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Hundreds of professionals met on February 13 at the presentation of the 2022 BioRegion of Catalonia Report to get the main data on innovation in health, research and investment, plus an analysis of the sector’s evolution in recent years. First, the presentation highlighted the maturity of the ecosystem, which is being consolidated with record investment in startups and scaleups, excellent research and a cutting-edge business fabric, all making the BioRegion one of the main health innovation hubs in Europe. Then more than 20 experts from the sector took part in 5 panel discussions on the main challenges facing the BioRegion.

The sector’s business organizations shared the industry’s challenges in a dialog between Mariona Serra, vice-president of Catalonia Bio & HealthTech; Pedro Luis Sánchez, director of the Studies Department at Farmaindustria; and Carles Sisternas, director of Fenin Catalunya. The three speakers discussed proposals to strengthen and boost the sector’s competitiveness, sector policies to implement and the fiscal measures needed to consolidate it. 

Among the fiscal/legal proposals, Mariona Serra mentioned the need to improve the tax framework for all parties involved in entrepreneurship, both entrepreneurs and private capital funds. “In general, the situation should be more attractive for companies that meet the requirements to be considered emerging businesses,” she noted. On this topic, Carles Sisternas took advantage to call for the lowest VAT rate (4%) to be applied to healthcare technology products and equipment: “Healthcare centers can’t offset VAT and that would mean significant savings.” The representative of Farmaindustria, however, appealed for an end to the limit on R&D deductions in the Corporate Tax Law (currently 18 years). These and other proposals can be found in chapter 4 of the 2022 Report: Other insights on business activity. 

Then the discussion turned to some of the strategic facilities that are strengthening the ecosystem. In a panel discussion moderated by CERCA Director Lluís Rovira, participants highlighted how important having powerful science facilities is for attracting talent. Anton Ussi, Operations and Finance director at EATRIS ERIC, noted, “It’s not only cutting-edge technology that attracts talent, so does an interconnected, collaborative ecosystem.” 


In response to a question on how to use this type of facilities, Alba Synchrotron Director Caterina Biscari explained that access depends on the type of company: “Public companies get competitive grants to use the facility and public ones pay to use it, always with a non-disclosure agreement.” At the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), “the supercomputers are available to any European research staff, regardless of whether they work in the private or public sector, but the computing time allotted depends on the quality and type of research,” explained BSC Associate Director Josep Maria Martorell.

As page 11 of the 2022 Report shows, activity in the BioRegion of Catalonia last year was unremitting, with new and forthcoming facilities and equipment being added to those already available to continue supporting excellence, innovation, transfer and social impact. Nevertheless, it is important for there to be some degree of “regulation” and a “minimum strategy” to avoid redundant institutions, noted Mònica Bayès, strategy coordinator at the Centre Nacional d’Anàlisi Genòmica (CNAG).

How can access to data help transform health systems?

Another panel of experts discussed a strategic topic for Europe: The European Health Data Space (EDHS), a project that aims to improve access to healthcare data and share it throughout the EU. The discussion was moderated by Francisco Lupiáñez, professor of Information and Communication Sciences at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, and featured speakers Montserrat Daban, Biocat director of Science Policy and Internationalization; Jordi Piera, director of the Digital Health Strategy Office at the Catalan Health Service; Sven Parkel, general secretary of Scan Balt; and Michel Silvestri, head of the Coordination Department of the Swedish eHealth Agency. They all supported the initiative approved in May 2022, which has become one of the European Union’s top priorities now. “With this new law, we can transform healthcare systems. Making them more digital but above all more accessible,” noted Jordi Piera. The participants agreed that there are still obstacles to overcome, including interoperability and secondary use of data. Plus, Montserrat Daban added two more challenges: “The quality and governance of this data.” 

However, there are initiatives being promoted by Estonia and the whole network of Nordic and Scandinavian countries that can be used as examples. The representative of Scan Balt explained that there are three key aspects to transforming a healthcare system through data: “Streamlined governance of digital health, safe and reliable processing of patients’ health data and a cost-effective system of sharing data among administrations (X-Road).” Michel Silvestri agreed with him on these three aspects. 

Adopting innovation in the healthcare system and the Advanced Therapies Hub: two projects for the future coordinated by Biocat

Two of the sessions covered some of the main projects Biocat is coordinating on behalf of the Government of Catalonia: adopting innovation in the Catalan Healthcare System and the Advanced Therapies Hub. The panel “Fast-tracks for adopting innovation in the Catalan Healthcare System”, moderated by Chief Health Innovation Strategist for the Catalan Ministry of Health Ramon Maspons, focused on one key idea: “The healthcare system doesn’t have a problem with generating innovation; the issue lies in adopting it, which ends up affecting the system’s sustainability.” 

In this regard, Fina Lladós, general manager of Amgen Spain and Portugal, added that assessment of innovations is one of the main gaps. “To start off, we have to establish the assessment criteria, then how they are weighted and, finally, the cost of the value the technology will contribute. This is how a streamlined process should work so innovation isn’t hampered, and this is what the Biocat group is working on.” In the same line, Laura Sampietro, president of the AQuAS board of directors and deputy director of Innovation at Hospital Clinic Barcelona, noted that we urgently need mechanisms to adopt new health technologies because, “There are lots of innovators lost in the system who don’t know how to advance their innovation. And this is why it is important to lay out a roadmap they can follow.” Before that happens, Chus Castillo, vice-president of Market Access at Alira Health Iberia, ensured that “the system has to be able to detect and assess the technological solutions it needs.”

In terms of international models that could be used as examples for adopting innovation, Lluís Juncà, director general for Innovation, Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship for the Government of Catalonia, defended the Finnish and Danish models. “They are very inspiring for Catalonia, since their global view can reflect how we should adopt innovation in our country.”  

The panel discussion on the Advanced Therapies Hub of Catalonia conveyed the need to consolidate this joint country-building project, for which Catalonia has the essential ingredients of research bodies, industry, hospitals and healthcare system, the speakers agreed. Nevertheless, the participants emphasized the need for more collaborations among stakeholders: “The biggest challenge is identifying and aligning stakeholders in the ecosystem, ensuring the value chain and being able to promote strategic projects to become a great hub for advanced therapies,” said Biocat CEO Robert Fabregat. 

The session, led by Biocat Director of Innovation Núria Martí, also featured Blood and Tissue Bank Board Chairman Andreu Mas-Colell, who expressed his firm belief in the confidence the Government of Catalonia has shown in promoting the advanced therapies system in Catalonia. “We have many elements, so it’s not about creating something new, but about creating a small thing with activity, impulse and distribution capacity,” he added when asked about the new Advanced Therapies Hub of Catalonia, which he said will be announced soon. 

For AseBio CEO Ion Arocena, the biggest challenge of these therapies is “turning the knowledge acquired into industry to scale up and provide general access and have an economic impact on the local fabric.” Plus, he added, “We are moving towards personalized, egalitarian, universal, sustainable, digitalized healthcare.” Cristina Nadal, Executive Policy director at MSD - Merck Sharp & Dohme Spain, however, is committed to the attractiveness of the hub, as long as the innovations end up reaching patients. “Committing to advanced therapies is a great opportunity for many sectors. The most important impact is for the healthcare system because they provide new solutions, including for genetic diseases like cancer. If we do it right, transferring the science and technology, it can have a huge impact even in terms of access.”

More information

You can check out all the sessions in the video of the presentation of the 2022 BioRegion of Catalonia Report


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