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2022 has been a crucial year in prioritising and promoting strategic initiatives for the country which will help to improve Catalonia’s position in research, innovation, and healthcare in the future. They include the increase in the budget allocated to Health for 2023 announced by the Catalan Government and which will be joined by €802 million from EU Next Generation funds. The National Pact for Industry (PNI 2022-2025) has also been approved which will drive investment coming to €3.27 billion across 152 measures that will have an impact on the transformation of the country’s industrial model and include some actions in innovation in healthcare and gender parity in the sector. Furthermore, Biocat has been tasked with setting up and coordinating the Healthcare Innovation Uptake subcommittee which is to identify the priority pathway for bringing new technologies, therapies and processes into the healthcare system and make it easier for healthcare centres and patients to access them. The Catalan Government has also sponsored an agreement to conduct technology transfer and scientific research projects in Catalonia through the new Advanced Technology Investment Fund (FITA) and has brought in the new Catalan Science Act  to cement the leadership position of Catalan science. This year also saw the announcement that the BSC-CNS is to host MareNostrum 5, the SJD Pediatric Cancer Center Barcelona has been launched and two projects have been unveiled which will upscale the BioRegion’s capabilities and knowledge and healthcare system: the CaixaResearch Institute  and the Alba II project. The entrepreneurial community has also seen the first mega-investment round in history and welcomed the passing of the Start-ups Act.

This December we are reviewing the key milestones in the year and which we have been bringing together every month in this section, showcasing how the life sciences and health ecosystem in Catalonia is now more than ever continuing to work at a thrilling pace.

Growing investment rounds with a historical transaction worth more than €100M

Impress has once again been the big mover in 2022 after closing the highest round in the history of the BioRegion at €122 million, making it the first business to break the €100 million barrier. Behind them are other rounds such as Minoryx Therapeutics (€51 million), SpliceBio –recognised as “Series A of the Year” at the European Lifestars awards- (€50 million), Seqera Labs (€22 million) and DeepUll (€13 million). This start-up, DeepUll, has received €20 million from the EIB while others have also considerably expanded their funding capacity through other channels such as Oxolyfe (€2.4 million from the Ministry) and Loop Dx, a start-up which emerged from d·HEALTH Barcelona’s Biocat programme and secured a funding grant of €1.2 million and has also made headlines for having been awarded a European patent.

As for venture capital managers, the Catalan firm Asabys has announced the launch of its second fund worth €200 million to invest in 12-15 companies in Europe and Spain in the biopharmaceutical, medical technology and digital health sectors. Meanwhile, Barcelona-based venture capital fund Additio Capital has also teamed up with Grupo Financiero Riva y García to kick off a €60 million fund aimed at 20 deeptech start-ups primarily in health, industry and sustainability.

Turning to start-up news, Minoryx has licensed its main drug in Europe for €258 million to Neuraxpharm while Aniling has earned CE marking for the first in vitro diagnostic (IVD) tests for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, colorectal cancer and liquid biopsy. Likewise, Anais Médical, a spin-off from the Institute for Research and Innovation Parc Taulí (I3PT) which took part in CRAASH Barcelona in 2020, has announced its incorporation as a company as has BREAZ Medical, another start-up coming out of the d·HEALTH Barcelona programme. These and other ventures have turned Barcelona in 2022 into the 5th most important start-up hub in the EU in which the health sector has become the most representative in Catalonia (16% of the total).

Finally, we would like to pick out some of the year’s biggest international meetings such as 4YFN, which this year featured over sixty healthcare start-ups from the BioRegion, one of which –HumanITcare- won the 4YFN Awards 2022. Another outstanding event was the Summit for Clinical Trials Operations Executives Europe (SCOPE Europe), which chose Barcelona to host its annual congress and where Biocat took part in a panel discussion on the challenges posed by the digitalisation of clinical trials and the lessons learned from COVID-19.

The BioRegion of Catalonia 2021 Report was presented in hybrid format. It featured a new all-time high investment figure (€238 million), and we are keen to see how it evolves in the next issue of the report set to be released on 13 February 2023. Registration is now open so don’t miss out on your ticket! Also save the date for another key industry event, the BIOSPAIN 2023 congress which is coming to Barcelona in September next year after it was announced that the Catalan capital will be the venue for its upcoming edition.

