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Dr. Manel Balcells

president of the Biocat Executive Committee


The HealthTIES project was launched on 7 October in Brussels. This initiative includes the top four European bioclusters in the medical technology field: Dutch cluster Medical Delta, which is structured around the universities of Leiden and Erasmus in Rotterdam, with more than 400 companies and one of the most important science and technology parks in the Netherlands; the cluster located around Oxford and the Thames valley, with 22 universities and more than one thousand companies; Swiss cluster Life Science Zurich (LSZ), which has 3 universities, 26 medical clinics and an important industrial fabric; and Biocat, which contributes the strength of our 9 universities with bioscience degrees, 9 science and technology parks that are active in biotechnology, biomedicine and medical technology, more than 400 research groups and 60 research centers that focus on life sciences, our network of more than 200 hospitals, six of which are the most important in Spain with regard to clinical research, and 350 companies from the Catalan biomedical and biotechnology sector.

This is not the only European project being driven by Biocat, but it is one of the most important. It aims to speed up the innovation cycle in the medical technology field and promote increased and more effective interaction between education, research and medical facilities in four therapeutic areas (cancer, cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and infectious diseases) that are key for Europe, whose main medical challenge is the ageing population.

Catalonia is particularly well positioned to contribute to the development of new medical technology and to serve as a model of innovation for other areas of the continent. Four centers from our network of hospitals already have innovation units (Parc Taulí, Clínic, Sant Joan de Déu and the Guttmann Institute) and similar units are in the works at four additional centers (Bellvitge, Sant Pau, Vall d’Hebrón and Germans Tries). Additionally, the Parc Salut Foundation is driving an innovation network for hospitals in the province of Barcelona (Taulí, Consorci Hospitalari i Mútua de Terrassa, Guttmann and hospitals in Mataró, Igualada, Granollers, Vilanova and Manresa), which allows —and will do so even more in the future— new technological innovations developed in clinical practice to make it to market with unparalleled speed, generating a number of spin-offs from the hospital system.

Unlike the situation in other countries, here the hospital system is the driving force behind innovation in medical technology. In countries with a strong technological background, like Germany, industry plays this role. Our system is unique because it is closer to both the real needs of patients and those of the professionals that treat them.

The Catalan public health system, with its investment in research and clear dedication to innovation, has a lot to contribute in Europe and will be further strengthened by working with important clusters in Oxford, Zurich and northwest Holland. The Health-TIES project is a first demonstration of the group work that can be done in the framework of the knowledge and innovation community in healthcare/life sciences sponsored by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), which the Catalan biocluster aims to lead. Because we can, because we have the research potential, higher education and business fabric to do so. 

Just an example: In Catalonia we find 38% of the medical technology companies (270), which account for 50% (3,700 million euros) of the total Spanish turnover in this sector. This, plus the hospital sector’s capacity for innovation, makes our country a key player on the European biomedical scene. This is a position we must make the most of in order to benefit economic development in Catalonia under the framework of projects like the EIT.

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