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There is no question that 2020 has been a year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has so far caused  1.7 million death around the world and totally changed how we live and work. But this healthcare crisis has also been an unparalleled driving force for research, innovation and investment in the life sciences and healthcare sector.

It is likely that 2020 will end with record investment in the BioRegion, as we anticipated in the BioRegion Report presented in October, explaining the growth in private investment and the international investment attracted. ONA Therapeutics saw one of the biggest operations this year raising €30 million. Other noteworthy rounds included Koa Health -spinout of Telefónica- (14,1M €), Peptomyc -spinoff of Hospital Vall Hebron leaded by Laura Soucek- (11,4M €), Ability Pharmawith €9.3M raised from investors and other sources, Accure Therapeutics (7,6M €), Oxolife (5M €), Impress (5M €) i AptaTargets (5M €), among many others. Ysios, Alta Life Sciences, Sabadell Asabys, Invivo Ventures and Nina Capital, among other investors, led to raise a record investment of 120 million Euros up to October. In late February 2021, we expect to present the officially updated total of joint investment in startups in the BioRegion. Don’t miss it! 

In addition to these rounds, other companies have considerably increased their funding capacity. Atrys Health carried out a €35M  capital increase to acquire Chilean telemedicine company ITMS. Minoryx, which was granted FDA fast-track designation for its drug to treat X-ALD, got a €25 M loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB). And Oryzon Genomics completed a €20 M capital increase.

The good pace of fundraising is in line with the analysis of the Financial Times fDi Magazine, del Finantial Times, which has once again called Catalonia as the best region to invest in southern Europe for 2020-2021. 

Several companies have taken significant steps toward success: MOWOOT has been chosen best Medical Device Company’ in the International Investors Conference, RESI EUROPE 2020. Blanes-based startup MJN Neuroserveis has been granted CE marking for its device to predict epileptic crises. Plus, Neuroelectrics has gained FDA approval to do a clinical trial on its home brain stimulation therapy using telemedicine for patients with depression. It has also been a good year for Psious, which signed an agreement with the Biomedical Research Institute Sant Pau that will give hospital researchers access to Psious virtual reality equipment for clinical trials with their patients. And the non-invasive test developed by GoodGut to detect colorectal cancer early has started being used at Hospital de Bellvitge and Hospital Clinic Barcelona. Able Human Motion has been named the best healthcare startup in Catalonia in the Premis Emprenedors 2020. And Aortyx has won the Alex Casta Awards to the Best Pitch of the BioRegion. Plus, SIFTED has highlighted the 20 most promising healthtech companies in Spain, sixteen of which were founded in the BioRegion: Anaconda Biomed, Chemotargets, DyCare, Elma Care, Genomcore, HumanITCare, Iomed, Mediktor, Mediquo, Methinks, Mynorix, Neuroelectrics, Ona Therapeutics, Oxolife, Peptomyc and Psious.

A good year for biopharmaceutical firms in the BioRegion 

Almirall, Grífols, Esteve, Reig Jofre, Ferrer and Oryzon Genomics have brought good news this year. The pharmaceutical corporation led by the Gallardo family moved into the Ibex 35 and signed deals with US company 23andMe and Chinese firm WuxiBiologics to reinforce its position in dermatology. In this same therapeutic area, the company paid €55 million for Bioniz.

For its part, Grífols is continuing its expansion and has acquired a plant and a network of plasma centers in North America for €460 million. The company also closed a deal to purchase a plasma fractionation plant and two purification plants in Canada, as well as eleven plasma donation centers in the US, for €393 million. Plus, it announced its intention to double its industrial fractionation capacity by 2026 and build an immunoglobulin plant in Lliçà de Vall, as well as expanding the factory it has in Parets del Vallès, where it will invest €130 million. The pharmaceutical company has been involved in the fight against Covid-19 and has started testing the efficacy of its anti-SARS-CoV-2 hyperimmune globulin as a potential treatment for the disease. 

Esteve has acquired German firm Riemser as a step towards firming up its position in Europe. Plus, it has signed a research and development alliance with Leitat, which has created a bio incubator  (WeLab), based at the Barcelona Science Park. For its part, Ferrer was granted a €50-million loan from the EIB to promote its R&D. The company also kicked off an artificial intelligence project with Hospital del Mar to detect common traits among Covid-19 patients. 

Reig Jofre will manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Spain. The laboratory has closed a deal with the US multinational corporation to produce and package the vaccine at its new plant, which has the capacity to produce 259 million doses a year

Oryzon Genomics continues advancing in personalized medical treatments and has kicked off a study on schizophrenia with Columbia University and another on Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, one of the possible causes of autism, with Hospital La Paz in Madrid.

Some excellent news for the BioRegion came when US telemedicine giant Teladoc Health chose Barcelona as the base for its international operations outside of the US. The company is led by Catalan-born Carlos Nueno. And Swiss company Ypsomed announced this year that it will open a digital hub in Barcelona that will create approximately forty jobs. Ypsomed’s activity will focus on developing new digital devices to treat chronic diseases.

