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In Catalonia, more than 60 research projects are being led on Covid-19 and the virus that causes it, SARS-CoV-2. In order to boost visibility and collaboration among stakeholders in the ecosystem, Biocat hosted a virtual event on October 22 called Chasing Covid, which brought together the 20 most innovative projects in this field. More than 200 people attended the event, with collaboration from the Catalan Ministry of Health Department of Research and Innovation (DGRIS), Catalan Ministry of Business and Knowledge Directorate General of Research, the ”la Caixa” Foundation and EIT Health.

Biocat CEO Jordi Naval highlighted at the beginning of the event that one of the goals of the session was to help all the BioRegion stakeholders involved in Covid-19 research to get to know each other. “We’re all here together trying to find solutions to a shared problem,” he noted. 

From the projects presented, the audience voted for their favorites in the categories Beautiful Science and Game Changer. The winner in the first category is a project, led by Nuria Montserrat at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, that proposes to generate and use organoids using bioengineering to study possible therapeutic solutions to Covid-19. As the Game Changer, the audience put its money on diagnostics and voted for Maria Soler, of the team led by Laura Lechuga at ICN2 developing a diagnostic system based on optical nanotechnology that can detect three things with the same device (whole virus, PCR and serology test). Both projects won a €1,000 cash prize each.


Mix of disciplines

The 20 presentations at the event were broken into 4 sessions. The first, moderated by Anna Meseguer of DGRIS, focused on drug repositioning. The second, led by Director of the Department of Science and Research for the ”la Caixa” Foundation Ignasi López Verdeguer, on new therapies. The third, moderated by Montse Daban of the Government of Catalonia Secretariat of Universities and Research, on vaccines. And the fourth, on medical technology and genetic and population studies, by Managing Director of EIT Health Spain Cristina Bescos. “To bring science to the people, we need a mix of disciplines, and this is what we’re promoting with events like this one,” highlighted the latter.

The debate after the presentations brought up issues like how SARS-CoV-2 has changed how researchers do science. Jordi Alonso, of the Hospital del Mar Research Institute (IMIM), highlighted greater collaboration among researchers and research areas. For his part, research at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Giulio Rosati noted that it has made people “more aware” of the goal of research, which is a “huge motivation and also a tremendous responsibility.”


Debate and voting on vaccines

In the session on vaccines, Montse Daban indicated that there are currently more than 180 vaccines in the research phase around the world, approximately 40 in the clinical phases and 8 in the final phase of experimentation. Regarding the vaccine projects presented at the event, the speakers themselves highlighted their versatility, the long-term immunity they could provide and the fact that some, like the RUTI tuberculosis vaccine, are ready to use. On the other hand, they also pointed out weaknesses like the fact that some still need a lot of time in development and that the regulatory process hasn’t even begun.

To close the event, Aelix Therapeutics CEO José Luis Cabero debated with Jordi Naval on the role the vaccine will play in managing Covid-19. Although there are some models in the advanced stages, Cabero warned that “there is still a long road ahead in terms of vaccines". The first phase will allow us to reach the most at-risk population, but we’ll see first and second generations that will help prevent the spread of the disease. The vaccine won’t be a ‘magic wand’ against the pandemic.” Those attending the session also had their say: in voting open throughout the session, most said the first vaccine to gain approval from the European Medicines Agency will be the one being developed by Oxford/Astrazeneca.


> Check out the Covid-19 resource center on the Biocat website. 
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