Biotech round the world: Focus on Mexico


Several regions within Mexico are emerging as highly capable life sciences research centers, as well as sites for current – and future – industry growth.

Author: Biotechnology. J. 2008, 3, 1131–1134

Pharmaceutical & clinical research

Mexico is one of the largest pharmaceutical markets in the world and the largest in Latin America.

With industry sales expected to reach nearly $14 billion in 2007, nearly all-major multinational pharmaceutical companies are present. While most of these pharmaceutical giants are involved with manufacturing activities, many also have made significant investments in clinical research, as well. Pharmaceutical companies (largely members of AMIIF) have also supported the development of strong clinical research clusters in key metropolitan regions, including the DF (Mexico City), Cuernavaca (Morelos), Guadalajara (Jalisco), and Monterrey (Nuevo León). According to AMIIF, clinical trials undertaken by their members have involved more than 1250 institutions in Mexico, more than 2000 researchers, and over 51 000 patients (in 2005). These numbers are, in fact, increasing. While FDA-tracked clinical trials clearly are still concentrated primarily in the United States, a recent study by Thomson CenterWatch notes that the Latin American clinical research market has “experienced significant growth over the past 10 years, especially during the last five.”

Mexican Life Sciences Alliance

The Mexican Life Sciences Alliance is a national consortium formed by four of the main research regions in the country. These four regions in turn have large clusters of research centers dedicated to leading-edge innovation in diverse areas of the Life Sciences. By joining forces across a national network, the Alliance offers a large array of technologies and services to the global biotechnology market. The Alliance has developed a practical view toward the commercialization of its technology and can respond effectively to potential customers, strategic partners, and investors in both the public and private sectors. Additionally, under the sponsorship of Merck & Co., the Alliance has developed an important strategic partnership with the University of California, San Diego.

The four main research regions in Mexico

1. Cuernavaca: This region has the largest concentration of researchers in the country, with famous institutes specializing in biomedical and molecular biology research. The fields of expertise in Cuernavaca are broad in the areas of bioinsecticides, molecular diagnostic services, metabolically engineered strains, human diagnostics and therapeutics, and industrial microbiology.

Cuernavaca is located in the heart of Central Mexico, 85 kilometers south of Mexico City, and forms part of the region that concentrates 28% of the national business activity within a 150 km radius. It is the capital city of the State of Morelos. Cuernavaca is the region with the highest density of scientific capital in Latin America; it is home to 39 research institutions and more than 600 members of the National Research System. Although Morelos represents only 1.5% of Mexico’s

Population, the state is responsible for 10% of the national scientific production. Furthermore, Morelos is the only state that has its own Academy of Sciences, Ac-Mor.

2. Monterrey: One of the most important industrial and technological cities in Latin America, Monterrey offers a unique opportunity for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries in the area of clinical studies. In Mexico’s northeastern State of Nuevo León, Monterrey is known as Mexico’s “City of Knowledge.” The city of 3.2 million has integrated a new sector for scientific production, innovation, and technology development in the area of life sciences with the strong participation of public and private academic and research institutions. The Medical School at Tecnologico de Monterrey (ITESM) is Mexico’s premiere private medical school. Besides medical education and basic research, the school has a Site Management Organization (SMO) that conducts FDA-grade clinical research. ITESM´s Medical School has also developed an aggressive program to train—and accredit—principal investigators, research staff, and institutional review boards at the hospitals it works with. Focus areas within the Medical School include oncology, cardiovascular medicine, ophthalmology, psychiatry, and infectious diseases; the client portfolio includes major pharmaceutical companies, as well as the world’s largest contract research organizations.

