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The coronavirus and Mobile World Congress (MWC) being canceled were indisputably the two central topics in the news in February, but the BioRegion of Catalonia hasn’t slowed its pace. Entrepreneurs in the Catalan ecosystem mobilized spontaneously to fill the hole left by MWC with Tech Spirit Barcelona, and the rest of the players in the ecosystem continue working to innovate in health. Let’s look at some of this month’s headlines.

To start off, for the third time in a row, the ‘Financial Times’ group has ranked Catalonia as the best region for investment in southern Europe for 2020-2021. They took into account criteria like connectivity, business climate, economic potential, strategy to attract foreign investment or human resources, and lifestyle.

Among investors based in the BioRegion, Ysios Capital was chosen by ICO in its latest Fond-ICO Global call and Nina Capital surpassed its goal of €15 million for its first investment vehicle in just 4 months.

Turning to companies, Vytrus Biotech closed a €1.7-million round to improve production capacity. Grifols continues growing internationally, in Saudi Arabia, where it signed a deal to build a network of plasma centers. The Deltalab Group is also growing, having acquired a majority stake in Murcia-based company Equilabo Scientific, which operates in the clinical and lab material sector. For its part, AB-Biotics signed an agreement with the National Institute for Agricultural and Food Research and Technology to develop probiotic bacteria strains.


New technology in hospitals

New technology has been center stage this month in the BioRegion. Vall d’Hebron  kicked off a European project to study the relationship between irritable bowel syndrome and mental and rheumatological conditions: the 8,500 patients who will participate in the study will be monitored using smart bracelets from Catalan company humanITcare.

Sant Pau has become the first in Spain to use a hologram that reproduces a patient's anatomy to help surgeons carry out a highly-complex operation. The technique is the result of a joint project between the hospital and Catalan firm Newtonlab Space, with support from the Mobile World Capital Barcelona foundation.

Hospital Bellvitge has carried out the first orthotopic kidney transplant in the world using robotic surgery, making the process safer and more precise. Plus, Hospital Bellvitge and IDIBELL have developed a test to predict kidney-transplant patients’ risk of infection from an opportunistic virus. Additionally, this hospital discovered that magnetic resonance could be used to predict the efficacy of surgery to treat a type of epilepsy.

The Nephrology Service at Hospital del Mar was also the first in Spain to use Big Data and data-mining tools to improve care for hospital patients. The tool was developed by Catalan company Bismart. Additionally, Hospital Clinic is leading a European project to assess the potential of a non-invasive screening technique for chronic liver diseases.

Hospital Parc Taulí is promoting 5G glasses with a camera that could save lives in case of emergency by connecting remotely to a specialist at the hospital. Also, researchers at Sant Pau have started a study that incorporates virtual reality as a way to reduce pain and anxiety in gynecological procedures.


News in research

Let’s turn to research, starting by highlighting the value of transfer: Vall d’Hebron Hospital has seen more than €1 million in profits from licensing a patent for a therapy to treat a minority disease. This operation is the highest financial profit generated by a Spanish research institute from a patent.

By the way, remember researchers: Fundació de Marató de TV3 has opened its call for projects on minority diseases this month. The deadline for proposals is March 13.

In oncology, the ”la Caixa” Foundation has earmarked €6 million for the VHIO to further the fight against cancer. Researchers at Sant Pau, UAB and CIBER-BBN have shown that certain bacterial inclusion bodies that give off nanoparticles targeting metastatic stem cells have powerful anti-metastasis effects. Additionally, a study by IDIBAPS and ICN2 proved that cerium oxide nanoparticles could improve prognosis of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common liver cancer.

There’s also good news in infectious diseases: the EU has awarded Can Ruti €16 million for two projects coordinated by IrsiCaixa and Institute of Research Germans Trias i Pujol. Plus, Irsicaixa researchers have determined the conditions for naturally controlling AIDS by studying 3 HIV-positive patients who have survived 25 years with no treatment.

In neurology, researchers at IDIBELL and CIBERSAM have found that alterations in connectivity between two regions of the brain could be a biomarker of vulnerability to Alzheimer. The Alzheimer-research world also got some sad news this month, saying a final farewell to Diana Garrigosa, president of the Pasqual Maragall Foundation.

IDIBELL has identified the protein responsible for cell death that causes a type of blindness. And a damage mechanism has been found that could be behind all types of blindness caused by mutations that lead to a chronic drop in calcium in the cell. Researchers at the same center discovered a blood molecule that is effective against kidney autoimmune disease: it is also being studied for use in other autoimmune diseases. 

A study by IRB Barcelona has deciphered the mechanism that determines organ size and shape. Given the high genetic and mechanistic conservation between flies and humans, these discoveries pave the way for new research lines into congenital malformations and other diseases.

An ISGlobal study has found that pollution is the cause of half of all childhood asthma cases in Barcelona. And also looking at the little ones, a UOC study has shown that a new online psychosocial intervention helps reduce the severity and frequency of recurring stomach pains among children.

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