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The much-awaited summer vacations are just around the corner for many professionals in the BioRegion, but before packing our bags, we'll do our last monthly review of the Catalan healthcare and life sciences sector until September.

Political changes continue to bring new appointments in the sector: Francesc Xavier Grau, rector of the URV from 2006 to 2014, is now the Government of Catalonia Minister for Universities and Research.

Catalonia, Andalusia and Galicia lead the biotechnology sector in Spain, according to a report on the sector presented this month by Asebio, which highlights that one in four biotechnology companies in Spain are in Catalonia.

Some of these companies have announced clinical milestones this month. Spherium Biomed has begun phase I clinical trials on its product Cilakin to prevent acute kidney failure. This is the company's fourth product to reach the clinical phase. Also moving into a new phase is Som Biotech, which specializes in drug repositioning, beginning phase IIa clinical trials on SOM3355, a drug that could be used to treat Huntington disease and is currently prescribed for high blood pressure. The trial will take place over six months at Hospital Clinic, Bellvitge University Hospital and Vall d'Hebron University Hospital.

Catalan company RheoDX is developing a method that will allow them to do a full blood panel from just one drop of the patient's blood. The Banc de Sang, Hospital Vall d’Hebron and Hospital Clinic will begin testing this new system, which could start being used late this year.

Pangaea Oncology will provide precision oncology services to Oryzon Genomics,  specifically tasks to validate lung-cancer markers associated with development of the drug Ory-1001. Another collaboration: Carinsa has joined forces with Eurecat to participate in the Preventomics nutrigenomics project funded through the European Horizon 2020 program with a budget of €8 million.


New actors in the ecosystem

Inkemia has a new spin-off, BrickBio, founded to create a catalog of useful tools for synthetic biology projects. Additionally, AB-Biotics has reestablished its board of directors as a result of its new shareholders, Japanese multinational corporation Kaneka, which now controls 37.78% of this biotechnology firm. Kaneka now has four of the seven board seats, with the two co-founders Sergi Audivert and Miquel Àngel Bonachera and returning former chairman Luis Sánchez-Lafuente in the other three.

Reig Jofre expects to inaugurate the expansion of its new plant in Toledo, specializing in antibiotics, after the summer. It's not all good news, however, Genmedica has gone into receivership. This biopharmaceutical company led by Ignacio Faus has shareholders that include Ferrer and Caixabank, among others.

Turning to internationalization: five Catalan start-ups, including Aniling, Ascil Biopharm and Medtep, have begun the Road to Boston. This intensive six-month program to introduce the companies in Boston is organized by Acció and includes personalized consultancy services and two trips to the capital of Massachusetts.

Also, Mitelos has announced an agreement with Farmoquímica del Pacífico to market its product OTIBLOCK® in Chile, a therapeutic alternative to treat earwax buildup.


Front-page research

Catalan research on the tropical disease Yaws made the cover of the journal Science this month, which devoted its central pages to portraying the work of the team led by Oriol Mitjà, researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal).

This same center has a warning that is well worth remembering on these upcoming vacations: eating dinner early, or at least two hours before going to sleep, reduces your chances of having breast or prostate cancer by 20%, compared to those who eat after 10 pm and go to bed immediately after the nightly meal, according to a study by ISGlobal.

Oncology continues to be the focus of a good portion of the scientific publications with participation from the BioRegion. US scientists have discovered how to quickly, precisely and affordably generate immune cells to attack cancers and infections and to correct autoimmune diseases. Three Barcelona researchers who are working at the University of California participated in this breakthrough, published in Nature.

Researchers from the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) described a new statistical method to systematically identify genes that predispose people to cancer, based on tumor-sequencing data, in Nature Communications. Additionally, Toni Celià-Terrassa, a researcher at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute, has received a grant from the Cancer Research Institute (the first from this institution to go to a Catalan center) to analyze the use of immunotherapy to treat triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive types.

In neurology, a new study in mice published by scientists at the Institute of Biomedical Research of Barcelona (IIBB) in the Journal of Pineal Research shows that melatonin could help in the fight against Alzheimer. Also, Hospital Sant Pau has begun a phase III study applying nuclear medicine techniques to detect the Tau protein in the brains of patients with Alzheimer and frontotemporal dementia for the first time in Spain.

Changing specialties. Researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) have identified the function of a protein involved in repairing genetic damage in the creation of sperm, in a study in Nature Communications. Another team of researchers from the UAB have cured obesity and type-2 diabetes in mice using gene therapy, with just one injection of an adeno-associated virus vector. The study was published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.

In mice and humans, researchers at the University of Barcelona and the UB Institute of Biomedicine (IBUB) have identified some 40 genes associated with aggressive behavior. The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, could help establish future pharmacological targets.

Additionally, a study by IRB Barcelona published in EMBO Molecular Medicine suggests new therapeutic approaches for tumors associated with chronic inflammation. And in traumatology, researchers from the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) have made strides in their study of the mechanisms involved in developing traumatic brain contusions, in a study published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.


News from hospitals and universities

News in hospitals in the BioRegion. The Bellvitge University Hospital has created the first bank of frozen fecal samples in Spain to facilitate and promote fecal microbiota transplants at the center.

Also, Hospital del Mar has successfully used deep brain stimulation to treat 4 patients with anorexia nervosa: the center is a pioneer in Europe and using this type of intervention.

Vall d'Hebron has inaugurated the first unit for cystic fibrosis patients in Spain, designed to prevent transfer of the disease between adults and children. And robots are getting closer to patients, big and small: Hospital Clinic and Hospital Sant Joan de Déu will begin testing the robot Pepper this fall. It can interact with people in 21 languages and identify their mood, applying artificial intelligence to health

And we’ll finish off this summary with a quick look at the University arena. The University of Girona has set up its Campus Salut this month, which aims to facilitate relations between companies and institutions from the healthcare sector, biomedical research centers and research groups at the UdG.


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