Main advances in research and hospital developments

Catalonia is positioning itself at the forefront of advanced therapies and personalised medicine. A good example of this is the establishment of the Advanced Therapies Hub, a project coordinated by Biocat designed to turn the BioRegion into the leading European hub for Advanced Therapies (cellular, gene and tissue) and which will be supported by the new National Centre for Advanced Therapies as a key partner. New developments related to these therapies included CAR-T ARI-0001, developed by Hospital Clínic de Barcelona for treating leukaemia which earned PRIME designation from the European Medicines Agency, making the Hospital Clínic the first academic institution to achieve this designation for any therapeutic indication or area. Likewise, the Research Institute of Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau - IIB Sant Pau also successfully presented the results of Europe’s first CAR-T30 clinical trial conducted in-house for Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Another significant breakthrough related to cancer was the discovery by a group at the IRB (the Barcelona Research Institute) that for the first time they were able to understand how metastasis originates in patients with colorectal cancer. Specifically on this tumour, the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) also presented encouraging results from clinical trials which seek new alternatives to improve the mortality rate in metastatic colorectal cancer. Indeed, Catalonia ranks 6th in number of participations in active clinical trials in Europe with 1,200 studies, mainly in oncology (65.5% of the total).

Other significant hospital milestones include the two BioRegion centres which are in the top 100 of the World's Best Hospitals 2022: Hospital Clínic (61) and Hospital Universitari de la Vall d‘Hebron (83). These facilities were also recognised as two of the public hospitals with the best reputation in Spain and also as the most advanced Catalan centres in terms of deeptech worldwide together with Clínica Sagrada Família. Likewise, Hospital Universitari de Bellvitge installed the first automated clinical and care analyser in Spain with mass spectrometry while it also announced that it is to be equipped with the most cutting-edge technology in the shape of a first-class European Centre for High Precision Diagnostics and its position as a benchmark in robotic surgery is to be bolstered with a third Da Vinci robot. All this came in a year in which they celebrated their 50th anniversary and became a Spanish “reference centre” for Erdheim-Chester disease.

Hospital Parc Taulí also expanded its services with a new Genomic Medicine Centre while additionally gaining a licence to manufacture 3D medical devices, making it the third facility in Spain to achieve this authorisation. Hospital Sant Joan de Déu de Barcelona also won authorisation to 3D print organs in preparation for surgery.

The outstanding research conducted in the BioRegion is shown by the fact that Catalonia is in 4th place in the ranking of countries by number of European Research Council (ERC) grants received per million inhabitants, a list headed by Switzerland, Israel and the Netherlands, and in 2nd position if only the EU is considered. In fact, Catalan centres have received the majority of Proof of Concept grants awarded to Spain by the ERC as well as Starting Grants (56% of the total).

Business growth, changes in senior management and higher foreign investment

Business growth in the BioRegion has been a key feature of 2022. Almirall opened new subsidiaries in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and gained approval from the Ministry of Health to market its dermatological product Klisyri. Grífols also opened a production plant in Ireland, where it invested €150 million, and Uriach closed the purchase of the HuPaVir brand to round off its portfolio of immune system products aimed at preventing HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection. These three pharmaceutical firms together with Ferrer and Esteve have this year opted for generational handovers at the senior management level outside the family. Meanwhile,  Hipra, despite being awarded the Creu de Sant Jordi for its involvement in the research for a new vaccine against COVID-19, is ending the year still awaiting approval to bring its vaccine to market as planned.

We welcome the incoming investment by foreign companies in the industry in the BioRegion. They include biopharmaceutical firm Alexion Pharmaceuticals, owned by AstraZeneca, which has officially opened its new European research and development centre in Barcelona, Novartis with a €63 million investment in its plant at Palafolls (Barcelona) to turn it into one of the pharmaceutical company’s major antibiotic hubs in Europe, and Boehringer Ingelheim which has injected €20 million into its technology centre in Barcelona. It additionally disclosed that it is to invest more than €17 million in its Sant Cugat del Vallès (Barcelona) site to manufacture its new drug for cardiometabolic diseases. Sanofi also reported investment coming to more than €15 million over three years in its factory in Girona while German pharmaceutical firm Merck pumped €14.5 million into the expansion of its plant in Mollet del Vallès (Barcelona). In addition, Teladoc Health, a US telemedicine company with offices in Barcelona, has announced it is to open a digital health technology hub in the Catalan capital.

If you’d like to expand on this annual review, don’t forget to check out the “HIGHLIGHTS” we post each month on the website featuring the main industry news and breakthroughs.

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