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With fall now in full swing, October has brought a buzz of activity back to the BioRegion of Catalonia. The Catalan healthcare and life sciences sector has seen a bunch of clinical milestones, corporate operations and advances in research once again this month. Want to know the latest? We'll sum it up in just three minutes.

Galecto Biotech AB, the leading developer of galectin modulators for the treatment of severe diseases, including fibrosis and cancer, announced the successful closing of a €79 million series C financing co-led by Catalan fund Ysios Capital and OrbiMed. 

Oryzon Genomics has closed a capital increase of EUR 13 million addressed t institutional investors specialized in healthcare and life sciences from the United States of America and Europe. Oryzon intends to use it to finance the company’s research and development of clinical pipeline candidates, as well as for working capital and other general corporate purposes. This month, Oryzon Genomics annouced it will start a second phase IIa clinical trial on Ory-1001, a drug for patients with small-cell lung cancer.

Aelix Therapeutics has signed a deal with Gilead Sciences to conduct a phase IIa clinical trial on a functional cure for HIV. Plus, the Catalan start-up has extended the clinical trial on its vaccine to phase I/IIa.

Another biotechnology firm seeking resources to continue its trials in oncology, Ability Pharma, has raised more than €600,000 in the €1 million round of investment still open with Capital Cell.

One company that has closed its operation is mediQuo, after raising €1.5 million in its second round of funding this year, led by Target Global.

It's still a month to Black Friday, but some companies have already started their shopping sprees: iVascular has invested €8.7 million to acquire 10% of US start-up NaviGate Cardiac Structures, which specializes in heart valves. This will give them exclusive distribution and marketing rights to the products in Europe and Latin America. Additionally, Atrys Health announced it has acquired Catalan company Llebalust Patologia for more than €3 million.

The Top Doctors medical directory has officially moved its headquarters from Madrid to Dover (United States), after moving from Catalonia to Madrid early this year.

New names in the ecosystem: Biointaxis, a new spin-off of the Institute for Health Science Research Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP) promoting treatments for rare diseases. Their first project will work on developing a gene therapy for Friedreich ataxia. Additionally, Braingaze, a spin-off of the University of Barcelona, has launched a new software to help diagnose attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

New hires: Bionure Farma has brought Laurent Nguyen on board as the new CEO of the company and Amit Bar-Or as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board, led by Pablo Villoslada, the scientist who founded the company.


Game of thrones at pharmaceutical companies

There have also been changes at the pharmaceutical companies: Ferrer has named Ricardo Castrillo, from Chiesi, as its new general manager for Spain.


An important milestone: Grifols has demonstrated a significant reduction (61%) in the progression of moderate Alzheimer's disease using its AMBAR (Alzheimer Management by Albumin Replacement) treatment protocol. On the other hand, Grifols has invested €2 million in the Mecwins increase, a spin-off of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) through Progenika Biopharma. This gives them 25% of the company, with which they aim to develop pre-commercial prototypes for analysis tools for early detection of diseases like HIV and prostate cancer. 

There are also acquisition plans at Rovi, which carried out an €80-million capital increase to fund clinical trials, commercialization and other corporate needs that could include acquisitions.

Additionally, Esteve has restructured the company in Spain. The changes include a partial demerger with Corporacion Quimico Farmaceutica Esteve SA and merger with Esteve Química. In other markets, Esteve has reduced its presence in China by selling its stake in Irish company Highland Pharma for $10 million.

Boehringer has also done some divesting, as they face the final stretch of the sale of their plant located in Malgrat de Mar, with 350 employees. The pharmaceutical corporation explains that the process is in the advanced stages, with 3 to 5 possible buyers.

On the other side of the scale, Reig Jofre has expanded its plant in Toledo after investing €10 million. This way, they will inaugurate a new production line specializing in penicillin-derivative antibiotics. There are also plans for growth at Laboratorios Rubió, which expects to double sales by 2021 and will invest €4 million to expand its facilities in Castellbisbal.


With regard to Almirall, the pharmaceutical company has gotten the green light from the FDA to launch a new antibiotic, Seysara, in the US in early 2019. With this product the company expects to see sales between €150 and €200 million.


European benchmark in leukemia

This month, the Josep Carreras Foundation inaugurated the new headquarters of its Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute at the Campus ICO-Germans Trias i Pujol-UAB in Badalona. With more than 10,000 m² of space and investment of €26 million, it is the largest science center in Europe devoted exclusively to studying this disease, and will be led by Manel Esteller.

