At its simplest, biotechnology is the development or production of products from living organisms. For thousands of years mankind has applied biotechnology to produce various food sources including bread, cheese, and dairy products. Today however biotechnology is associated with high-tech biological products developed in laboratories, which reduce our environmental footprint, increase food production, and treat diseases.
Although it is estimated that the biotechnical industry currently employs 25,000 people in Mexico the industry is still in an early phase of development. Recently a group of biopharmaceuticals went to South Korea, led by Mikel Arriola, the current head of the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (COFEPRIS), to look for ways in which established biotechnology hubs can knowledge share with Mexico. Dagoberto Cortés Cervantes, the President of the Mexican Chamber of Pharmaceuticals (CANIFARMA) explains the benefits of joint knowledge sharing, saying, “We are moving very fast in the field of biotechnology but it is a ongoing project, and we recognized that it would take too long to start from scratch alone. Fortunately the health authorities agreed with us and supported this initiative.”
This is a good example of how health authorities in Mexico are collaborating with the global industry in order to stimulate growth in the biotechnical and pharmaceutical industries. Cristóbal Noé Aguilar González, the President of the Mexican Society for Biotechnology and Bioengineering (SMBB), explains that, “In recent years, we have seen a positive effervescence in Mexico’s biotechnical industry. Several government institutions such as CONACYT, SE, SAGARPA, SEP, SEMARNAT, SENER, and state governments are stimulating research, development, and innovation in our sector, promoting the generation of a new biotechnical industry.” Small and medium-sized biotechnical companies were created successfully over the last years, and although most funding comes from the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) an important number of projects were financed through special schemes where the private sector, the government, and research institutions share the burden of costs, according to Aguilar.
Several states have clusters for biotechnical companies that are essential to the development of the industry with Aguilar explaining that they are, “Drivers of competitiveness and local economic development by capitalizing on local advantages such as geographical conditions, natural resources, or specific human capital.” Baja California, Nuevo Leon, and Queretaro all have bioclusters and the cluster Redblac is present in multiple northern states and the federal district. However multiple opportunities remain and Aguilar sees potential for bioclusters to be created in Jalisco, Morelos, Yucatán, Sinaloa, Sonora, Veracruz, and Coahuila. The clusters also fulfill an important role in the education and training of new bioengineers as they collaborate with universities to optimize the curriculum and offer training programs.
Developing Mexico’s biotechnical industry is essential in supplying Mexico’s future demand for medicines as the demography of Mexico is changing. The weight of the population pyramid is shifting from the base towards the middle as Mexico’s population rapidly ages. This presents challenges for the entire healthcare sector, with people requiring increasingly more healthcare as they get older. The pressure is further exerted by Mexico’s obesity rate, which is the highest in Latin America and the second highest in the world after the US. Long term side effects such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases mean Mexico’s health system has its work cut out for it in the years ahead. According to Cortés biotechnical products have a vital role to play in this challenge, adding that, “In twenty years 47% of the Mexican population will be older than 45 years, and biotechnical products will be the right answer for this situation.”
Considering the importance of Mexico’s biotechnical industry it is essential that the government continues to develop the industry and Aguilar believes that, “One of the main growth drivers for the Mexican biotechnical industry in coming years will be the permanence of triple-helix government programs, which have been created to promote biotechnological innovation.” This requires the effective collaboration of the government, the educational sector, and the private sector, and Aguilar believes the industry should continually advise the government and related institutions on how to adapt their policies to meet changes in Mexico’s demands.
Aguilar concludes that Mexico is reaching unprecedented growth levels in the biotechnical industry and has become an important biotechnical player in Latin-America in several sectors like agriculture, mining, biofuels, and animal and human health. Furthermore he states that “Mexico has a government investment in the training of human resources, in high quality scientific programs, and funding for research projects. The rest is just promoting, improving, and multiplying each of the efforts made in the field.” Albeit in a development phase, the Mexican biotechnical industry is moving fast, and with the government, regulation authorities, and the industry aligned a bright future awaits the sector in Mexico.