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Dr. Joan Seoane and Judit Anido

founders of Mosaic Biomedicals (with Dr. Josep Baselga)

Seoane is one of the most renowned Catalan scientists in oncology. He holds a PhD in Chemistry from UB and is an ICREA research fellow. After working at various European and North American laboratories, he joined the Cell Biology Program at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He currently heads up the VHIO Translational Research Program. Anido holds a PhD in Biology from the UB and has spent more than 10 years carrying out translational cancer research at the VHIO. She studied an MBA at Duke University (USA) in 2010 and has business experience at Genentech.

Mosaic Biomedicals is the first spin-off of the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO). This company is devoted to the development of new personalized therapies to effectively eliminate tumor stem cells and already has a product in the preclinical phases.

Created only a year ago in Barcelona by Catalan scientists Joan Seoane, Judit Anido and Josep Baselga —director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York and medical director of the VHIO—, Mosaic Biomedicals won the fifth edition of the BioEmprenedorXXI awards, in addition to being recognized for the best project in biotechnology.

The founders are an ideal team: Dr. Baselga, from the United States, contributes his experience in clinical development of personalized drugs; Dr. Seoane heads up the scientific side of the project; and Anido is in charge of business strategy.

When did you decide to create Mosaic Biomedicals?

Based on my work —explains Dr. Seoane— researching the molecular mechanisms involved in cancer, we can see that there are some that could be significant in developing therapies, particularly in tumor stem cells that are more resistant to normal treatment, cause tumors to grow and lead to metastasis. We can isolate these cells and study them, but we do this in a different way, with the patients treated at Vall d’Hebron Hospital in Barcelona. Therefore, we are studying cancer from a perspective that is as close as possible to the patient’s reality. But we want to go even further, generating a patent and trying to valorize it. We decided to create a spin-off in order to quickly reach a real treatment for patients. It’s an idea we have been working on for a while, but we began to consolidate it as a result of the BioEmprenedorXXI award.

Did the current economic context, particularly in the healthcare system, affect your decision to start up a company?

No, because we felt it was time to move forward with the project. Moreover, we believe that these initiatives are a way to dynamize the research economy, as is being done in other countries. Initiatives like ours generate knowledge, but they also generate economic value in the middle term, as society sees a return on the investment in research.

Nowadays, especially, funding is key. Where does your funding come from? What investments have you attracted?

We have the €20,000 grant from the BioEmprenedorXXI award and the prizes for best biotechnology project. We are also looking for conventional funding sources for this type of companies: private funding, from business angels or venture capital funds, is an option we are exploring and we are receiving very good feedback. Dr. Seoane’s laboratory has been awarded public grants like Prova’t, an initiative of the Government of Catalonia that has given us €300,000, and a Proof of Concept grant from the European Research Council —Mosaic Biomedicals is the only project from Spain among the 33 grants awarded in the 2012 call for proposals. These two grants are being used to valorize and exploit the technology developed in Dr. Seoane’s laboratory and create the spin-off Mosaic Biomedicals.

You participated in the latest edition of the BioEmprenedorXXI program, which provides personalized guidance for selected projects with a wide range of activities geared towards training, networking and preparing for investment. How has this helped you?

It is a great program that provides a lot of guidance for entrepreneurs in the life sciences arena. So it’s a great opportunity for scientists that aren’t good at doing things outside of the laboratory and helps us structure our idea and push it forward. Plus, it gives you the chance to meet people from the world of biotechnology.

What has it meant for Mosaic Biomedicals to win the BioEmprenedorXXI award?

Above all, visibility, prestige and momentum, taking into account that we were selected by a panel of 25 biotechnology experts and investors. So, the award has helped us a lot materially, but also in terms of morale because it recognized our work.

Your first product is in the preclinical stage. What is it? What are its chances of success to continue development and reach patients?

It has a very powerful effect on tumor stem cells and, thus, we think it will also affect tumor initiation and metastasis, and possibly prevent resistance to some treatments. Moreover, it’s highly specific, so it will surely have fewer toxic side effects and not affect healthy cells. Now, we have to show that it isn’t toxic and can be produced in large quantities in order to move into phase I clinical trials and start to test it on patients two years from now. In this sense, we have an advantage in being in one of the best platforms in the world for clinical trials, which will allow us to design and develop a trial quickly and effectively.

It must help that Dr. Seoane is the director of the VHIO Translational Research Program.

Yes, because it allows us to study the disease with a global and multidisciplinary approach, in addition to doing personalized medicine. And, when we test a compound, we take patient samples and cells and put them in mice, so they reproduce the same tumor, allowing us to study its biology and the treatments that work. This can only be achieved with a multidisciplinary approach, with a team of surgeons, oncologists, pathologists, biologists, chemists, pharmaceutical experts and, even, IT specialists, to tackle all aspects of the disease. All of this is only possible in a hospital setting because it requires close proximity to the patients.

Are you working on any other projects?

Yes, quite a few, but they are all based on tumor stem cells. One of the things that characterize Mosaic Biomedicals is personalized therapy. Thus, in developing a therapeutic compound, we also develop a kit that will allow us to select the patient it should be used to treat. And, nowadays, personalized medicine allows us to identify the patients that are most likely to benefit from a treatment, making the whole clinical process faster and more efficient.

In terms of internationalization, where do you stand?

From the very beginning, we have conceived of the company in global terms, as we want our products to reach the whole world. Moreover, we want to attract international members to our team. So, in the near future, we would like to take the leap to the United States, which is a global powerhouse in biotechnology. In fact, we have a lot of links internationally and this is why we are open to any source of funding, interaction, collaboration, or synergies, regardless of where it comes from.

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