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Dr. Joan Albert Vericat is member of the European Nanomedicine Platform, the Spanish Nanomedicine Platform (Nanomed) and responsible for the document Roadmaps 2020, which was presented in Barcelona during the third Annual Conference Technological Platforms of Biomedical Research last February 2010.

Dr. Vericat has a Master Degree in Biology and is doctor in Sciences by the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He has a broad working experience in the field of nanomedicine which has taken him to the United States, Italy and France. Before he became director of Preclinical Development in Noscira -biopharmaceutical company in Madrid of the Group Zeltia dedicated to the research and development of innovative drugs for the treatment and prevention of neurodegenerative illnesses-, he was head of the Department of Toxicology of J. Uriach & Cia in Barcelona.

Which are the main conclusions of Roadmaps 2020?

The conclusions of this document vary according the needs of each company. Therefore, companies can establish different points of view from a same starting point. However, the key issue of Roadmaps for 2020 is that at last nanomedicine has been recognized as the element which will help to overcome the limits of current medicine and face the improvement of therapeutic treatments. Besides, the members of the European Nanomedicine Platform consider that the mixture of disciplines such as physics, chemistry, technology and life sciences will bring advances and solutions which will improve people’s life.

The application of nanotechnology will be essential to improve pathologies’ diagnosis and treatment. Can you tell us an example of the benefits that could be achieved?

A very significant case is that of nanodiagnosis. Nanotechnology will help to transform usual image diagnosis systems into other smaller. Besides, they’ll have a better price and will be totally portable. This means that these systems can be transferred to primary attention centers where family doctors will diagnose precociously several hard illnesses like the cancer, instead of confirming the suspicions, as it happens in the present. The great advantage will be for neurodegenerative illnesses, since the evolution of these pathologies will be able to be changed and be treated since its initial stages. In short, miniaturization of diagnostic systems, in vivo or in vitro, is highly positive for all benefits it provides.

Is there any other one so relevant?

The other significant example is that of nanochemist products. In this sense, nanotechnology is already applied to drug liberation systems. The application of nanotechnologies in drug delivery allows controlling the size of the pharmacological particles to guarantee the total absorption by the digestive system, limiting the individual variability to the utmost and, therefore, favoring the efficiency and reducing the risk of secondary effects. Nowadays, the usual form of drug administration is oral, so it is very important to improve the liberation and absorption of medicines.  The logical evolution of this system will be the power to encapsulate more complicated products to administer as antibodies, a real challenge which would increase the efficiency of this type of treatment. This evolution has also to be seen in the decrease of complicated and costly systems of administration like the intravenous way. And if all this goes accompanied by slow administration systems, we will be able to achieve constant and time-sustained levels of efficiency without having pikes of exposure which can cause toxic answers.

And how do these advances affect the country’s industrial tissue?

Until now, when a small company developed an innovative technology which represented an important competitive advance, it was absorbed by big multinationals since the whole company can be bought for the cost of a license. All over the world we find very interesting projects which end in hands of big companies and this will continue happening. In the case of Spain, and of Catalonia in particular, we do not have big multinationals typical of the sector, therefore, this situation is not so visible.

If we speak about nanotechnology, Catalonia has a very powerful sector. As a matter of fact, Barcelona is the second producer in the world in this field, just behind the United States. But if these companies want to grow, they have jump out their borders. The internationalization is essential for the survival of Catalan and Spanish companies and the public administration has to facilitate it. Our market is too small to survive in it.

Apart from the internationalization, with what other challenges do companies face in our country?

The main challenge is knowledge, current knowledge and gaps we have to fill in to answer to new technologies needs and specifically in nanomedicine. Medical technologies, for example, have gone out more commercial because they develop in a way which is foreign to the human body. This does not happen with medicines. Until now, all drugs are designed to remain 24 hours in the organism (or another limited period of time) and because of that we take them every day. However, nanomedicine has the challenge to create new therapies that act during months or years freeing the suitable basic principles for the treatment of certain pathologies.

Research systems of usual medicines take from two to five years to develop, whereas nanomedicine products development will last a long time and, therefore, we have to find new forms to evaluate these products’ risk.

Products derived from nanotechnology will be a mixture of implants, with sensors and drug liberation systems. Regulations say it is compulsory to follow the evolution of any medicine, its kinetics as well as its toxicity through the time. This, we know how to do it good with isolated products (the medicines of today), but we do not know how to make it with mixtures and complex systems, therefore, we have to work on it.

What kind of relationship do the small companies and sanitary authorities have?

Counseling provided by sanitary authorities is basic for the success of a new drug. If we are a small company, it is indispensable that we let ourselves guide by the Administration since it will mark the objective and the procedure necessary so our research gets to the market as a product. Authorities are conscious that advances arrive from industries and thus, working together is basic for the projects’ success. As a matter of fact, authorities like the European Medicines Agency, do not charge anything to hold meetings to discuss and evaluate innovative medicines coming from new technologies like nanomedicine.

Some companies around us, mainly spin-offs or start-ups, still think too much in terms of academic research and do not take into account the long term. This can provoke that they dedicate ten years to a research that, not having been well advised at the initial phases, cannot finish the project and the company has to close. Therefore, my advice is that we never lose sight of the final objective of arriving to the market. And this means collaborating with European, Spanish and Catalan sanitary administrations.

What image has the rest of Spain of the BioRegion of Catalonia? You can see it from your company in Madrid...

The industrial tissue of the BioRegion has renowned prestige. It has a good image and a high rate of notoriety. As a matter of fact, the Spanish biotechnological platform is what it is thanks to the boost Catalan groups have given to it. Personally, I think that the Barcelona Science Park and the president of the Spanish Platform of Nanomedicines, Dr. Josep Samitier, have been the key elements in nano development. Without them, the Spanish industry would not have grown so much these last years.


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