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Albert Barberà

CEO of Biocat

Albert Barberà has been CEO of Biocat since early 2016, when he took over for Montserrat Vendrell, who is now the director of BIST. Barberà has a degree in Chemistry and Pharmacy and a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the UB. He has studied financial and scientific management, as well as spending time at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Rockefeller University in New York. Barberà spent most of his professional career at IDIBAPS and CIBERDEM, holding positions in science management, and before coming to Biocat he was the director of IDIBGi.

In a conversation with the CEO of Biocat, the word “challenge” is always popping up. He uses it to describe his new task at the helm of the organization, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, but also believes this whole new phase is an exciting challenge. After a decade of developing the BioRegion of Catalonia, it’s now time to look towards consolidation and transfer. The imminent maturity of the sector only seems to be threatened by one shadow: funding.


After eight months as CEO of Biocat, what do you have to say about how far it has come? What are its main strengths?

For me, professionally, taking over as CEO of Biocat has been a very interesting challenge. Over these months, I’ve come in contact with everything the organization represents, as a strategic body in the healthcare and life sciences sector. The first task has been to understand its internal daily workings while also, given its transversal nature, speaking with the main stakeholders in the sector (companies, entrepreneurs, administrations, investment funds, etc.). This has been a very enriching process. Biocat has a great strength: the ten years it has been working in this arena. It has been an important agent in making the BioRegion what it is today. It is where different areas and viewpoints come together and from which activities are promoted to bring together a large number of the stakeholders in the ecosystem.


Where do you think Biocat, and its member organizations, should focus?

The main goal is to ensure that the research of excellence carried out in Catalonia, which indicators confirm, gets transferred to the productive sector in order to have an economic impact that can be measured in business creation and growth, and in new jobs. At the same time, it must have a social impact: new drugs, new technology and new organizational models. Society funds research and that, along with the trend towards responsible research, means we all have to make more and more of an effort to make sure the results get transferred. Valorization is a shared challenge, and Biocat must play a key role in bridging this gap between the public and private sectors. We have the skills and the structure to make this possible.


In this regard, the 2015 Biocat Report points to a certain disconnect between companies and research. How can we improve this situation? 

By all working together: the administration on understanding that it must provide instruments to help make things happen, academia in promoting entrepreneurship, and enterprise in understanding the importance of collaboration. Biocat as a transversal organization, can help bring these three sectors together and get them speaking the same language. We have the assets to be the next Massachusetts, but we aren't yet. To do so, we all have to work together, moving in the same direction.


The healthcare and life sciences sector is always changing: what are the current trends we should be looking at? 

One of the main global trends is the need for collaboration among sectors to leverage change and growth. The characteristics of our environment make participation and leadership among this group of stakeholders increasingly important. Another trend is the convergence among subsectors (suppliers, biotech/pharma/medtech/digital health companies): these lines are becoming blurred as a result of new scientific and technological breakthroughs. A pharma company that wants to offer beyond-the-pill products needs medtech and digital health; hospitals looking to cut spending on drugs have to talk with pharma, etc. The sectors aren't as compartmentalized as they used to be and we have to think in terms of disruptive innovation. In fact, I think these blurred lines between sectors are the most interesting spots because that's where you find people who are willing to help you look at your problems from a completely different perspective. The third trend is towards the need to tackle new challenges: budget cuts, new partnerships between companies, new payment systems, new stakeholders from other sectors, etc. It's all connected. If we want to build value in this new paradigm, we have to come together and cooperate.


How are the challenges facing the hospital systems tied to the growing trend towards digital health?

Digital health is increasingly focusing on prevention, on using data to create predictive models to prevent diseases before their onset. The increase in chronic conditions and the chronification of others requires complex treatment and involves long-term complications, so prevention is the most efficient option. Access to genomic, phenotype and clinical information from digital devices is the perfect combination to tackle this challenge, which is quite complex as it requires patients to change their habits and all of the stakeholders involved to work together.


How would you like to see the BioRegion of Catalonia evolve over the coming decade?

The aim of the Biocat management is to position Catalonia internationally as a cutting-edge region in research, innovation and entrepreneurship. To do this, we have to get all of the pieces of the ecosystem to align, and continue working to build a dynamic, competitive BioRegion capable of attracting researchers, companies and investors. We have all the ingredients to do so and we must be self-critical in order to do it in the best way possible. But we also have to recognize what we have and raise awareness of it around the world.

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