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Not even the second wave of Covid-19 has been able to stop activity in the BioRegion. On a positive note this month, Catalan researchers have been granted several prizes, including the National Research Awards. Investment activity has also continued, as did scientific publications, and not only in the field of SARS-CoV-2.

Let’s look over the most important news from October as it draws to a close full of uncertainties over the evolution of the pandemic.


Changes in management and CEOs

Starting with some changes among executives at research centers and companies. Jordi Barretina is leaving the management team at the Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IdiBGi) to head up the Institute for Health Science Research Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP). Chemotargets, a spinoff of the IMIM, appointed a new CEO: Dr. Scott Boyer, who was previously CEO at Swedish tech company Klaria. And Medsir, a company that specializes in clinical research in oncology, has hired former IBM Cloud Director for Spain Angel Moreu as its CEO. For his part, Almirall has appointed Laurence Faboumy General Manager of the company in France, with the aim of focusing on its international growth and strengthening its strategy in medical dermatology.


Financing and investment in Catalonia and beyond

Inveready continues to consolidate its place as one of the most profitable venture capital funds in Europe, as seen in the fact that they just closed their first investment vehicle: Inveready Seed Capital SCR, which specializes in early-stage technology companies, after 11 years of activity and investments in 35 companies. The fund’s latest bet was Madrid-based startup AptaTargets, leading a €5-million round to combat ischemic stroke.

Other investment outside of Catalonia included Ysios Capital, who took part in a €44.5-million round in French company Sparing Vision, which will use the funds to advance its development of an innovative therapy to treat retinitis pigmentosa. For its part, Sabadell Asabys has led a round of 14 million euros from Madrid-based MedLumics to develop a technology to improve the surgery of patients suffering from cardiac arrhythmias. Asabys also announced its tenth operation of the year, in which it co-led, with Wellington Partners, a $ 20 million round of Series A funding for Sidekick, an Icelandic digital therapy company.

Emjoy raised €2.5 million from JME Ventures and Nauta Capital, and MeThinks got €1.8 million for a technology that will help detect stroke and brain hemorrhages. Finally, Impress, a startup that specializes in invisible orthodontics, closed a €5-million round with participation from TA Ventures, Bynd VC and Sabadell VC funds.

In the subsidies section, the Generalitat plans to launch a public-private fund with a minimum endowment of 200 million euros to enter the capital of solvent Catalan companies that can act as drivers of the economy within sectors such as biomedicine, industry 4.0 and the agri-food sector. The Catalan executive has also allocated 85 million euros for the construction of 5 annexes to hospitals with a capacity for 500 beds for critics and has approved a contribution of 59 million euros for Barcelona Supercomputing Center until 2029.

In addition, Ability Pharma has received a grant of 1.6 million euros from the US FDA, which will be used to fund research into a treatment for pancreatic cancer. And 8Wires and Eureca have received 4.2 million euros from the European Commission for a project to improve patient preparedness before an operation.


Business activity

We’re kicking off this section with a warm welcome: researchers at IGTP and doctors at Hospital Can Ruti have created a spinoff called Time is Brain to develop a medical device to improve the prognosis of patients with acute ischemic stroke.

A giant leap forward for a good cause: The US Food and Drug Administration has granted Oncoheroes Rare Pediatric Disease Designation for volasertib to treat rhabdomyosarcoma, the most frequent soft-tissue cancer in children and adolescents.

Continuing in the United States, Pangaea Oncology has closed a deal with Turning Point Therapeutics to conduct a clinical study with its drug repotrectinib in combination with osimertinib in patients with advanced lung cancer. . And Àvida Biotech signed a deal with the Center for Integrated Global Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo (USA) to develop new antivirals and vaccines for infectious diseases like dengue, zika and chikungunya

Grifols has closed the deal to acquire a plasma fractionation plant and 2 purification plants in Canada, as well as 11 plasma donation centers in the US, for €393 million. The Catalan pharmaceutical company also announced its goal of doubling its industrial plasma fractionation capacity by 2026 and building an immunoglobulin plant in Lliçà de Vall (Barcelona).

