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New rounds in the BioRegion and more available funds

The new school year in the BioRegion got off to a great start with new rounds of funding that are moving the accelerator towards a promising close of 2021. Seqera Labs, Aelix Therapeutics, Nuage Therapeutics, MJN-neuro and Oryzon Genomics have secured economic injections of over €1 million. Seqera Labs, a spinoff of the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) that specializes in organizing data and workflow software, has received assistance to the tune of $5 million to develop its technology and boost its presence in the United States. In turn, the biotech firm Aelix Therapeutics has secured an injection of almost €2 million to continue making headway on its HIV vaccine. The new spinoff of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), Nuage Therapeutics, geared at discovering new drugs to combat prostate cancer, has received between €1 and 3 million to launch the project. The startup MJN-neuro, which specializes in developing medical solutions to predict epileptic attacks and also works on research to combat Alzheimer, has attracted more than €1 million to finance its sales strategy, and the biopharmaceutical company Oryzon Genomics, which specializes in epigenetics, has secured $1 million to support a new clinical trial.

It’s not quite a million, but FrontWave Imaging, the spinoff of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) and the Imperial College of London, has closed its first round of funding. The company secured €750,000, more than its initial goal, reaching it in less than one week. We should also mention the launch of a digital platform to manage chronic patients remotely, Doctomatic, a new initiative of the co-founder of Doctoralia, Frederich Llordcachs, which has attracted €200,000 in its initial phase

Other companies, however, are seeking to accelerate their growth, like Onalabs, a startup focused on developing three digital devices for home hospitalization of chronic patients, sports medicine and diabetes, which has opened a round of funding of €1.2 million to accelerate the development and sale of its devices.

And speaking of acceleration, the fourth edition of CRAASH Barcelona kicked off this month and presented the 6 projects chosen, and the relations between the teams and mentors got off the ground. Likewise, the “La Caixa” Foundation has announced that it is going to promote 20 biomedical research projects with a major social impact as part of its 2021 CaixaResearch Validate and Consolidate call for applications. Twelve of these projects come from hospitals, research centers and universities in Catalonia. Also in the news are the startups AON Therapeutics and Time is Brain, which were chosen by Consolidate with €300,000 of funding each. 

With regard to public investment funds, Biel Glasses and Dermavision won the Health Longevity Catalyst from EIT Health, along with 19 other emerging European companies. Each will receive up to €50,000 in initial funding to continue to develop their product or service. And turning to venture capital managers, CriteriaCaixa launched new funds worth €300,000 for ICT and biotech startups, which will be expanded as investments are made. Also worth highlighting is the efforts of some investment funds in the BioRegion to promote gender diversity in this industry. One example is Ysios Capital, which has become the first venture capital firm in Spain, and the first one internationally to specialize in the life sciences and healthcare that has secured the Diversity VC Standard certificate, Nina Capital, which has published an analysis of gender diversity in the Spanish private and venture capital industry

New acquisitions, mergers and business moves 

Catalan companies have been bolstered by new acquisitions. The pharmaceutical company HIPRA has acquired GoodGut, a company devoted to researching and developing diagnostic tests for digestive diseases. With this strategy, the company is seeking to boost its human health division while also focusing on prevention and innovative products. Another example is Atrys Health, which has purchased the Portuguese company Genetyca, a medical genetics clinic and laboratory headquartered in Oporto which has a medical office and laboratory where more than 3,000 genetic tests are conducted. In turn, the pharmaceutical company Grifols has acquired 90% of the shares of Biotest AG. According to experts, this is a good strategy to continue expanding in the blood plasma market.

Another newsworthy event is the acquisition by the German company Evonik of the biotech firm Infinitec, which focuses on researching, developing, manufacturing and selling main active ingredients and state-of-the-art-release systems for the cosmetics industry. This is joined by the merger of the biotech Pangaea Oncology and Invitrocue PTE, from Singapore. This merger will allow one of the most avant-garde technologies in the struggle against cancer to be developed based on 3D in-vitro organoid technology.

Other news and strategies in the BioRegion’s startup market came from Exheus and Impress. The former, which specializes in performing RNAm tests, has launched an e-commerce to immediately sell its tests. The company forecasts revenues of €300,000 in the next three months. The latter, which focuses exclusively on orthodontic treatments with transparent covers, is expanding its presence in Barcelona by opening a center just for adolescents. By doing so, it is embarking upon a new business line in its city.

Cutting-edge research, news at hospitals and the sector's move towards sustainability

With regard to the advancements in research, this month the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) has unveiled a new treatment that could double the life expectancy of breast cancer patients, and researchers at the Microtubule Organization laboratory at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) have identified the protein complex Augmin as an essential element in stem cell division during embryonic brain development. We should also highlight that the Government of Catalonia has awarded IDIBELL a co-financed project worth €2 million that will enhance personalized medicine on the Bellvitge campus.

In terms of hospitals, the Hospital Sant Joan de Déu is the first hospital in Spain to open a pediatric toxicology office. The unit will attend to both the accidental ingestion of toxic products and alcohol and drug consumption. Another new pediatric initiative will be launched by Barcelona's Vall d’Hebron Hospital, with a rehabilitation service exclusively for minors. Barcelona’s Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau has successfully implanted an innovative device to repair the tricuspid cardiac valve in 21 patients without the need for open-heart surgery, and has become one of the first centers in doing so. 

We should recall that September 21 was International Alzheimer Day, a disease that has witnessed a great deal of progress over the past two years thanks to improvements in its diagnosis and treatment. Although there is still a lot of work to be done, different startups in the BioRegion, such as Admit Therap, Oryzon, QMENTA and AcceXible, are developing different solutions to improve this disease. And precisely this month the latter has launched a free test which quickly and simply tests brain health through speech. The same day (September 21) was also #LabWasteDay, an international initiative to raise awareness of the need to make laboratories and research centers more sustainable. Regarding the sustainability of the life sciences and healthcare sector, Biocat has just published this post to provide information on the status of this issue, which is a goal within the European regional development strategy. In fact, related to this topic, this year Asabys received certification of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) management system aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Finally, we want to highlight that Catalonia has been made a full member of the International Science Council thanks to the inclusion of SciTech DiploHub, which will enable Catalan research centers to have a voice and vote in what is called the “United Nations of science.”

Covid-19: Lessons, challenges and opportunities

The pandemic caused by Covid-19 is still in the news after the summer. The Catalan company HIPRA is once again in the spotlight after its vaccine has become the first solution to combat Covid-19 developed in all of Spain and the positive results achieved in the latest clinical trials. This month it announced its first sales agreement to supply its solution to Vietnam, which is forecast to reach the market in early 2022

From this vantage point of analysis, reflection and proposals about the lessons learned, we recommend reading Economic Note 106, 'The social and economic effects of Covid-19’ and to watch the introductory debate, which included Montse Daban, the Scientific and International Relations Director at Biocat and co-author of article no. 15 on the Catalan healthcare research and innovation system's response to Covid-19 and on how to maximize the impact of Catalonia's technologies and capacities.

Soon another debate is going to be held, from a scientific standpoint, co-organized by Biocat and the "la Caixa” Foundation entitled  'Overcoming Covid-19 and preparing for the future’, which will address how to manage the pandemic and the resources and infrastructures available to combat future healthcare crises. 

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