HIGHLIGHTS: Pediatrics investment funds, startup rounds, hospital facilities, awards, and new treatments in the clinical phase
<p><span class="s1"><a href="https://www.biocat.cat/en/news/outstanding-catalan-presence-bio-boston-…; target="_blank">Boston was the great international showcase for the BioRegion of Catalonia this month</a></span>, thanks to the international BIO Convention held in that US city with 46 Catalan companies and organizations. Here at home, though, activity in the sector remained intense with more funding operations, clinical trials, advanced therapies, and advances in research published in some of the world’s top journals. Let’s look back over the top news stories in the BioRegion from June! </p>
Let’s start by welcoming a new name to the sector. Ship2B has launched a fund seeking to raise €30 million to invest in European pediatrics startups: the manager, called the Montana Impact Fund, aims to invest in 18 projects focusing on oncology, mental conditions and genetic diseases through 2028, and has Marc Ramis as its managing partner and Hospital Sant Joan de Déu as an advisor. Another fund in the BioRegion of Catalonia, Ysios, has led a €58 million round in biotechnology firm Tagworks, with Gilde Healthcare and Novartis: this is the eleventh transaction of the Ysios BioFund III, with €216 million.
Some projects in the BioRegion have also attracted investment: Nuage Therapeutics closed a €12 million round led by Sofinnova Partners and Asabys, with participation from Innvierte, the CDTI investment program, and BStartup. This funding will allow them to advance their program on resistant prostate cancer and validate their drug discovery platform for modulators of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDP).
Also, One Chain Immunotherapeutics, a spinoff of the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute that specializes in CAR-T, closed a €6.7 million Pre-Series A round. The operation was led by Invivo Capital with participation from the Josep Carreras Foundation and CDTI, which were already stakeholders, and new investors Nara Capital and Clave Capital.
For its part, Connecta Therapeutics secured €3.3 million and is starting clinical trials at the Hospital del Mar Research Institute on its drug CTH120 to treat Fragile X syndrome, after promising results in the preclinical trials at CRG. The company expects the final results of the Phase 1 trial in the second quarter of 2024. The operation was led by the current stakeholders, an Inveready fund and CDTI Innvierte.
MiMARK Diagnostic, a spinoff of Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), secured €1 million to accelerate development of its in vitro diagnostic test for endometrial cancer. Clave Capital, Nara Capital and Namarel Ventures led the operation, with participation from WA4Steam.
Also looking for funding, IDP Pharma is starting a clinical trial on their drug IDP-121 for hematological tumors and has opened a €1 million round on Capital Cell for the first phase of the study.
More good news on trials: Minoryx has been granted FDA approval for a Phase 3 clinical trial on leriglitazone in patients with X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD-X) and cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (CALD). The company expects to start recruiting patients at the end of the second quarter of 2023, with results expected for late 2025. And Ferrer has started an expansion of the Phase 3 clinical trial to assess the long-term efficacy of their FNP122 molecule and gauge its potential to slow the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) by protecting nerve cells.
The HIPRA vaccine is back in the news because the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices (AEMPS) has authorized a clinical trial to study whether the booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is safe in adolescents aged 12 to 18 who have already been administered two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and to confirm that this booster increases immune response to the virus. It will be conducted on 300 volunteers at Vall d’Hebron Hospital in Barcelona, Josep Trueta Hospital in Girona and three hospitals in Madrid.
Fecundis has developed a new assisted reproductive technique that activates sperm by reproducing in the lab the process that takes place naturally in a woman’s reproductive system: the first clinical trial conducted to validate the method concluded with a baby born to parents with a long history of infertility and opened the door to boosting success rates for assisted reproductive treatments.
Corporate movements in big companies
Grifols has started delivering the first plasma drugs manufactured from in-country donations to Egypt, where they expect to operate 20 donation points by the end of 2024. The Egyptian plasma is transformed at the Grifols plant in Parets del Vallès (Barcelona). The hemoderivatives company also plans to open its own plasma collection centers in Canada next year, where it has signed a deal with Canadian Plasma Resources. However, the company is selling a stake in its Shanghai subsidiary RAAS for €1.39 billion and hasn’t ruled out other divestments.
