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July was a fruitful month for the BioRegion of Catalonia. Rounds of funding, new alliances and advances in research, and not just on Covid-19. Nevertheless, SARS-CoV-2 is still present in public centers and private companies. Let’s look at some of the news from this month.

Starting with some positive news for the whole BioRegion: investment in healthcare and life sciences start-ups in Catalonia in 2019 totaled over €100 million for the fourth year in a row, with a total of €112 million according to the Study on investment in the life sciences and healthcare industry in Catalonia 2020 by CataloniaBio & HealthTech and EY.

There have also been changes in the Catalan Ministry of Health: Josep Maria Argimon is the new Catalan Public Health Secretary, taking over for Joan Guix, who stepped down in June, and epidemiologist Jacobo Mendioroz was named the head of the new Covid-19 Monitoring Unit.


Companies and start-ups in the headlines

Turning to rounds of funding, Oryzon carried out a €20-million capital increase and is looking to the Nasdaq, and Ysios Capital led a €32-million round of series-B funding for Dutch biotechnology firm VarmX. Invivo Ventures invested €4.1 million in Telum Therapeutics and Qida closed a €3.6-million round led by Creas Impacto and moved to Madrid. Made of Genes, for its part, closed a €2.4-million round led by FCV Equity.

Alta Life Sciences invested €3.5 million in DeepUll, the new company started by Jordi Carrera and Rafel Bru that focuses on developing a new system to diagnose sepsis early. Asabys led a seed round of more than €2 million for Galician firm Origo Biopharma, currently led by Ramon Bosser. Start-up Ninevah Therapeutics kicked off and consolidated its project with €700,000 from CDTI and Droplite raised €750,000 from public investors to prepare its move into the market.

Some companies have shot up: PharmaMar stock rose 15% after announcing its drug Aplidin is effective against Covid-19. Pangaea Oncology saw turnover up 8.4% in 2019, to €3.3 million, although the company is still in the red.

This month also brought alliances between centers: Esteve has transferred its R&D to Leitat and created a joint bioincubator, WeLab, in the pharmaceutical company’s former facilities at the Barcelona Science Park. Devicare has joined forces with Idneo to manufacture in vitro diagnostic equipment and Reig Jofre has joined the Vaxdyn consortium to develop a multipurpose vaccine against bacterial infections. Almirall, for its part, has joined the AMR Action Fund to fight antibiotics resistance.

Archivel Farma created Immuni Therapeutics, a subsidiary to apply the Ruti vaccine, originally developed for tuberculosis, to Covid-19 and Medtronic acquired implants manufacturer Medicrea. Ribera Salud has begun monitoring patients with heart failure remotely with the Humanitcare platform. In HR, Doctoralia named Virgina del Olmo its new country manager for Spain.

Looking to internationalization, Salvat announced it will start commercializing its star product, Cristalmina, in 26 foreign markets. And Grifols has launched a drug to treat coagulation problems in Europe. It is the first non-plasma compound the company’s bioscience division has launched on the continent. The same company has acquired a plant and network of plasma centers in North America for €460 million.


News in research and hospitals

This month saw the creation of the Epidemiology Observatory, a project promoted by several Catalan centers and organizations that hopes to help prevent epidemics using advanced artificial intelligence technology.

Regarding awards and grants, the ”la Caixa” Foundation selected 23 international biomedical projects, more than half from Catalonia, for its CaixaImpulse program. Three CSIC centers in Catalonia were awarded Severo Ochoa accreditation of excellence and a researcher at the Barcelona Microelectronics Institute, Neus Sabaté, was chosen as a candidate to the European Women Innovators 2020 awards. Vall d’Hebron Hospital has been accredited as a CSUR (Reference Centers, Services and Units) in 33 conditions, more than any other hospital in Spain. Director of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and head of the Medical Oncology Unit at Vall d’Hebron Hospital, Josep Tabernero, has been awarded the 2019 Catalonian National Research Award. Rovira i Virgili University has been awarded a European project through the COFUND call, with over €4 million.

In cancer research, a European study led by Vall d’Hebron to create a digital platform to diagnose tumors was published. VHIO researchers have identified a type of intestinal bacteria as a new marker to predict relapse in patients with rectal cancer. The same institute participated in a study that has proven the efficacy of a new drug, avapritinib, for gastrointestinal stromal tumors, a rare type of cancer.

At Hospital de Bellvitge, researchers have identified genes that make people more prone to cancer by impeding the immune system’s protective function, and have begun clinical trials on a less aggressive surgery for low rectal cancer. At Hospital Clinic and CIBERONC, researchers have developed a bioinformatics tool to diagnose lymphoma, and scientists at CIBER-BBN have developed a drug that blocks myeloid leukemia tumor cells without damaging healthy cells, minimizing adverse effects. MiWEndo, a spin-off of the UPF, Hospital Clinic, UPC and ICREA, is developing a technique to make colonoscopies more efficient in diagnosing colorectal cancer, and has published a paper on it in Nature journal.

Regarding neurological conditions, the UAB announced it will work with pharmaceutical company Servier to develop new molecules to block the main protein involved in Parkinson’s disease. Researchers at Hospital Sant Pau have identified a key cell in the progression of ALS. IRBLleida and the University of Lleida have shown that inhibiting calpain, a protein associated with neuron lesions, could be a strategy for treating spinal muscular atrophy, the most deadly genetic disease among newborns. And this month saw the birth of Gate2Brain, a company based on technology to transport drugs into the brain and make them more effective, from a line of research developed at IRB Barcelona in collaboration with the UB and Sant Joan de Déu Hospital and Research Institute.

Hospital Clinic has begun applying a new non-surgical technique to treat patients with tricuspid valve regurgitation. The same center has become the first hospital in Europe to apply a new laser technique for prostate surgery.

IRB Lleida and the UdL have begun participating in the European project Moore4Medical:Accelerating Innovation in Microfabricated Medical Devices to foster the use of emerging technology to cut the cost of medical care. In Girona, the announcement was made that the new Hospital Trueta will be located in Salt and be operational by 2028.


Covid-19 remains

This month, several alliances have been announced to tackle Covid-19. Rovi and Moderna announced they are working on the final stages of manufacturing a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in Spain. For their part, ICS and IDIAP Jordi Gol i Gurina begun research with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on how to diagnose Covid-19 with artificial intelligence based on the patient’s voice and cough.

The Catalan Institute of Oncology Girona and the Girona Biomedical Research Institute have been given approval to begin a clinical trial on silibinin, which could limit the spread and mortality of Covid-19. This extract of the milk thistle will be administered to patients in the study through the drug Legalon, which is processed by the company Euromed in Mollet del Vallès.

Finally, German researchers at the Josep Carreras Leukemia Foundation have cured a woman with Covid-19 in critical condition with a cancer drug, and a multi-center study led by Althaia showed that patients with a femur fracture and Covid-19 have a higher mortality rate.

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