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There were two significant investment operations in the BioRegion of Catalonia this March. Inkemia successfully completed the capital increase it launched in January to raise €2.2 millions. These funds will go to strengthening its subsidiaries and creating a new one specializing in synthetic biology. Bionure has also attracted over €1 million through a crowdfunding round with Capital Cell to develop an innovative drug to treat multiple sclerosis. Moreover, the company has licensed two preclinical candidates in otorhinolaryngology to US firm Spiral Therapeutics.

Capital Cell also had its own news to announce this month. This life sciences crowdfunding platform has just launched in the United Kingdom, thanks to the £500,000 (€580,000) raised from seven British investors. The platform will begin operating on 26 April with its first six investment projects in London.

AB-BIOTICS hit another internationalization milestone, closing a deal with Iranian pharmaceutical company Tasnin Pharma to begin selling five of its products in Iran this year. Pangaea Oncology has a €320,000 contract with Institut de Recherches Servier, which belongs to the French multinational pharmaceutical Corporation Servier, to discover biomarkers. And Roche has announced it will open a global digital center for its Diabetes Care division in Sant Cugat del Vallès, creating 40 new jobs.


Barcelona, star of the month

Barcelona has also made its move in terms of internationalization this month, becoming the official Spanish candidate to host the European Medicines Agency when London, where it is currently located, is no longer in the European Union. The city's candidacy has received support from Spanish President Mariano Rajoy and the Catalan professional associations of doctors, pharmacists, economists and engineers.

BIO-Europe Spring, the spring edition of the most important biotechnology partnering congress in Europe, was the perfect stage to begin campaigning for the EMA, competing against Amsterdam and Copenhagen. BIO-Europe Spring, held 20 to 22 March, brought together 2,500 delegates, 200 of which were from Catalonia (a new record).

Barcelona has also incubated another initiative. Under the framework of the scientific debates organized by B·Debate, an initiative of Biocat and the “la Caixa” Foundation, global experts have agreed on a manifesto for proper use and development of artificial intelligence in Europe. This will be key, according to the professionals, to the wellbeing of society as a whole.

In the field of bioinformatics, Barcelona has also come out stronger after attracting Alfonso Valencia, one of the first scientists to apply IT to biological problems. He has joined the Barcelona Supercomputing Center as director of the life sciences department after having worked at CNIO for 11 years.

Barcelona healthcare establishments have also made the news. Institut Guttmann and the “la Caixa” Foundation have kicked off a research project on brain health, the Barcelona Brain Health Initiative (BBHI). This project aims to find out what we can do to keep our brains healthy throughout our lives. Additionally, Vall d’Hebron announced sweeping changes to the large grounds that are currently home to three hospitals. €122 millions have been earmarked for this project.


New publications with Catalan DNA

In the research arena, the European Patent Office has published its annual report, which shows that Catalonia accounts for 35% of all Spanish patent applications. Esteve applied for more European patents than any other Spanish company in 2016. Likewise, the Association of Catalan Public Universities (ACUP) also published its Research and Innovation Indicators report, which shows that 60% more public funds went to university research in 2015 than in 2013.

Also this month, a leading international study by the University of Barcelona and pharmaceutical company Ferrer was published, demonstrating that Huntington disease may cause alterations in neurons that begin developing in the very first years of life. This discovery could change the focus of treatment for this disease. The study is part of the ADVANCECAT project, which belongs to the RIS3CAT NEXTHEALTH community, coordinated by Biocat.

Furthermore, scientists at the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) have designed a new strategy to have genetically modified viruses selectively attack tumor cells without affecting healthy cells, as published in Nature Communications. And researchers at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) have discovered previously unknown DNA arrangements inside tiny bacteria, which could have medical and industrial applications.

In business, biotechnology firm Minoryx Therapeutics has successfully completed phase I clinical trials on its drug candidate MIN-102, a treatment for X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (a rare disease).


The faces of the news

Here are some of the names we've heard most this month. From Pere Mir, whose death left Catalan scientific patronage fatherless (he invested more than €120 millions in medical and scientific institutions through Fundació Cellex, which he set up in 2003) to Lluís Torner, UPC professor and director of the Institute of Photonic Sciences, who has been given the 2016 National Research Award.

Samuel Sánchez, ICREA professor at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, won the National Research Award for Young Talent and Héctor Gómez Díaz, the Princess of Girona Foundation Scientific Research Award for his work developing mathematical models and algorithms for numerical simulations in computational engineering, with applications including personalized prediction of prostate cancer growth.

In addition to these individuals, some projects from the Catalan healthcare scene have also been recognized this month. Specifically, the fourth edition of Imagine Express, held under the framework of the Mobile World Congress, recognized Ikigai as the best healthcare project. It is based on an app that connects working and retired physicians. The University of Barcelona Emprèn! Award also recognized two projects that apply new technology to healthcare.


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