The pandemic hasn't stopped cutting-edge research

Despite the unprecedented pressure on hospital management this year due to the pandemic, innovation hasn’t stopped in the healthcare system in the BioRegion. Vall d’Hebron Hospital saw more than €1 million in profit from its license on a patent for a therapy to treat a minority disease. This operation is the highest financial profit ever generated by a Spanish research institute from a patent. The same hospital successfully completed the first heart transplant on a Covid-19 survivor who had a congenital heart defect. 

For its part, Hospital Clinic carried out the first uterus transplant in Spain. It has also been a leader in Europe, with one-hundred robotic kidney transplants. And its Institut Clínic d'Oftalmologia opened a 1000m2 surgery area which incorporates the latest technology for eye surgery.  

Hospital Sant Joan de Déu cured a child with retinal cancer using a virus that attacks tumor cells for the first time in the world. This center, with Hospital Clinic, will develop the first artificial placenta in Europe to boost the survival of extremely premature babies.

Hospital del Mar has discovered that bilingualism is a factor that protects against Alzheimer. It also detected that some osteoporosis drugs can help reduce the effects of Covid-19.

Hospital de Sant Pau premiered a 3D holographic anatomic model, becoming the first center in Spain with this technology. So, during an operation, the surgeon can see the part of the patient they are operating on in 3D. At the height of the pandemic last March, this same center also developed a 3D-printed face mask with HP. These two companies made the instructions available to all so the masks could be printed anywhere in the world. 

And in 2020 Catalonia received ten grants for research of excellence for a total value of €25 million in the latest round of European Research Council (ERC Advanced Grants). Four of the projects chosen were in the life sciences and healthcare arena. 

Research excellence in the BioRegion was also recognized on the Web of Science Group list of the most cited scientists in the world, which featured sixteen Catalan researchers including oncologists Enriqueta Felip and Manel Esteller. In the same line, the Times Higher Education global ranking showed that the top three universities in Spain are Catalan: Pompeu Fabra University, Autonomous University of Barcelona and the University of Barcelona.

Frantic race against Covid-19

If 2020 will be remembered as the year of the new virus that affected every last corner of the planet, it will also be remembered for the unprecedented efforts of the community of researchers, healthcare professionals and entrepreneurs, who have not rested in order to find solutions for the pandemic. 

In mid-February, the news was announced that Barcelona had canceled the Mobile World Congress (MWC) and just a few days later, the technology world held Tech Spirit Barcelona to fill the gap left by the congress. 

After the initial shock of the lockdown measures and the lethal spread of the virus, companies and public organizations in the BioRegion threw themselves into projects to combat Covid-19: new therapies, vaccines, platforms, restocking of drugs, reorientation of the production; hundreds of resources were offered,  clinical trials were launched,  fundraising activities were opened, public funding from local authorities was offered and a vast number of international calls appeared. 

One of the clinical studies that created the highest expectations was led by Dr. Oriol Mitjà and Dr. Bonaventura Clotet, who looked into the possible role of hydroxychloroquine to block SARS-CoV-2. Hospital Sant Joan de Déu kicked off the Kids Corona research platform to see how coronavirus affects children. Unprecedented collaboration initiatives were launched, like Covid Warriors -a civil society movement-, or fundraising collaborations like Jo em Corono  (led by IrsiCaixa, Hospital Germans Tries i Pujol and the Fundació Lluita contra la Sida i les Malalties Infeccioses). Hospital Clínic launched its own fundraising initiative and so did other research centers in the BioRegion.  

The digital health community also got to work and many startups offered their solutions to healthcare centers and the population free of charge. One of these was Mediktor, which launched an app to collect patients’ symptoms and provide an urgent prognosis. In the public healthcare system, the pandemic led to an unprecedented advance in the digitalization of patient care. In just a few weeks, the online care and telemedicine services (eCap) were rolled out, far reducing the number of in-person appointments at primary care centers. 

For their part, pharmaceutical companies and public research centers quickly sprang into action to search for a vaccine to stop the spread of Covid-19, with results never before seen in the history of medicine: in less than one year, two vaccines have been launched to market for this new virus. Of the more than 40 candidates that began phase 1 trials, two have already been approved, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (approved for now in the US ). In 2021 we will probably see some other vaccines hit the market, like the one from Johnson & Johnson, which several Catalan hospitals participated in the trials for

On top of the vaccines produced internationally, the Ruti Vaccine is being developed in the BioRegion, led by researcher Pere-Joan Cardona and developed by Archivel Farma, which has already begun clinical trials at two hospitals in Argentina. Plus, animal-health company Hipra also announced it is working to develop a vaccine for Covid-19

To sum up, a year that we will never forget: 2020 has been a springboard for science, research and innovation in healthcare that is opening up new opportunities that still remain to be explored. Wishing you a happy and a productive 2021!

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