Dr. Manuel Zertuche
School of Biotechnology and Food Science at ITESM

Turning Research into Products - Academia's Role

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 10:14

Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) is commited to advancing research and innovation in Mexico. Within ten years, the university has generated vast knowledge and expertise in the biotechnology field, enabling them to help the food and life science industries optimize their bioprocesses. Expanding biological systems and extraction and purification processes has resulted in many benefits, proving that biotechnological research could have a pronounced impact on many fields such as agronomy, energy, pharmaceuticals, environment, and food science. The Monterrey Campus focuses on the health sector in general including pharmaceuticals and nutrition, with modern research lines in the field of genomics and diagnostics. Dr. Manuel Zertuche, Director of the School of Biotechnology and Food Science, says that the college “has been putting a lot of effort into developing new technologies, new medical devices, and sensors to improve diagnostics.” Nanotechnology is also a promising field set to revolutionize health and life sciences.

In Mexico it is quite common for researchers to limit their research to publication instead of commercialization. In this regard, Dr. Zertuche explains that, “when a researcher publishes his findings, it means that he has indeed contributed in some measure to his field of study and is a good indicator that innovation has been reached. Nevertheless, publishing articles should not be a scientist’s sole objective; findings should impact society with innovative products or services.” To achieve this, more mechanisms that connect academia with the private sector could be developed. The university understands the value of this sort of relationship and has created links between students, professors, and companies. Spaces where companies are invited to view and participate in project development with their expertise and capital have been created. In this way the Biotechnology Center created a protein product called Provita, which has captured the interest of several companies due to its potential applications. Provita is a soluble stable protein that can be added to water, milk, and even solids, in order to enhance nutritional value. It is intended to help address the problem of high calorie, low protein food consumption. Provita has the same amino acid content and quality as animal protein, but a lower cost and environmental impact.

Since 2005, ITESM has been the leader in patent filing in Mexico, but it is not the university’s biggest focus. ITESM has the largest technology transfer system in the country, and in less than ten years has created 15 industrial parks where ideas born in the university are developed. The university’s business incubator helps researchers in all phases of product design and development until it reaches the market, with an academic group providing entrepreneurs with tools to advance their projects. For Dr. Zertuche, Mexico is well positioned for quality biological research and its application to the health sector. The country’s biggest challenge, however, remains creating and exporting its own technology rather than importing and distributing it. “Mexico has a solid platform to launch solutions onto the market, the problem is that very few are willing to capitalize on it. I believe that if we continue at the same rate of growth that has been seen over the past few years we will have a mature industry in the next ten years and will see a lot of Mexican products entering the market,” Dr. Zertuche affirms. Synthetic biology and nanotechnology are predicted to become niche industries requiring Mexican participation. To achieve this, Dr. Zertuche says is necessary to change specialists from researchers to developers and to start negotiating with other nations in order to create innovations. Finding a way to effectively market ideas to potential investors is key. To tackle this the college invites international institutions to further develop their most promising projects.

Dr. Zertuche’s priorities are to continue this work and to increasingly push the biotechnology and food engineering divisions to the next level. Attracting the best talent is an important goal for the university to keep its leadership position and entrepreneurial environment. Additionally, the ITESM Monterrey Campus recently created ClusterTEC in order to enhance its research, innovation, and entrepreneurial capabilities, since connections with companies have proved to be useful for graduates to commercialize their ideas and open new businesses. Finally, Dr. Zertuche reinforces his commitment to advancing innovation: “Academia plays a very important role in improving the country’s innovation level and we are determined to continue working with this resolution.”