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HIGHLIGHTS: 2020 BioRegion Report, good pace of rounds to kick off the new school year and research beyond Covid-19

The 'BioRegion 2020 Report - Challenges Ahead' brings good news to start the academic year

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29.09.2020

Life sciences and healthcare startups are kicking off the new school year in the best possible way: the 2020 BioRegion Report – Challenges ahead, presented by Biocat and CataloniaBio & HealthTech, shows that investment in startups so far in 2020 has already surpassed the total in 2019. €120 million (compared to the €112 million last year) that confirms the sector is in good health and experts add it still has a lot of potential for growth.

Let’s look at some of the other most noteworthy news in the month of the rentrée after an atypical summer.

Back-to-school with millions

ADmit Therapeutics has raised €4.2-million to move forward with its test for early diagnosis of Alzheimer. Biotech firm ProteoDesign has changed its brand to Splice Bio and closed a round of funding led by Ysios Capital (also with participation from Asabys Partners, through its new fund Sabadell Asabys), shifting its focus to gene therapy. Asabys, through its Sabadell Asabys vehicle, also participated in a €15.2-million round for Medasense, an Israeli startup that has developed technology using sensors and artificial intelligence to monitor pain.

Ysios Capital has taken a stake in Dutch company Lava Therapeutics, in a €71-million round led by Novo Holdings and Sanofi Ventures. Gen Incode, a company based in Terrassa, closed a £3.4-million round with British investors to undertake its expansion in Europe and the US. And IOMED Medical Solutions, a firm that specializes in transforming digital medical histories into structured data for clinical research, closed a €2-million round led by Adara Ventures. Also, Connecta Therapeutics raised €1.7 million to develop new treatment for Fragile X Syndrome.

 

Companies in the news

In the section on companies, the BioRegion has welcomed Reveal Genomics, a spinoff set up by researchers at Hospital Clinic and Vall d’Hebron in order to develop precision diagnostic tools for oncology based on combining genomic data.

More good news from Swiss company Ypsomed, which will open a digital hub in Barcelona and expects to create roughly 40 new jobs to develop new digital devices to treat chronic illnesses. Ventura Medical Technologies also deserves congratulations, as it is one of the international small and medium-sized companies selected for the EIT Health Bridgehead program.

Grifols has acquired 55% of Alkahest, a US biopharmaceutical company that it previously held 45% of. And Moderna and the Chiesi Group have established a collaboration to research and develop RNAm therapies for pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Permira announced it has acquired Neuraxpharm, a company based in Düsseldorf and Barcelona that specializes in treatments of the central nervous system, in the same month as Neuraxpharm has acquired a drug to treat epileptic emergencies in children from Japanese company Takeda. Also, Nexxus Iberia announced it will be investing in the leading company in radiotherapy in Portugal.

The bad news comes from Novartis, which has filed for an ERE dismissal scheme to suppress 92 positions in Spain.

 

Funding research

The ”la Caixa” Foundation has announced it will earmark €18 million for 25 research projects in the third Health Research Call. Plus, the government will earmark €51.1 million of its own funds to replace the ERDF funds for research that were diverted to cover the healthcare expenditure caused by Covid-19.

The European Research Council (ERC) has published the resolution for the second part of the 2020 Proof of Concept program. Of the six grants awarded in Spain, three went to researchers at centers in Catalonia. Additionally, the Government of Catalonia, through the Agency for Administration of University and Research Grants (AGAUR), has awarded 60 Beatriu de Pinós grants to hire postdoc research staff at universities, research centers and hospital foundations in Catalonia.

The Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer has also earmarked €13 million for 107 grants for cancer research, and recipients include Catalan centers like IDIBELL and VHIO. Plus, a project at Hospital Clinic Barcelona is one of the initiatives chosen by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology to receive €60 million in aid.

Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona announced that it has received more funds than any other institution in Spain in the latest Marie Sklodowska-Curie call, with a total of €4 million. And the Lleida Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Lleida) and University of Lleida have each received a personal donation of €100,000.

 

Cutting-edge publications, trial results and new laboratory

Covid-19 has given some space in the news for other fields of research this month. One of the biggest news stories was a paper published in Science, with participation from the Center for Genomic Regulation, University of Barcelona and Biomedical Research Institute Sant Pau (IIB Sant Pau), that shows cell components in tissues react differently based on whether they were originally male or female.

In oncology, a paper published by the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute in the journal Blood identifies a marker that predicts the progression of Hodgkin lymphoma, and ORYZON has presented efficacy and safety results for its Clepsidra trial in patients with small-cell lung cancer.

Vall d’Hebron has taken part in the PROfound study, a phase III clinical trial in patients with advanced metastatic prostate cancer. The same hospital also participated in a phase III clinical trial whose results could lead to the incorporation of a new standard first-line treatment for patients with clear-cell metastatic renal cancer, the most common type of kidney tumor.

Additionally, researchers at IRBLleida have led publication and validation of the first questionnaire to assess quality of life for people with diabetic foot. The Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute and Institute of Photonic Sciences have announced a new joint laboratory that will incorporate photonic techniques to diagnose and treat critical pediatric patients.

 

Advances in research against SARS-CoV-2

Just a few days before school began, Vall d’Hebron shared a preliminary study, not yet published, concluding that transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from children with Covid-19 to adults in their household is low. The same hospital has shown there are negative effects to lockdown for epilepsy patients.

IRTA-CReSA, IrsiCaixa and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center have published in the journal PNAS more data on Negrito, a cat infected with SARS-CoV-2 that died of a heart condition. The work confirms that cats can get the virus but don’t get sick or pass it on.

Towards the end of the month, the journal Science published two international studies that Catalan centers had participated in. One (with collaboration from the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital, IrsiCaixa, MútuaTerrassa University Hospital and MútuaTerrassa Teaching and Research Foundation) shows that 10.2% of people who are in serious condition as a result of the infection have antibodies that boycott their own immune system. The other, led by IDIBELL and Vall d’Hebron, reveals that interferon plays a key role in some serious cases of Covid-19.

 

Reports, appointments and awards

Opening up the ‘grab bag’ of current events, a committee of 29 experts appointed by the Government of Catalonia presented a document to President of the Government of Catalonia stating that an investment of €5 billion is needed over the next 5 years to rescue the Catalan healthcare system. Marc Ramentol has been appointed Secretary General of the Catalan Ministry of Health, taking over for Laura Pelay, and former US ambassador to Spain James Costos is now a member of the Grifols board of directors.

And let’s finish off with some good news for Catalan universities. According to the Times Higher Education global ranking, the top 3 universities in Spain are Catalan: Pompeu Fabra University, Autonomous University of Barcelona and University of Barcelona. Also, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia has received the Muncunill Innovation Award from the Terrassa City Council.

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