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The year started off on a high note in the BioRegion with a new record in investment reflected in the 2021 BioRegion Report: health startups in the BioRegion managed to raise €238 million in investment, surpassing the €200-million mark for the second year in a row. And right from January 1, we started counting new operations. The first was Peptomyc, a biotech firm that is developing a new oncology treatment that has raised €8.6 million from its current partners through a convertible loan. According to the company, this operation is a precursor to an even bigger round of funding, which will be coming soon. 

Other companies, however, are looking to accelerate their growth, like Qmenta, which has opened a round of funding to raise €10 million, with participation from various investors in the US. With this capital, the company intends to strengthen is business area in clinical trials and explore options in the big data business. Plus, Onalabs, a startup that is developing three digital devices for home hospitalization of chronic patients, sports medicine and diabetes, still has a €1-million crowdfunding round open to accelerate development and commercialization of its devices. 

We’re celebrating the founding of Anais Medical, based on a project from the Parc Taulí Research and Innovation Institute (I3PT) that took part in Biocat’s 2020 CRAASH Barcelona acceleration program. The company is working on a solution that creates products that imitate the human body, for instance an arm, so students and professionals can practice on realistic models using artificial intelligence. In fact, as we saw in the 2021 BioRegion Report, digital health companies continue to grow and companies like TeladocHealth, a world leader in telemedicine based in Barcelona, are considering creating a digital health hub in the city to position Barcelona on the global scene. 

New advances in the COVID-19 vaccine and news from the pharmaceutical sector

January also brought us the news that HIPRA has advanced in its COVID-19 vaccine, which should move into phase III clinical trials prior to commercialization. This final trial will take place at HM Hospitals. Plus, the European project RBDCOV will study the HIPRA vaccine in children, teens and immunocompromised patients. At the announcement, President of the Government of Catalonia Pere Aragonès said it will be fully operational and ready to be supplied to the population in the second half of this year. 

For its part, Grífols acquired its first plasma donation center in Canada and announced it now controls 95.5% of its German rival Biotest. The pharmaceutical company, aware of climate change and sustainability, also announced this month that it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Another pharmaceutical company with news this month was Almirall, which has begun collaborating with IRB Barcelona to research drugs for serious dermatological diseases, and also announced it will finally receive the €44-million transaction for two respiratory drugs. 

It is also worth noting the increase in organ transplants in 2021. Specifically, there were 1,063 surgeries, up 6.4% from 2020 (999). Regarding hospitals incorporating new technology, this month Hospital Sant Joan de Déu in Barcelona received authorization to use 3D printed organs to prepare for surgeries and Hospital Clinic Barcelona incorporated a new robot to help better detect skin cancer. 

New research grants 

One figure that shows the competitiveness of research in the Catalan ecosystem is the number of grants researchers in the BioRegion received, with 56% of all European Research Council Starting Grants awarded in Spain: Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), 4 projects; Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG), 3 projects; University of Barcelona (UB), 2 projects; Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), 2 projects; Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), 1 project; and Polytechnic University of Barcelona (UPC), 1 project. Plus, Catalonia will attract 55 young researchers from other communities, awarded one of the 110 grants from the La Caixa Foundation.

In noteworthy scientific advances, researchers at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) have discovered the molecular mechanisms that support the body’s natural defenses against skin cancer and Vall d’Hebron Hospital has proven in animal models the efficacy of a drug to treat neuroblastoma, a type of tumor that makes up between 8% and 10% of all childhood cancer and 15% of deaths. Scientists at the Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IdiBGi) have shown the prebiotic effect of bread made with unrefined flour, which could be useful in fighting Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. 

Researchers at the Respiratory Diseases Networking Biomedical Research Center (CIBERES), Biomedical Research Institute of Lleida (IRBLleida) and University of Lleida have identified a molecular fingerprint that helps detect sleep apnea and a blood metabolite signature that can detect this disease with 98% accuracy. And in chronic diseases, a study by Rovira i Virgili University-Pere Virgili Institute has shown that elderly diabetic patients with cardiovascular risk have greater cognitive decline. The study looked at about 7,000 participants who were overweight or obese.

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