University research that will help develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the transplantation of mitochondria to combat Alzheimer's, prevent renal inflammation, as well as nanoparticles to reduce the use of drugs against cardiovascular diseases, were recognized with the CANIFARMA Award, granted by the National Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry, in its 2021 edition.

This distinction, whose first call was in 1974, aims to link the work of the scientific community in Mexico with the progress of the pharmaceutical sector and to stimulate basic clinical, scientific, and technological research related to drugs, medical devices, and technological developments for human and veterinary use.

The president of CANIFARMA's Board of Directors, Miguel Lombera González, commented that for more than 40 years this organization has been recognizing the talent of the Mexican scientific community and forging a solid bond between both parties.

"There is no doubt that scientific research and development are the starting point and indispensable task for the growth of the industrial and pharmaceutical sector, but even more important is its close relationship with the search for technologies aimed at preventing, preserving, and restoring people's health and, thus, collaborating closely with the National Health System in the pursuit of better living conditions in Mexico. Thus, this sector, aware of its relevant social role, permanently seeks to offer the population the best and most advanced therapeutic options," he said.

In this edition, four of the six prizes awarded went to this university: in the area of Technology, for the development of nanoparticles, to Luis Eduardo Serrano Mora, from the Facultad de Estudios Superiores Cuautitlán (FES) and Luis Alfonso Vaca Domínguez, from the Instituto de Fisiología Celular (IFC); in Basic Science it went to Norma Araceli Bobadilla Sandoval and Ana Brígida Clorinda Arias Álvarez, both from the Institute of Biomedical Research (IIBm).

The award ceremony, held for the first time at a distance, was also attended by the coordinator of Academic Projects of the UNAM, Jaime Martuscelli Quintana; the general director of CANIFARMA, Rafael Gual Cosío, and the representative of the National Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Edilberto Pérez Montoya.


First place in Technology went to Serrano Mora, a doctoral candidate at FES Cuautitlán, who is developing rice and avocado oil nanoparticles that can more efficiently carry drugs to help those with atherosclerosis problems.

In 2019, the first cause of death in Mexico, he commented, was related to ischemia that is associated with arteriosclerosis and, in turn, with high concentrations of cholesterol in the blood that may be due to different factors, mainly lifestyles that affect the Mexican population.

The treatment for this problem is the use of statins, which include compounds such as Atorvastatin, a useful drug but for every 100 mg ingested only 12 will reach their target, the rest is eliminated, mainly in the liver. The university scientist's proposal involves the use of nanoparticles to improve the release of the drug, allowing it to reach up to 100 percent of the drug, which would have a great economic and health impact because the dose is reduced.

Serrano Mora specified: by reducing the amount of drug, the same happens with the possibilities of side effects (such as myopia); the oils or lipids used are also known to reduce the concentration of cholesterol in the blood, which is why they expect a better effect and greater therapeutic efficiency.

Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2

Luis Alfonso Vaca Domínguez and his team at the IFC have been working for 20 years with nanoparticles for vaccines with a longer expiration date than those that exist today and were tested in the development of a biological against SARS-CoV-2, which in animals shows great efficiency. His work won second place in Technological Development for offering easy production and purification, not requiring refrigeration or freezing, which would reduce its cost by up to 70 percent.

Vaca Domínguez said: "We can produce vaccines very quickly so that if new variants emerge we can generate the response to them. This will not be the last pandemic that humanity will see; other viruses will surely emerge and Mexico must be prepared with state-of-the-art technology to respond to health crises and emergencies more efficiently and quickly, with its technologies developed in our country.

In the laboratory, it demonstrated its effectiveness in mice by neutralizing the action of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and even works with the Delta variant. Since the clinical phase involves testing it on humans, investments of millions of dollars are required and it is not easy for the UNAM to carry it out, that is why it is necessary to transfer the technology to a pharmaceutical company and, subsequently, permission could be obtained from COFEPRIS to commercialize it, said the scientist.

Renal injury

A work that will help people with acute kidney injury is carried out by IIBm expert Norma Araceli Bobadilla Sandoval, who won second place in Basic Research. She studies an enzyme called Sirtuin 7 (S7) and how its deficiency or lack reduces inflammation and damage induced by an episode.

The Sirtuin family, she detailed, is related to gene switching and transcription. Seven members were identified that differ in their molecular structure and location in the cell, of which the least studied is 7; it is known that it can influence cellular aging, increase survival, and can have an effect on hypoxia processes (lack of oxygen).

The researcher commented that in the laboratory it was proven that S7 deficiency protects against the damage produced by ischemia, by reducing albuminuria, tubular damage, the elevation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and decreasing the infiltration of immune cells, which could be a possible therapeutic target to shorten renal inflammation.

"The great advantage is that we currently have an inhibitor for sirtuin 7 that has been tested in vitro and it won't be long before in vivo studies are known, even reaching the patient. If we manage to avoid the renal inflammation that occurs during damage, or acute renal injury, this could have a very important impact, since acute renal injury can lead to chronic renal injury," said Bobadilla Sandoval.

Mitochondria vs Alzheimer's disease

Better known as the cell's power plants, mitochondria could be the key to helping Alzheimer's patients, reveals a study headed by Ana Brígida Clorinda Arias Álvarez, from the IIBm, who won third place in the Basic Research category.

The specialist explained that in a previous work her team determined that in the synaptic terminals, where the communication between neurons occurs, the mitochondria decrease their functionality, that is to say, they deteriorate.

César Espino de la Fuente, a doctoral student, proposed a transplant of healthy mitochondria to reestablish the production of the energy required by neurons to function. They focused on a culture of neurons from the hippocampus, a vulnerable region where they put them with exogenous mitochondria, and found that they are incorporated into the neuronal network and increase its functionality.

"We have preliminary experiments already in vivo, in mice, and the next step is to use mice expressing proteins related to Alzheimer's dementia. The first in vivo results are very encouraging because we found the incorporation of exogenous mitochondria in the brain tissue of healthy mice, particularly in the hippocampus," clarified Arias Alvarez.

The researcher from the Department of Genomic Medicine and Environmental Toxicology argued that there is evidence of the use of healthy mitochondria in the cardiac tissue of children born with serious ischemia problems, in whom an improvement in cardiac contraction was observed.