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With September here and the return to school and business, the BioRegion is once again buzzing with news. Acquisitions, licensing, appointments, rounds of funding, new clinical trials and hospital units… Here’s a quick summary of the main headlines from Catalan companies and research organizations. 

The tense political situation that has marked this month is now affecting the healthcare and life sciences ecosystem. The Ministry of Finance has ordered the accounts of hundreds of public institutions be frozen, including universities and research centers, which have decried the pressure this puts on their day-to-day operations. At the time this article was written, more than 500 Catalan bodies, many with direct ties to the sector, are being targeted by measures the Spanish government has adopted as a result of the scheduled referendum.

Reig Jofre continues its expansion in Asia by launching an injectable antibiotic in the Philippines through its local partner. Asia is a strategic market for Reig Jofre and it grew from 4% to 7% of the company’s sales in 2016.

AELIX Therapeutics has enrolled the first patient in its clinical trial to develop a therapeutic HIV vaccine. The study will focus on assessing the safety and immunogenicity of the HTI vaccine. For its part, DR Healthcare is beginning global production of a new generation of dietary supplements to combat Diamine Oxidase deficiency (DAO), which it holds 35 patents on around the world.

Ability Pharmaceuticals has obtained orphan drug designation (ODD) for rare diseases from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for its molecule ABTL0812 to treat pancreatic cancer. The company led by Carles Domènech had already been granted ODD for pancreatic cancer from the FDA and for pediatric neuroblastoma from the EMA and the FDA.

Pangaea Oncology has reached an agreement with the Quirónsalud Hospital Group to manage the oncology units at its four centers in Catalonia: Institut Dexeus, Hospital General de Catalunya and Hospital Sagrat Cor, and partially at Teknon. Also launching a new project is dialysis provider Diaverum, with nine clinics in Catalonia, investing €2 millions to open a new center in Barcelona.

Regarding corporate operations, healthcare technology company Palex Medical has acquired the hospital material distribution business of the Taper Group, based in Madrid.

There has also been news from the large pharmaceutical corporations. Esteve will move into its new corporate headquarters in the Torre Marina building in 2018. The company will occupy ten of the thirteen floors, roughly 12,000 m², in this building at the entrance to the new Fira de Barcelona fairgrounds.

Additionally, Almirall presented its new corporate identity this month, with the slogan "Feel the Science". The company aims to consolidate its position as a scientific company and integrate all the companies it has acquired over the past years. Also this month, Almirall has launched an innovation platform called AlmirallShare to set up collaborations in dermatology research. The company has called on scientists at universities, research centers, hospitals and biotechnology firms to submit their proposals.

In terms of names that stood out this month, Fina Lladós is now at the helm of Amgen in Spain and Portugal, based in Barcelona. Lladós has taken over for Roman Stampfli, who is now heading up the company’s German subsidiary. The new director of this US biotechnology corporation joined Amgen España in 1999 and will now lead a team of 280 employees.


International investments and new grants

Alta Life Sciences, a Catalan fund, has just closed its first investment just nine months after its launch. The firm founded by Miguel Valls, Guy Nohra, Montse Vendrell and Scott Moonly has led a €4.2-millions round of funding for Peptomyc, a spin-off of the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology that has developed a therapy to combat all types of cancer.

CG Health Ventures, the fund founded by Carlos Gallardo, has taken a stake in US start-up Virta and Spanish firm Skingdom Health. Also looking to North America, Inveready has participated in a €7-millions round of investment in Canadian company Edesa Biotech, in an operation led by Lumira Capital.

MJN Neuroserveis hopes to be just as successful, launching a round of crowdfunding with Capital Cell looking to raise €600,000 to take their prototype to predict epileptic seizures to the product stage. The goal: expand the team and begin clinical trials at Vall d'Hebron, Sant Joan de Déu and Corachán hospitals.

Acció has announced a new line of grants called Startup Capital. These are geared towards technology start-ups that have been in business between three months and three years. The line of funding is endowed with €1.5 millions and each project will be awarded between 45,000 and €75,000. The deadline for applications is 31 October. Additionally, 30 September is the deadline for applying for PERIS grants to hire scientists and technologists for research groupsto allow nursing, physical therapy and specialist staff to do more research and for targeted research projects.

The Catalan Finance Institute (ICF) has invested €1.4 millions in eight Catalan start-ups in different sectors through a co-investment project with private investors. One of these start-ups is Devicare, which has received a participating loan of €133,000. Additionally, the Elba project (European Liquid Biopsies Academy), in which Catalan company Pangaea is participating, has received a grant of €247,873 from the EU Horizon 2020 program.


Money and visibility for research

The Catalan government, through ACCIÓ, will earmark €20 millions to consolidate Eurecat as a benchmark technology center. Leitat, which has been associated with the center since the end of last year, will get €4 millions of the total grant money.

Also this month, the “la Caixa” Foundation has presented its campaign entitled “Imprescindibles” to help raise funds for biomedical research of excellence. The campaign stars some of the most well-known Spanish doctors, including four from Catalonia: Josep Baselga (oncology), Valentí Fuster (cardiology), Eduard Gratacós (fetal medicine) and Bonaventura Clotet (AIDS).

An example of this excellence can be seen in one of this month’s headlines: Catalan Institute of Health (ICS), leading healthcare institute in Spain in number and quality of scientific papers published. In 2016, researchers at the seven research institutes associated with the ICS published 3,960 articles in indexed science journals, more than any other Catalan or Spanish healthcare institution. These papers have a total impact factor of 18,269.

Additionally, Ibec has opened a new line of research in neuroengineering. The new group will work on biomimetic devices and brain repair, among other fields, and is led by Icrea professor Paul Verschure.


Ongoing improvement at hospitals

Germans Trias Hospital in Badalona has begun a pilot program in telemedicine to treat knee and hip prostheses patients by video conference. The project is promoted jointly by the company Technotrends.

Starting next year, the burn unit at Vall d'Hebron University Hospital will be using a new technique with synthetic skin made with 3D bioprinting. The center hopes to gain authorization from the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices (AEMPS) for this process by the end of the year. Vall d'Hebron has also developed a new clinical method, called Cemark, which allows for earlier, less invasive diagnosis of endometrial cancer to help cut the mortality rate of the fourth most common type of cancer among women. Additionally, the hospital has opened a new Functional Unit for Deep-Vein Thrombosis to speed up monitoring and treatment for patients with deep-vein thrombosis and prevent repeat visits and unnecessary diagnostic tests.

Furthermore, Hospital del Mar de Barcelona has become the first public hospital in Spain to incorporate new technology that allows women to control the pressure on their breasts during a mammogram. This will reduce the pain, radiation and anxiety this test can cause.

In the research arena, Hospital Sant Joan de Déu is conducting a groundbreaking trial to control diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG), an incurable cancer that takes patients’ lives in less than two years. The trial is the first of its kind in Spain and one of 20 specific studies underway in the world to find a cure for this rare disease.


Advances in oncology and schizophrenia

Researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), in collaboration with the University of Oviedo and the CIBER for Mental Health (CIBERSAM), have designed a test to assess the cognitive abilities of patients with schizophrenia. These tests take no more than twenty minutes to examine the patient’s short-term memory, mental speed and organizational abilities.

And in oncology, a study led by Jordi Surrallés (Hospital de Sant Pau, UAB and CIBERER), has identified a new genetic syndrome caused by mutations that could predispose patients to tumors and chemotherapy toxicity. 


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