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February has been a month buzzing with interesting new developments. One of the topics that has definitely had the entire ecosystem on high alert is the Government of Catalonia’s selection and submission of projects for the European Recovery Funds. However, hospital research and the investment in startups have also been busy, not to mention Covid-19.

Let's run through the news highlights, which show that it's a good time for the BioRegion.

Forthcoming European funds and the new state law 

The European funds have been one of the main topics of debate this month. The government has identified 27 Catalan projects to vie for the Next Generation EU funds, which are included in the report entitled ‘Next Generation Catalonia', a document released by the Commission to draft the Economic Reactivation and Social Protection Plan (CORECO). Among these projects, the Catalan Ministry of Health and the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS) have presented “Health 4.0,the Catalan health program that is a candidate for the funds, which seeks to mobilize €2,000 million with a priority on spending on innovation, big data, emerging therapies and personalized medicine. In this vein, we want to highlight Biocat's participation in the proposal for the personalized medicine hub alongside other entities in the ecosystem. 

In Spain, the president of the government, Pedro Sánchez, announced the first law on startups with tax perks and investment incentives to encourage entrepreneurship. The law is part of the “Spain Entrepreneurial Nation” strategy, which was also unveiled and seeks to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem and promote innovation.  

Growth and investments in companies and startups

The investment highlight is clearly Koa Health, a Telefónica spinout specializing in mental health, which has closed the largest investment round in digital health in Spain.  This success story began in November, when it announced a 14-million round, which has now been joined by more investors, allowing them to reach €30 million. This figure is equal to the highest round ever recorded by another startup, also headquartered in the BioRegion, the biotech firm Ona Therapeutics. Continuing with more rounds, Accexible has closed an €800,000 round, three times what it had initially called for, via the crowdequity platform Crowdcube, which will enable it to take the leap abroad. At last, the company VBDevices, dedicated to the development, manufacture and commercialisation of innovative devices for vascular medicine, has closed a financing round through CapitalCell of 1,062,500 euros and 234 investors in 5 days, the maximum overfunding allowed by law. 

Good news for six projects in the BioRegion was the investment secured after announcing the winners of the Bstartup program, the Banc Sabadell health program. The prize entails an investment of €600,000 in early-stage projects. The winners were Devi Care, Oxolife, Doppli, Gate2brain, Inbrain and Miwendo. A startup with a track record, Social Diabetes has entered into an partnership with Biocorp devices that will allow them to grow internationally. This union will provide insulin patients with a product that will generate more adherence and retention. In addition, Social Diabetes closes February with an investment received by CAF - Development Bank of Latin America - together with Mexico's ALLVP Fund. And MiMARK, the new Vall d’Hebron spinoff, has landed €1.5M from EIT Health's 2020 Wild Card program, which will enable them to continue to make headway in diagnosing endometrial cancer.

In terms of subsidies, the laboratory led by Xavier Salvatella at IRBBarcelona has received €180,000 from the Spanish Cancer Association for the development of a potencial new drug against prostate cancer. 

In biopharma, after announcing advances with the clinical trials for a new Covid-19 treatment, Grífols is planning to surpass its net historical profit for the first time with close to €1.000 million  in 2023. Likewise, Almirall has taken stock of 2020 and reported that the pandemic has impacted its economic earnings, as it invoiced 29.9% less than in 2019 (€74.3 million). The pharmaceutical company Uriach is continuing with its international growth, this time by purchasing a German self-care company. The same pharmaceutical company presented its 2020 figures in the last week of February. They show a growth of 5% (240 million euros in sales), despite the pandemic. Esteve has also been in the news this month, as he has presented, as part of his programme Esteve Teijin ‘Pharmate’ a new comprehensive home care program with the goal of improving patients’ quality of life. 

Likewise, after the success of its first fund, the venture capital manager Inveready is launching a second fund worth €50M to invest in companies listed in alternative European markets.

Hospitals in the spotlight

One important piece of news this month was the approval of the CAR-T ARI-0001, developed by Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic, by the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices (AEMPS), as an advanced therapeutic drug not manufactured industrially to be used in patients over the age of 25 with lymphoblastic leukemia that is resistant to conventional treatments. This is the first CAR-T developed wholly in Europe to be approved by a regulatory agency. The Hospital Clínic was also in the news because of a recent agreement between the Government of Catalonia, the Barcelona City Council and the Barcelona Provincial Council which will enable a new space for the Hospital to be developed in the city center.

At Vall d’Hebron, researchers have identified the benefits of rehabilitation with horses in children's recovery after cancer treatment. This is the premise of a study on the impact of this therapy on possible middle- and long-term aftereffects of this disease. The hospital has also been recognized by IESE business school as a model worth following in the way it handled the pandemic. Likewise, the Hospital de Bellvitge was in the news this month when it conducted a double heart valve prosthesis via the skin for the first time in the world on a patient with an anatomic heart that had been transplanted 21 years ago. Likewise, the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute, in conjunction with the Oncology Institute of Catalonia (ICO) and scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have discovered for the first time a mechanism to control DNA repair contained in the majority of solid tumors, which will allow treatments to be personalized. This is a major advance in personalized medicine.

And another great bit of news driven by Vall d’Hebron, Clínic, Sant Pau and Sant Joan de Déu hospitals and the Catalan Oncology Institute (ICO) is that the first public proton accelerator for cancer in Spain will be located in Catalonia, as announced by the Catalan Ministry of Health, specifically at the Parc Sanitari Pere Virgili in Barcelona.

And to conclude from a different vantage point, HBO subscribers had the privilege of learning about the more personal experiences of patients and healthcare workers in Sabadell’s Parc Taulí, as shown in the documentary series “Vitals” the more human side of the pandemic. 

Research on Covid-19 is still underway

The pandemic has encouraged different entities in the BioRegion to generate new research spaces on the virus. Bayer announced that it will help CureVac manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine in Germany. Additionally, the Hospital Universitari Mútua Terrassa has decided to create an olfactory unit which will be in charge of studying the total disappearance of the sense of smell (anosmia), often one of the early signs of Covid-19 infection. In turn, Esteve, in conjunction with the Hospital del Mar and the UPC, has begun a phase II trial of a molecule to find an antiviral against the coronavirus. 

Changes and appointments 

The pharmaceutical company Almirall has appointed the Italian Gianfranco Nazzi to be its CEO. Until now, Nazzi has served as the executive vice-president for international markets in the Israeli company TEVA. Likewise, the biotech company Amgen has appointed Miquel Balcells to be the new medical director of Amgen Iberia, and he will also be a member of the Iberia Steering Committee and the European Medical Team (EMED). And another change in management is the appointment of Jean-Philippe Combal as the new president of the biotech firm Splice Bio.

In hospitals, Josep Rodés will be the Director of Research and Innovation at Barcelona’s Hospital Clínic for the next 4 years. Also, Dr. Marga Nadal has been appointed new Director of the Instituto de Investigación Biomédica de Girona (IDIGBI) to replace Jordi Barretina.

And to conclude, we should hail the talent of Xavi Ribas, a researcher in the Bioinspired, Supramolecular and Catalysis Chemistry (QBIS-CAT) of the Institute of Computational Chemistry, who has received – for the third time! – the distinction from the ICREA Academia. This award recognizes the Catalan chemical researcher and finances his research for five years.

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