3. Irapuato: This region is one of the world’s most important centers in the area of ag-biotech. Expertise in this region is vast in plant biology, the use of plant transgenics for the production of active molecules, the production of plant-derived nutraceuticals, plant genome sequencing, and entomopathology and plague control. Guanajuato State has emerged as the one of the most important region for AgBiotech research in Latin America. The National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (Langebio) a $50-million investment led by world-renown scientist, and member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Luis Herrera Estrella., which is part of the Center for Research and Advanced studies (CINVESTAV) has research programs related to the development of transgenic plants, molecular phytopathology, production of microbial and plant metabolites and vaccines, microbial ecology, food technology (nutraceuticals), and functional genomics of plants and microbes. Also in Guanajuato, the National Institute for Agriculture, Forestry and Animal Sciences (INIFAP), has research programs for plant breeding and biotechnology. The Institute of Agricultural Sciences (ICA) has research programs in plant breeding and food technology. The Institute of Higher Studies of Irapuato (ITESI) has research programs in biochemistry, MEMS and computer sciences. The Center for Research in Mathematics has research programs in mathematics, computers sciences, software development and bioinformatics. The Celaya Institute of Technology with research facilities in Chemistry and Biochemistry.

4. Guadalajara: Known as the “Silicon Valley of Mexico”, the region also has extensive expertise in pharmacology and clinical trials, as well as in the development and manufacture of medical devices.

Guadalajara is the capital city of the State of Jalisco, one of the largest states in Mexico with a population of nearly 7 million. The city is one of the country’s leading locations for clinical research, health care, advanced manufacturing, and software development. Guadalajara is also home to many well-respected educational institutions, such as the University of Guadalajara (UdeG), and research centers with strengths in health, genetics, food, environmental, and animal sciences. Among the regions in the Mexican Life Sciences Alliance, Guadalajara is second only to Cuernavaca in the number of scientists who are members of the National Research System. Many of these researchers are affiliated with institutions such as UdeG’s Center for Biological, Agricultural and Animal Sciences (CUCBA), Center for Science and Engineering (CUCEI), the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT)- sponsored Research Center for Aid in Technology and Design of the State of Jalisco (CIATEJ), and the Hospital Civil de Guadalajara (Public Hospital of Guadalajara), among others. Hospital Civil has the second-largest installed bed capacity in Latin America and is involved in numerous Phase II and Phase III clinical trials with multinational sponsorship. Dialogue and Mexican Life Sciences Alliance

Manufacturing of medical devices

Baja California is the state in Mexico which is keeping up with global expansion of medical device manufacturing. In 2003, Baja California biomedical device firms employed just over 23 700 individuals. Based on 2006 data from Producen (an industry promotion research center sponsored in part by the Government of Baja California), estimated employment in this sector had risen by 29% to nearly 35 000. Such growth is not just the result of State and local economic development teams, but also by the industry itself, with the formation of the Cluster de Productos Médicos de Las Californias – the Medical Products Cluster of the Californias. This group, made up of many of Baja California’s largest medical products manufacturers, is actively encouraging suppliers to expand into Mexico – something that, if done correctly, can actually result in more competitive companies and more employment on both sides of the US & Mexico border. The second largest market for US medical equipment in Latin America (after Brazil) could also become one of the industry’s largest strategic partners.

Increasing numbers of life sciences publications and researchers

Mexico’s National Researcher System also shows some interesting trends. The SNI (to use its Spanish acronym) is a voluntary but screened registry of accomplished researchers in Mexico. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of researchers registered in health, biotechnology, and agricultural science related activities nearly doubled. Over the last decade, the number of scientific publications that Mexico is generating in life sciences-related fields has also more than doubled in some notable areas, including chemistry, pharmacology, immunology, microbiology, and plant and animal sciences. These last two areas, in fact, appear to have relatively high global strengths – according to Thomson Scientifics’ Essential Science Indicators, Mexico’s microbiological publications are cited 39% higher than the world average, and plant & animal science publications are cited 42% higher than average. While this relative rating of citations isn’t necessarily as strong in other areas, it does provide an independent and global indicator of Mexico’s increasing scientific capability.