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New investment record in the BioRegion and more available funds

In a year made difficult by the Covid-19 pandemic, the life sciences and healthcare sector has kept growing and accelerating. The economic transactions reveal that the pandemic triggered investments in health startups, as we highlighted in the latest review in the BioRegion Report and the latest figures on investments  raised by emerging companies in December 2020: €226 million, almost twice as much as the previous year. Chapter 2 updates the main operations, investors and sources of funding, which include platforms like Capital Cell, which continues to grow and is contributing to promoting startups like Aortyx, which this month opened a round of funding for €1.6 M via an equity crowdfunding campaign to make headway on its prototype graft to repair aortic dissections and regenerate injured tissue.

Another venture capital manager that has kept up its activity is Inveready, which has launched an equity fund worth €20 M to invest directly in the capital of growing companies listed in alternative markets. The manager has 136 active companies and manages more than €400 M. 

In Europe, another extremely interesting tool is the EIC (European Innovation Council) announcement that it has €10 B to finance European science projects until 2027. To understand the different sources of funding, we suggest reading Pere Condom's latest post, which provides an easy-to-understand explanation of the different kinds of aid available.

With regard to startup funding, Flomics Biotech has opened its first round of external funding in the hopes of attracting half a million euros. The money will be earmarked to put the finishing touches on a test to diagnose complex illnesses. Likewise, Cebiotex has closed its fourth round of investment for €2.2 M and is making headway in its tests in adult patients. It is worth highlighting that this Catalan startup's tumor treatment has been recognized as one of the top 100 emerging therapies for soft-tissue sarcoma in the world.

On the other hand, Reveal Genomics, a spinoff of Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic and Vall d’Hebron Oncology Institute (VHIO), has raised €500,000 from a domestic business angel to carry out two projects that address breast cancer. The company expects to begin testing the product by 2023. Continuing with breast cancer, the Grup Irsi, an association of women from the Ampurdan region affected by breast cancer, has made a €10,000 donation to the Dr. Josep Trueta Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBGI) with the goal of contributing to research into this pathology.

Cutting-edge research in hospitals and companies 

There is exciting news this month at Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic, which became the first hospital in Catalonia to perform robotic prosthetic knee surgery using the Zimmer ROSA (Robotic Surgical Assistant) robot. We are also celebrating the first kidney crossover-transplant in a child in Spain, an extremely complex operation which was led by Barcelona’s Hospital Sant Joan de Déu and Hospital Clínic. Likewise, the study led by the Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) has demonstrated that the immune system cells found in cerebrospinal fluid reproduce the characteristics of the cells found in brain metastases and can therefore act as markers to predict the response to immunotherapy. In a similar vein, the VHIO plans to start a clinical trial with the oncological drug Omomyc, developed jointly with Peptomyc. This drug will safely prevent tumor growth without causing severe adverse effects.

Another highlight this month was the positive results in the clinical trials of Aelix Therapeutics and its HIV vaccine, which has been proven effective in preventing, delaying or maintaining viral flare-ups. Likewise, Oryzon has taken the trials of its Alzheimer drug to the US for the first time, which it will develop in parallel in Europe. In a similar avenue of research, Neuroelectrics has released its Startstim, a wireless cap which reads brain activity via low-voltage electric currents which will allow the brain to be stimulated in order to personalize the treatment of depression, Alzheimer or epilepsy. And one last startup story is the update of the Humanitcare remote monitoring platform, which allows doctors to track patients' different biomarkers and vital signs and is already operating in cutting-edge hospitals in different countries.

Turning now to large companies, the Grífols Foundation has purchased 25 plasma donation centers from BPL Plasma LLC (USA) for $370 M, following its strategic plan to supply plasma-based therapies. It plans to open between 15 and 20 more plasma centers in 2021. Plus, it bought the remaining 56% of Gigageninc for €67 M and now earns 100% of the company. Also newsworthy, the GigaGen pill recently secured FDA approval as a drug to treat Covid-19 and may enter phase I in the spring.

With regard to Covid-19 research, the Hospital of Berga is participating in a clinical trial with plasma, a study led by the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital, overseen by Drs. Oriol Mitjà and Bonaventura Clotet. The Catalan company Palens, headquartered in Vilassar de Mar, will manufacture the first biodegradable FFP2 masks in the world, developed by Valencia’s Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC), which are currently in the evaluation phase to secure European CPA FFP2 certification and will soon be on the market.

New projects and initiatives in Barcelona

A variety of innovation initiatives have sprung up this March which are sure to have a positive impact on the ecosystem in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area. 

The Hospital Clínic and Leitat have jointly created the Clinical Advanced Technologies Institute (CATI), a center for technology innovation in healthcare that will open in 2024 with an international vocation that aims to bring together universities, companies, and entities under the same roof to promote the transfer of science to the market. 

Continuing with funding initiatives, the initiative that the Barcelona City Council has launched under the name “Barcelona Accelera” is worth highlighting; it aims to deliver €10 M to six venture capital funds to invest in startups in the city.

Likewise, the Barcelona Health Hub has launched the project called “Barcelona Health Hub 5G Design”, which consists of a 5G laboratory in the field of health. This space aims to be a meeting point for companies, entities, and organizations around 5G technology to respond to the challenges and needs of the verticals in the healthcare sector. 

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