There have also been corporate movements at Almirall, which closed a €200 million express capital increase, bringing the Gallardo family’s stake up to 60.14% of the shares in the pharmaceutical company.
Boehringer Ingelheim has invested €13 million to boost its technology center in Sant Cugat (Barcelona), the company’s biggest technology hub with 300 professionals serving more than 50,000 users all over the world.
Additionally, Catalan trials, certification and inspection company Applus+ has acquired French company Rescoll, which provides R&D services and materials testing with 170 employees and a yearly turnover of €21 million.
New facilities and technology in hospitals
Hospital Sant Joan de Déu inaugurated its new facilities in the Pediatric Cancer Center – CaixaResearch, thanks to €3 million from the ”la Caixa” Foundation and contributions from patients’ families and other organizations. Hospital Sant Joan de Déu has also launched its new maternity ward, remodeled to improve monitoring and the experience of families and geared towards gynecology and obstetrics patients.
Additionally, Josep Trueta Hospital in Girona and Hospital Santa Caterina in Salt inaugurated a new laboratory for genetic and molecular diagnostics, with latest generation sequencing technology; and Mataró Hospital inaugurated its oncohematology outpatient center, which will replace the current specialized outpatient center and offer patients a more comfortable, private experience.
There is also good news for patients at Bellvitge University Hospital, which has finished inserting continuous interstitial glucose monitoring sensors in all its patients with type 1 diabetes. Some 700 people already have the device, which instead of fingerstick testing uses a mobile app to monitor the disease.
And with hospitalized patients in mind, Bellvitge Hospital has kicked off its project ‘L’Hospital ja dorm’ (The Hospital is sleeping), which strives to make sure patients can sleep at night, based on a study done by nursing professionals on sleep quality at the center. This month, Bellvitge has also become the first center in Spain to hit 1,000 robotic gynecology surgeries with the Da Vinci robot.
Hospitals in the BioRegion continue to incorporate groundbreaking techniques and technology. Hospital Clinic Barcelona has successfully completed its first surgeries with Bitrack, the surgical robot from Catalan company Rob Surgical. These were three radical nephrectomies, a procedure that removes the whole kidney because it isn’t working properly or is diseased. And in psychiatry, Hospital de Sant Pau is advancing with its surgery for treatment-resistant depression and schizophrenia. It is the only hospital in southern Europe that does this groundbreaking surgical intervention, which has a 65% success rate after five years.
Catalan oncology at ASCO congress
The Blood and Tissue Bank of Catalonia, CSIC and IDIBELL/ICO are going to study how to obtain CAR-NK (natural killer), a type of lymphocytes that are easier to produce than CAR-T, to improve these therapies. The BST will house the bank for the resulting cells.
This month, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) held its yearly congress, where Catalan centers also presented their latest developments. These included a new treatment, osimertinib adjuvant therapy, which has been shown to significantly extend overall survival in participants with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer in the early stages with EGFR gene mutations, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that IIB Sant Pau took part in. VHIO was also at the congress, presenting a new conjugated antibody that could be useful for personalizing treatment for patients with recurrent epithelial ovarian cancer that express the FolRα protein, according to the preliminary results of the clinical trial.
IDIBELL and the University of Iowa have developed a new molecule for targeted cancer treatment, which specifically recognizes a receptor highly expressed in tumor cells of breast cancer, sarcoma, melanoma, colon cancer and others. The new molecule, presented at Molecular Therapy – Nucleic Acids, could join cancer treatments and be used as a platform for targeted administration of drugs, reducing side effects. IDIBELL also took part in a Phase 3 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that is a paradigm shift in the treatment of patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, one of the most aggressive blood cancers: a new treatment with Yescarta (Axicabtagene ciloleucel, known as axi-cel) reduced the risk of death by 27.4%.
