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While, just a few months ago, Stat-Dx saw the first big exit in the BioRegion, June brought another million-euro acquisition: US multinational Teladoc has acquired Advance Medical for $352 million (roughly €301 million). Marc Subirats and Carlos Nueno, who founded the company in Barcelona in 1999, lead the international division of this telemedicine company, which specializes in providing a second medical opinion and expects to see turnover of €65 million this year, from Barcelona.

The political landscape is also looking for a second opinion, with a whole batch of new names in top science and health positions in Barcelona and Madrid. In Catalonia, in late May, we learned that Alba Vergés would be taking over for Antoni Comín as the new Catalan Minister of Health. Just a few days later it was announced that Adrià Comella i Carnicé, former secretary general of the Department of Justice, would be taking over for David Elvira as the new director of the Catalan Health Service (CatSalut).

There has also been some reshuffling in Madrid, with the new government formed by Pedro Sánchez: astronaut Pedro Duque is the new Spanish Minister of Science, Innovation and Universities on the new socialist team, and Carmen Montón is the new Minister of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare.


Barcelona seduces

Barcelona continues to seduce large multinational corporations that bring their technology and innovation centers to the Catalan capital. In the life sciences sector, Asisa health insurance company will invest more than €17 million to open its first medical center in Barcelona, located in the building that formerly housed the Asepeyo medical center on Carrer Anglí, in the Bonanova district. The firm expects to finish renovations late next year.

For its part, HM Hospitales has a project to build new private hospitals in Catalonia, after joining the shareholders in Hospital Delfos.

And from Barcelona to the world: Doctoralia has expanded its commercial activities by opening a new office in Sao Paulo, and GENESIS Biomed has joined EIT Health, the main European health consortium as an associate partner. ZeClinics has signed a licensing agreement with the University of California for the commercialization of drug discovery assays in childhood epilepsy by using scn1Lab mutant zebrafish.


Campàs partners with Sanfeliu

Beyond the new ministers, the sector continues to be hard at work. Projects in the BioRegion that are looking for funding now have a new team to turn to: Clara Campàs, with Josep Lluís Sanfeliu, will be co-founding the new capital management firm Asabys Partners, which has already signed a deal with Banco Sabadell to create its first fund, with an investment target of €60 million. The team is looking for a third partner and aims to start investing after the summer in up to 15 biotechnology, medical technology and health innovation firms for a period 5 years.

One company already looking for funding is Pangaea Oncology, which is preparing a capital increase of €5 million. Half of the operation will be subscribed by the Solans family, which owns Pikolin and currently holds 36% of this biomedical company’s capital. Also, Capital Cell has opened a round of funding to create the first marketplace of ICOs (initial coin offerings) in health using blockchain. The round will be open to new investors up to €1.1 million.

Additionally, the consultancy F.Iniciativas has acquired Inveready Innovation Consulting, a subsidiary of the venture capital group, to promote its funding business for R&D activities in emerging companies through the new brand FIReady.

There has also been movement at AB-Biotics, which is still restructuring its board of directors after Japanese multinational corporation Kaneka took on 34% of the capital. After half of the board members resigned in early April, in recent weeks the chairman of the board, secretary and two more board members have also stepped down, leaving only founders and top executives Miquel Àngel Bonachera and Sergi Audivert. At the board meeting in July, new board members will be named.


News at pharmaceutical companies

Uriach has acquired two Italian companies, Progine and AR Fitofarma, and is consolidating its commitment to OTC products as its core business. With these operations, Uriach, which saw record turnover of €174 million in 2017, is consolidating its place among the top 5 consumer health companies in Spain, Italy and Portugal.

In terms of prescription drugs, news on the market: Kern Pharma has begun marketing the first biosimilar for Roche’s trastuzumab in Spain and Portugal through a distribution deal with Korean biotech company Celltrion Healthcare.

