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The year 2020 will go down in history as the time when Covid-19 changed everything. The world was in lockdown to curb an unfamiliar virus which filled the ICU wards in all hospitals and made the global economy totter.

Even though it was a difficult year because of the pandemic, three startups in the BioRegion managed to raise a total of €59 million of investment in 2020. They are Koa Health (€14.1 million), Neuroelectrics Cambridge  (€15 million) and Ona Therapeutics (€30 million). This milestone was discussed at the panel discussion that Biocat, CataloniaBio & HealthTech, and ACCIÓ organized as part of BIO-Europe Spring Digital 2021, one of the leading events in the sector that was held virtually this March.

For Koa Health, not only did Covid-19 not stop it from attracting investors at a tumultuous time, but it even accelerated its advancement with a clear goal: to improve patients’ quality of life. Stephen Dunne, Chief Product Officer, recalls how everything sped up in a matter of days. “We were doing clinical trials, and before we knew it, our solution was beginning to be implemented in hospitals.” At that time, the Telefónica spinoff that offers digital mental health services had some investors, but their ranks began to swell when they realized that the future of health lies in remote medicine. “Everyone wants to get in on the action,” says Dunne. 

However, this was not the only case. The pandemic also accelerated one of the main challenges of Neuroelectrics Cambridge: getting technology into the home. This Catalan health startup which works on therapies to palliate neurological and neurodegenerative diseases asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permission to supply the solution directly to patients with depression given that it was impossible for them to go to the hospital. “The FDA approved it in just 30 days!” recalls Ana Maiques, CEO and co-founder, who was recently named one of the most inspiring women in science in Europe. This is a clear example of how health organizations around the world have had to adapt to the new global social context.

Ona Therapeutics  has a different story to tell. The pandemic didn’t help it. It was difficult to continue working on the clinical trials in person and thus to make headway in their research. Still, the spinoff of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) and ICREA managed to close March 2020 with one of the best investment rounds in Europe, which had started in 2019. “We were lucky because when the pandemic broke out, we already had many of the investors. Later on it would have been trickier. People were disoriented and worried about what might happen with the economy,” Valerie Vanhooren, CEO of Ona, confessed.  

This researcher issued a call to investors to continue investing in biotechnology because “the discovery of drugs should be universal.” “I would like our case to serve as an impetus for other biotech companies,” Vanhooren acknowledged, while stressing the need to continue investing in long-term technologies, innovation, and solutions that are truly sustainable. “Not only in things related to Covid-19.”

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Biocat raises awareness of potential of startups in the ecosystem at Bio-Europe Spring 2021

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