilitate the transference of innovation from research laboratories to companies. The goal is to bring together all sectors to facilitate the translational process for health-oriented research.

Q: How big a role does healthcare research play at the DGV?

A: Most of the department’s projects are related to healthcare, but the main problem is that it is extremely hard for projects in this area to undergo the entire transference process. Most of the healthcare projects that have successfully finished the process are related to veterinary products, an area that is not as strictly regulated. The office is supporting many different projects, some of them done alongside other universities, research institutions and even private companies. We are coordinating the first full translation from research laboratory to a company in the medical sector, but we have more projects in the pipeline. One project that is nearing completion is a derivative of Amphotericin B, a powerful antifungal used only for serious, potentially-deadly infections, but which has fewer side effects. Another advanced project is the generation of virusbased vaccines for veterinary applications. Other projects that are in the pipeline include the generation of peptides to fight tuberculosis, a medical device to detect acute kidney damage, antivenoms for scorpion bites, molecular markers for the detection of cervical cancer and an in vitro test for the early detection of hepatic fibrosis and bisphenol A-glycidyl methacrylate (BisGMA)-free dental adhesives.

Q: How does DGV create awareness of the importance of the transference of technology?

A: It is necessary to fully change Mexico’s research culture to promote the transference of technology. The transference of technology can be financed through CONACYT’s Research Stimuli Program, which grants companies funds so they can invest in R&D alongside academic research groups. CONACYT also offers Sectorial Innovation Funds (FINNOVA), which can be used to financially support the patent process but these have been inactive for a while. Together with the researchers, the company sets goals and a timeline and both sign a development contract wherein the company makes an initial payment to the research group. Once the project reaches maturity the company can license the technology. Researchers are also entitled to royalties once the product is licensed. While the patent belongs to UNAM, 50 percent of the profit from the sale is awarded to the authors, 30 percent to the research institution and the remaining to administration. These financial rewards act as stimuli so researchers invest more time in patenting their products.