AstraZeneca has also applied for registration of a drug to treat Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), called Duakliren, developed by Almirall, which means the Catalan pharmaceutical company will get an extra payout under the deal signed in 2014 with the British pharmaceutical corporation. Additionally, Almirall has reached a financial agreement with US company Viveve Medical to avoid a court case for an alleged patent infringement with one of its products, a technology that allows doctors to use temperature as a parameter to treat a series of esthetic conditions in soft tissue and nerves. The settlement amount was not made public.

Grifols expects to open one hundred new plasma-donation centers, for a total of 325 centers by 2025. On the other hand, Boehringer Ingelheim has hired PwC to sell its factory in Malgrat de Mar, which employs roughly 350 workers. The company expects to close the deal by the end of the year.


Advances in research

Schizophrenia, autism and ADHD have a strong genetic base in common, shows a study published in Science by the Brainstorm Consortium. This group is made up of 500 experts from various countries, including numerous Catalan research organizations like the Institute of Biomedicine at the University of Barcelona, the Rare Diseases Networking Biomedical Research Center, Institut de Recerca Sant Joan de Déu, Center for Genomic Regulation, Hospital Universitari Mútua Terrassa, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Institut Català de la Salut, Catalan Institute of the Applied Neurosciences and the International University of Catalonia.

More research from the BioRegion in top-notch journals: Nature has published an international study including IDIBELL and ICO that identifies a new drug to jointly treat the main types of lung cancer, called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Researchers at IDIBELL-ICO have also published in The Lancet Oncology the first clinical trial to successfully test a new type of drug (a CXCR4 antagonist) in patients with metastasized HER2-negative breast cancer. The FDA has fast-tracked this new immuno-oncology therapy, which could help speed up development.

ICO and IdibGi have published in Nature Medicine a study on the efficacy of a new therapy in brain metastases. The drug is a natural substance extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle, called silibinin. The study, on eighteen patients in Girona, describes the molecular mechanism of this substance. Researchers from the same center described in Aging Cell the mechanism through which a diabetes drug slows aging, opening the doors to delaying the onset of age-related chronic conditions.

VHIO scientists reveal novel drug-target to strangle sleeping cancer cells: findings show epigenetic enzyme TET2 as an orchestrator of the control and survival of these cells as promoters of cancer recurrence. Latest discovery promises new weaponry against dormant tumor cells to counteract resistance and prevent disease relapse.

More clinical studies: VHIO will be the first center in Spain to offer an international clinical trial with CAR cells exclusively for lymphomas. Of the 16 centers selected in Europe, VHIO is the first authorized to include patients. The VHIO has also published a study demonstrating the efficacy of a biomarker to identify patients resistant to PARP inhibitors in the Annals of Oncology.

Fatty liver disease is becoming the most important chronic hepatic disease in the world, as the VHIR alerted in its presentation of a study showing that transplanting intestinal microbiota can correct portal hypertension associated with this disease.

In neurology, a paper published in Molecular Neurobiology by the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona (IIBB), a CSIC center, and IDIBAPS shows that resveratrol, a compound found naturally in fruit like grapes and some plants, induces brain resilience against the cell alterations of Alzheimer.

Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory have published their first paper in Physical Review on a new mathematical model that is a computational recreation of Alan Turing’s theory on how patterns form in biological systems.

New research capacities: the fourth MareNostrum supercomputer, at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center Centre Nacional de Supercomputació (BSC), has multiplied its power to accelerate research based on artificial intelligence (AI). This makes the BSC the first center in Europe to offer the same technology as the new Summit supercomputer in the United States, which is the most powerful in the world.

For its part, Hospital Sant Pau has added a next-generation sequencer (NGS) to identify DNA mutations for diagnosis and monitoring. The mass sequencing allows the center to increase five-fold the number of patients suspected of having hereditary breast or ovarian cancer it can diagnose each year.

Big names in the news this month also include Maria Terrades, who replaces Ignasi Belda as the new CEO of the Barcelona Science Park.

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