BUILDING BRIDGES

Mexico 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS

Filling the gap between academia and the private sector, Mexico is focusing on efforts to build capacity and collaboration within and between research institutions.

The National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) has launched an ambitious program aimed at erasing borders and breaking through walls that are sometimes built between organizations in the field of research. CONACYT's Technology Transfer and Competitive Innovations Consortiums will facilitate the transition from basic research to commercial applications in fields as varied as public health, agriculture, and aerospace. Accelerating scientific research will create greater room for innovation, an essential engine of the growing Mexican knowledge economy.

Each consortium will be composed of several of CONACYT's 27 research centers in partnership with one or more universities, guaranteeing a focus on a multidisciplinary approach, and with a clear focus on a given industry. The creation of these joint schemes aims to form synergies that are likely to yield better results in each field of research as well as public savings.
As Enrique Cabrero Mendoza, General Director of CONACYT, told TBY, Mexico needs to channel its investment in R&D toward the industries in which it wants to specialize, such as automotive, aerospace, and agrobusiness, among others. The research consortiums will be located in different states, according to their economic specialization, in order to further decentralize research activities from the capital and increase accessibility to research and knowledge throughout the country. For example, the Strategic Alliance for the Sustainable Development of the Southern Pacific Region (ADESUR), focusing on agrobusiness, will be located in the port city of Acapulco. ADESUR will conduct research on applied biotechnology for the food and drink industry, with a special focus of functional food and the coconut value chain.

The National Center on Aeronautic Technology (CENTA), specializing in the booming aerospace industry, is located in the city of Querétaro. It started operations in early 2018. Finally, the Center for Technology Transfer and Innovation (CITTAA) deals with the automotive industry from its base in Aguascalientes.

Some other consortiums are more policy-oriented and aim at raising the quality of life of the Mexican population. One of the most publicized consortiums in this category is the National Research Consortium in Translational Medicine and Innovation (MTI) focusing on basic research in clinical applications that will benefit the health of Mexicans. This project is the first of its kind in Latin America. It aims at ensuring new treatments and scientific knowledge reach all the patients for whom they were intended. It was signed by Minister of Health José Narro Robles; Mendoza of CONACYT; and the rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNA), Enrique Graue Wiechers. The signatories highlighted this institutional cooperation will be the axis of scientific work that will bring Mexico to the frontier of knowledge. Similarly, CentroMET is the research consortium for metropolitan planning. CentroMET tackles issues arising from the conurbation of different municipalities to form large and complex metropoles by adding the expertise of planners, engineers, and environmental experts.

In further efforts to support the growth of research and consequently the knowledge economy, the Industry Incorporation Program for master's and PhD holders has invited companies and young graduates to submit joint proposals for the optimization of industrial processes since 2014. Selected candidates' contracts are subsidized by CONACYT. The vast majority of the graduate participants end up working for the company, bypassing the need for companies to hire external consultants to run innovation programs sponsored by the government. It also serves to reduce brain drain in many states, inversely increasing employment.

Overall, the consolidation of Mexico's knowledge economy requires joint efforts of all stakeholders from academia to the public and private sectors to take basic research out of its ivory tower and to spread it among the country's productive sectors.