Additionally, researchers at IDIBAPS have developed a three-dimensional cell model of Mantle cell lymphoma, an infrequent yet aggressive form of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The study, published in Leukemia, could help assess the efficacy of new treatments.
Other news in research
Catalonia will create a microbiota bank to promote faecal transplants: Bellvitge and Clinic hositals lead the project and will seek out new donors from the autumn.
This month the Hub of Social and Health Innovation (HiSS) was inaugurated in Terrassa, a public instrument of the Catalan health system and the public social services network. The HiSS calls for the management of unintended loneliness and calls on public and private entities and institutions to present applied innovation projects.
An international team led by the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE, CSIC-UPF), Pompeu Fabra University, Illumina and Baylor College of Medicine has sequenced the genome of over 800 individuals from 233 primate species all over the planet, showing their great potential for diagnosing human diseases. The result, the largest and most detailed genetic catalog to date on these animals, was published as a special issue of the journal Science. The National Center for Genomic Analysis (CNAG) sequenced 80% of the genomes for the project.
Advances in Alzheimer research are in the news again this month. A team led by Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC) has developed a new biomarker for brain aging that shows that the presence of pathological changes in Alzheimer’s disease is associated with accelerated brain aging, even in cognitively healthy people. El Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center also led, with Hospital del Mar Research Institute, a study published in iScience that for the first time validates the use of computer cognitive training games to assess the evolution of cognitive capacity in people at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Plus, a preclinical trial conducted by IDIBAPS and published in Cells has proven the efficacy of photodynamic therapy in treating glioblastoma. Administering a light-sensitive drug reduces the viability of the tumor in a three-dimensional model that simulates the neural tissue and the glioblastoma.
Also in neurology, a multicentric study led by Hospital Universitari de Bellvitge and l’IDIBELL determines that anti-CGRP drugs against migraine are also effective and safe over 65 years, and opens up new ways to improve the quality of life of these patients.
Plus new developments in cardiology. 5% of patients with acute myocardial infarction have areas damaged by the infarction according to a study conducted by Hospital Clinic Barcelona and Vall d’Hebron Hospital, published in JACC Cardiovascular Imaging. IGTP, IQS and BST continue research into a bypass using donor veins in patients with heart disease: they hope to obtain a biological bioimplant of human origin for coronary artery bypass grafts called VASCRAFT, which would be an innovative therapeutic alternative.
Dermatology has also been in the news this month. A study led by IRB Barcelona and CNAG published in Nature Aging opens up new perspectives for developing therapies to improve skin health, concluding that the IL-17 protein plays a key role in skin aging: blocking IL-17 function reduces the pro-inflammatory state and delays the appearance of age-related features in the skin.
Awards and other initiatives
The IRB Barcelona Colorectal Cancer laboratory has been awarded the Red Cross Gold Medal for its contributions to cancer research, specifically the discovery and characterization of the cells responsible for causing colon cancer metastases, which was published last year in Nature. Eduard Batlle, head of the research group, and Elena Sancho, associate researcher, received the award from Queen Letizia.
More awards: Nen won the EC2VC Pitch Competition at the Radical Health Festival Helsinki, Doctomatic won the Most Promising Startup Award at the HIMSS Europe Pitch Fest, Time is Brain took first place in the medtech category at EIT Health Catapult, and ABLE Human Motion won the Círculo Ecuestre 2023 Joven Relevante Award, with Trialing and Aortyx as the other two finalists. Congratulations to all of you!
Another big name this month was Joaquim Gea, emeritus head of the Pneumology service at Hospital del Mar: he was chosen by Cells to be guest editor for a special issue on biomarkers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which will be published late this year and also as a book.
And finally, after the recommendations we shared to bridge the gender gap in the life sciences and healthcare sector, we’d like to congratulate IIB Sant Pau for kicking off a new transversal research program to encourage gender perspective in all its research areas and groups.