Almirall has reached a deal to launch its innovative therapy for severe psoriasis on the French market. The same company kicked off the second edition of Digital Garden, its program for digital health startups in the field of dermatology.

Miura Private Equity signed a deal to acquire Terrats Medical, a Catalan firm that specializes in manufacturing dental prostheses, and startup Moirai Biodesign has developed the prototype for a diagnostic kit to detect sepsis from a blood sample in just three hours, without doing a blood culture first. For its part, Minoryx Therapeutics has been granted a €25-million loan by the European Investment Bank to develop a therapy for adrenoleukodystrophy, a rare disease. 


Advances to fight Covid-19

Some treatments against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus developed in Catalonia are beginning to reach clinical stages. Grifols has announced the beginning of a clinical trial with its hyperimmune globulin to treat people infected with SARS-CoV-2. And the RUTI vaccine, initially developed against tuberculosis by the researcher of the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital Pere-Joan Cardona and manufactured by the pharmaceutical Archivel Farma, is the first in the State to receive authorization to perform a trial international clinic, which will take place in Argentina.

A paper by the Blood and Tissue Bank and University of Barcelona, published in the journal Blood Transfusion, concludes that donors with blood type O have a “significantly lower risk of infection” than people from other blood groups. And a clinical study coordinated by Arnau de Vilanova University Hospital (Lleida) has shown that 84% of patients in the ICU due to Covid-19 have respiratory problems three months after being discharged.

FC Barcelona and Hospital Sant Joan de Déu announced they are working on a study to analyze the spread of Covid-19 in teens and young people. At Rovira i Virgili University, scientists have observed that the people who found lockdown an unpleasant experience were mostly women, teens and young people, people living alone and people afraid of losing their jobs. The same university published a paper in PLoS One with symptoms and clinical parameters associated with higher Covid-19 mortality rates.


New center of excellence and publications in cutting-edge journals

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center inaugurated its PerMedCoE (HPC/Exascale Center of Excellence in Personalized Medicine), a European center of excellence with funding from the European Commission that will contribute to the European roadmap in personalized medicine.

Researchers at IDIBELL and Hospital Sant Joan de Déu discovered a rare metabolic genetic disease, characterized by cerebral- and cardiac-development problems, that affects children. A study published in the journal Science and coordinated by researchers at IDIBAPS and the University of Barcelona has described a new immunological defense mechanism that was previously unknown. And researchers at the Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus and Pompeu Fabra University have developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that uses photos taken on a phone to determine whether a liver can be used for transplant. 

Without leaving campus, researchers at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology have used liquid biopsy for the first time to identify and classify a prognosis of the most common pediatric brain cancer, medulloblastoma.

An international paper published in Nature, with participation from the Cell Biology, Physiology and Immunology Department and the Neurosciences Institute (INc), describes the processes that take place in the neurons of the hippocampus to create long-term memories and make learning possible. Also related to memory, researchers at IDIBGI have published the results of a study that associates immediate and recent memory with the presence of certain bacteria in the intestines.


New spaces, investment and awards

The current events grab bag for this month kicks off at the Barcelona Science Park, which has inaugurated over 1,200 m2 of new office space for medical technology companies. This is a 10% increase in available office space at the park and new companies will be able to move in from November 2020.

Cercle d’Economia has kicked off two commissions to analyze and promote proposals for economic recovery; the Health Sciences one is chaired by Andreu Mas-Colell.

In the section on awards, Vall d’Hebron Head of Oncology Josep Tabernero received the National Research Award and Silvia Osuna, ICREA research professor at the University of Girona Institute of Computational Chemistry and Catalysis, received the Young Talent National Research Award. Additionally, Laura Lechuga, researcher at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, won the Jaume I Award in New Technology, and Marina González del Río, a nurse at IDIBGI specializing in multiple sclerosis received the 2020 Nightingale Award. Finally, the contract research organisation Kymos won the Biosuccess Award presented by CataloniaBio & HealthTech. 


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