What is a Life Sciences Ecosystem?

June 15, 2021

What are the life sciences?

Most of us are familiar with biology, but have you ever stopped to think about what life science is? Life science is an evolving and growing field that is focused on living organisms and life processes. In addition to biology, physiology, and genetics, the life sciences include biotechnology, bioinformatics, and other fields of study involving the connection between life and technology.

So, what is a life sciences ecosystem? The life sciences ecosystem comprises all of the companies, organizations, and research institutions dedicated to improving the lives of organisms. Their focus can be on creating products and services related to pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices, and more.

Why is it important?

The life sciences industry has become one of the strongest economic engines in the United States. Research in the life sciences catalyzes the development of new technologies including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, therapeutics, and other diagnostics designed to treat or aid patients. These breakthroughs create jobs, increase wages, and improve access to healthcare and new technology. Fostering the life sciences industry can create the infrastructure needed for research, clinical trials, product development, and advanced manufacturing. In the El Paso, Cd. Juarez and Las Cruces region, building a strong life sciences industry gives a global competitive edge over other life sciences ecosystems in the United States and even the world. To grow the life sciences industry and improve healthcare, the Medical Center of the Americas (MCA) Foundation runs different initiatives that are developing infrastructure and cultivating innovation to strengthen the ecosystem.

What makes up the life sciences ecosystem in the region?

A life sciences ecosystem is made up of businesses, hospitals, clinics, research and higher education institutions, and other organizations all dedicated in improving quality of life. Every component plays a role in improving the healthcare of people within the ecosystem and growing the industry.

The region is served by seven institutions of higher learning that make up the education component of the life sciences ecosystem. These institutions are heavily invested in health care education and biomedical research such as the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso), New Mexico State University (NMSU), and the UT Houston School of Public Health. Across the border in Cd. Juarez, public and private university systems are producing doctors, nurses, researchers, and engineers including the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, Technological Institute of Ciudad Juarez, and Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

Hospitals and clinics also support the life sciences ecosystem by providing access to healthcare for patients. Access to quality health care for residents is expanding dramatically, thanks to a boom in construction and expansion of hospitals, clinics, and other facilities across the region. Notable highlights include the University Medical Center of El Paso, The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus, El Paso Children's Hospital, and replacement of the William Beaumont Army Medical Center.

Lastly, manufacturing plays an essential role in producing and developing medical devices. For decades, the region has been one of North America’s largest manufacturing centers. There are more than 350 manufacturing operations, known as maquilas, in the Ciudad Juárez area, over 40 of which manufacture medical devices and equipment. Three of the world’s top five global medical device companies have manufacturing or contract manufacturing locations in the El Paso-Juarez region. These facilities are producing cardiovascular, respiratory, stents, and other medical devices used to treat patients all around the world.

Why is the ecosystem important to the El Paso, Cd. Juarez, and Las Cruces region?

Growing a life sciences ecosystem is important for increasing access to healthcare for people in the region. Border regions are underserved areas that face socioeconomic challenges that have led to worse health outcomes compared to Texas and the United States; the life sciences industry is essential in improving these outcomes. Higher education institutions are preparing the next generation of healthcare workers who are likely to stay and serve the people in the region. These institutions are combating the shortage of nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professions. In addition, these institutions play a critical role in conducting life sciences research leading to cutting-edge breakthroughs and technologies. Supporting entrepreneurs, startups, and companies can increase innovation in the region, bringing about new technologies to market that can help improve the lives of people.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of having resources such as strong public health leaders, access to personal protective equipment, vaccine development and distribution, and more to fight pandemics. In addition, clinical trial infrastructure play an important role during the pandemic to bring new drugs and treatments to market. For these reasons and more, growing the life sciences ecosystem in the region is critical to improving healthcare for all. With the collaboration and coordination between all the moving parts that make up the robust life sciences ecosystem, El Paso is becoming a hub for healthcare and a global competitor in the market.

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