Jordi Naval was appointed new CEO of Biocat last July. Now, at the helm of the entity, he aspires to apply his entrepreneurial experience to promoting a quantitative and qualitative leap of the Catalan health and life sciences ecosystem.
It’s not really much of a leap from one to the other. Transfer can be considered a form of technological entrepreneurship that is systematically exercised in several potential projects, as opposed to an entrepreneur who has to go from project to project.
My professional projects have always had a strong scientific and technological component. In the technology transfer field, what I can bring to the table is the mindset of an entrepreneur who has to develop the technology in the real market and to create value for his company. I have gone from creating a company every five years to creating five companies every year.
For the past 12 years Biocat has been working to promote the innovative health and life sciences ecosystem. Some major milestones have been achieved during this time, such as putting Catalonia and Barcelona on the European health innovation map. I believe that now is the moment to take the next qualitative and quantitative leap, to move from a start-up ecosystem to a scale-up ecosystem: that is, to reinforce existing projects and transform them into stable companies that will create value, contract a large number of professionals and be able to bring the technologies to the market and to the patient. And Biocat has the leverage necessary to make this happen.
We need to look at what has worked and what hasn’t. As examples of things that have worked, I would include the ICREA model, the BIST and the research centers linked to university hospitals, and the creation of companies such as Minoryx, Peptomic and Anaconda. We need to analyze how we got to where we are now so that we can try to extract a repetitive and scalable pattern. For example, in the companies I just mentioned, a common pattern is repeated: an ICREA researcher, working in a center of excellence who, together with management partners and investors, creates a project that captures financing of several million euros to be able to transfer a technology from the laboratory to the patient.
We need to look at the life path and motivations of the individual. As the wise man said: "People, not projects." If we can identify and motivate the right people, they will create valuable projects and take them forward.
The BioRegion is experiencing an exciting time, with many factors coming together. We have advanced technologies, the result of properly sustained research over the past 20 years. Catalans have an entrepreneurial spirit and professional talent in their DNA and we have a network of committed investors at different levels. We are already an attractive hub for the innovation centers of international technology-intensive companies: investments have been made in Catalonia every month over the past six months, which demonstrates that the region has its own unique reputation that makes it attractive as an innovation hub, unlike regions that are based on the exploitation of monopolies and the Ibex35.
As regards to a weakness, this would be the lack of additional clout from the local pharmaceutical industry and its lack of direct and sustained investments in local projects. In terms of risk, this would be not having effective structures in place that allow us to act like a normal country, creating policies and making our own investments in research and innovation.
Biocat is working on an ambitious strategy to position the BioRegion among the main biomedical hubs in Europe and to make it the destination of choice for international investors. Biocat must be an active agent of innovation, working alongside the existing structures (tech transfer offices, investors, entrepreneurs, research centers, public administration, companies, etc.). The goal is to multiply the investment captured and the number of innovative health projects that reach society over the next few years.
We have already launched several new actions this year, such as The Investment Readiness Series, where researchers with innovative projects receive feedback from investors and industry experts in the early stages; and the Open Innovation Forum, enabling Catalan companies with innovation needs to find out the innovation capacities of local research centers. We are also continuing with the Health & Bio Team Dating, which aims to strengthen the scientific teams with people from the management world.
Boosting talent will continue to be a strategic focus for Biocat. In this respect, we are closing the selection of students for the next edition of d·HEALTH Barcelona, a training program for future entrepreneurs and leaders in health innovation which is based on Stanford University’s biodesign methodology. During the program, participants will be able to experience the entire innovation process, from identifying the needs of hospitals to designing a viable solution, as well as searching for financing. This year we also launched CRAASH Barcelona, a 12-week program to help European research teams launch their health and technology innovations with the guidance of experts from CIMIT (Boston), the most experienced health accelerator in the world.
I think the scientific ecosystem and the media need to mature and to stop announcing every advance made to cure cancer in mice, saying that this could result in having a new drug within a few years. This is unlikely to happen systematically. Let's be realistic: the development stage is long and complicated, and with the likelihood that the therapy won’t work (for reasons of safety, lack of effectiveness, competitors that get there before us, etc.).
However, we do have between 18 and 20 therapies made in Catalonia that have emerged from research and are currently in the clinical stage. Importance must be given to these companies and projects that are really moving forward and getting closer to finding solutions that are relevant to patients. Any one of these therapies might reach the market in a few years, but I would not dare say when or which ones. It’s a question of numbers: we have to assume that the success rate is only 10-20% so, of the 18 therapies, perhaps only one or two will make it. We need to have around 100 to improve the probability!
What I would ask them is: Do you want what you have invented to save people’s lives? Would it be useful to thousands of people around the world? Creating a company is just a means to achieve this goal!