Furthermore, the Josep Carreras Foundation and Hospital Clinic Barcelona have inaugurated the Josep Carreras Clinical Research Area, a new Clinical Trial Unit with more than 370 m² of space, double what it had previously.

More news in oncology. Researchers at the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) have developed an antibody that identifies breast cancer cells and tells the immune system to attack them without affecting healthy cells. This breakthrough, published in Science Translational Medicine, could also be effective in some stomach cancers and other types of tumors. Scientists at the VHIO have also published a paper on a new treatment that extends the survival time of women with BRCA gene mutations and advanced ovarian cancer in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The immune system of alpacas is offering up a possible treatment for cancer: a study by IRB Barcelona and Vrije Universiteit Brussel has identified nano-antibodies in camelids that can block EGF, a protein found in abundance in tumor cells that helps them grow.

Also, the Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IdiBGi) has published the largest study to date on the genomics of the disease in women with African ancestors in Nature Communications

News in the HIV sector, too. Researchers at IrsiCaixa and Hospital Universitario Gregorio Marañón in Madrid have managed to leave five HIV patients with no detectable viral reservoir after a stem cell transplant. One of them does not even have antibodies to the virus, which could indicate that it has been eliminated from their body. The results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Another study by IrsiCaixa published in The Lancet HIV has established the threshold at which resistant HIV requires specific treatment

More advances and other specializations. Scientists at the Molecular Biology Institute of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC) have published a paper in Nature Communications unraveling how DNA makes its first, most basic folds, resolving what is known as the 'linking number paradox of nucleosomal DNA'.

Researchers at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona have identified a mechanism that guides and anchors in DNA an enzyme that is important in the differentiation of stem cells, and described this new way in which proteins interact with the genome for the first time in Cell Stem Cell.

A study by the University of Zürich, with collaboration from the Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) and the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Catalonia (Cemcat), has discovered that the gastrointestinal microbiota could play a much more significant role in the onset of multiple sclerosis than believed previously. The results have been published in Science Translational Medicine.

Researchers at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) the Centre Nacional d’Anàlisi Genòmica (CNAG-CRG) and the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) have received an ERC Synergy grant from the European Research Council (ERC) with €8.3 million. The project, based on decoding the genomic and epigenetic characteristics of chronic lymphatic leukemia, is one of 25 to receive funding in Europe, the only one in Catalonia.


New benchmark in pediatric oncology

Hospital Sant Joan de Déu has begun work to build a new pediatric oncology center. This new space, which will cost approximately €30 million, is expected to open its doors in the second half of 2020. The ”la Caixa” Banking Foundation will donate €3 million for the new center, which will become a global benchmark in the fight against childhood cancer. Additionally, the hospital has signed an agreement with the government of the United Arab Emirates to become its pediatric center of reference in Europe. As a result, the hospital will treat minors from this country with complex pathologies.

Vall d’Hebron has acquired a latest generation Da Vinci robot to treat lung cancer. Starting in January 2019, Vall d’Hebron will become the headquarters of the International Conference of Rare Diseases and Orphan Drugs (ICORD), the global benchmark organization in minority diseases.

The Hospitales de Madrid (HM) group has started work to modernize Delfos hospital in Barcelona. More than €30 million will be invested in the center through the end of next year. The group is looking for new clinics in Catalonia to reproduce its care model in the community of Madrid.

Clínica Corachan and Hospital de Nens will launch a joint pediatric and adult neurophysiology unit. For its part, HM Delfos Barcelona has acquired the first vertical scanner in Spain.


Births and awards

Catalan Minister of Health Alba Vergés gave birth to a baby girl this month and is the first Catalan minister to give birth while in office. Current Secretary-General for Health Laura Pelay will take over most of her day-to-day work.

October 15 was the awards ceremony for the 2017 Catalonian National Research Awards held by the Government of Catalonia and the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRi). Bioinformatics expert Roderic Guigó was given the main award, the National Research Award, recognizing his work coordinating the bioinformatics and genomics program at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG).

Additionally, Elías Campo, Research and Innovation director at Hospital Clinic and IDIBAPS, has been named a member of the US National Academy of Medicine (NAM), one of the highest recognitions in the fields of health, science and medicine.

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