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HIGHLIGHTS: BioRegion continues fight Covid-19, Catalan pharmaceutical corporations see profits soar in the first quarter and new investment operations announced

Advances in Covid-19 research are still the main headlines this month

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26.05.2020

The coronavirus pandemic continues to be front and center this May. Research centers and hospitals in Catalonia continue working intensely to find cures, vaccines and prognosis and prevention methods for the disease. Let’s look at the various strategic approaches and how the research is progressing.

 

Coronavirus and Covid-19: main headlines this month

This month, the Catalan Ministry of Health announced that it will promote several studies to map the population’s immunity, including the 170,000 healthcare professionals in Catalonia. The first study on the prevalence of the infection in healthcare workers in Spain, which looked at professionals at Hospital Clinic, showed lower prevalence than expected.

EIT Health also announced it will support Covid-19 projects at Hospital Clinic and Sant Joan de Déu. Hospital Clinic has also launched its #PerUnaAbraçada fundraising campaign to help stop the disease, and Vall d’Hebron has received €40,000 from the Air Liquide Foundation to research whether SARS-CoV-2 can lead to pulmonary fibrosis.

Preliminary studies conducted by the consortium of IrsiCaixa, the Animal Health Research Center (CReSA) of the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA), and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), with support from pharmaceutical company Grifols, have suggested that not everyone who tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies has immunity to the virus. UdL, IRBLleida and HUAV have launched a study to assess the efficacy of treating Covid-19 with chloroquine. An IDIAPJGol study has found that chronic respiratory or cardiac conditions are associated with a higher rate of Covid-19 in adults. Moreover, the study aiming to limit the spread of the coronavirus led by Oriol Mitjà and Bonaventura Clotet has announced it already has results, which will be published soon. And more positive news: Hospital Vall d’Hebron has successfully completed the first heart transplant on a Covid-19 survivor who had a congenital heart disease.

Regarding Catalan companies, Capital Cell has organized a €760,000 round for Sampling Solutions for Covid-19 tests. Grifols has developed a highly sensitive molecular Covid-19 test and will distribute 1.5 million around the country. The Catalan company has also loaned Andorra two machines to diagnose Covid-19.

Gebro Pharma, in the past two months, has pivoted from studying lupus and rheumatoid arthritis to studying the coronavirus, with a new hydroxychloroquine formulation. Oryzon Genomics announced the first patient in its ESCAPE study: a phase II clinical trial on vafidemstat to treat serious cases of Covid-19. Reig Jofre stock has shot up after announcing tests on a food supplement to fight Covid-19. Plus, Sequentia Biotech has expanded the functionalities of its GAIA 2.0 microbiome-analysis software to help support researchers working on SARS-CoV-2 studies.

In digitalization, Ecoceutics, a technology consultancy for pharmacies established in Barcelona in 2005, has set out to tackle the challenge of adapting the sector to the coronavirus, digitally. The Mediktor app has started using AI to measure the symptoms of Covid-19. UPC researchers have created an app to monitor when children go out during lockdown.

 

Other notes on research not involving Covid-19

But May didn’t only bring research news for Covid-19. Research continues in many different fields in the BioRegion and now we’ll look at the main results.

Let’s start with some good news: the grand total raised in the 2019 La Marató de TV3 for minority diseases was €14,053,915: the second highest ever (surpassed only by the €15 million raised the year before for cancer research). Logically, the 2020 event will focus on Covid-19.

IRB Barcelona has begun coordinating NEUBIAS, a network to expand knowledge in the field of bioimage analysis that has received many requests to participate. Plus, its colorectal cancer laboratory has identified protein synthesis as a key property for the regenerative potential of colon cancer cells. Still looking at cancer, IDIBELL has identified a new target to treat ovarian cancer through its metabolism. And Manel Esteller, director of the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute, has conducted the first three-dimensional epigenetics of cancer study.

At Rovira i Virgili University (URV), researchers have identified the ‘metabolic signature’ of the Mediterranean diet, which can be used to predict the onset of cardiovascular diseases. A study at the same university, with Harvard Medical School, has also identified the mechanism explaining why eating fish reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. And also at the URV, with IISPV and CIBERDEM, scientists have discovered that chronic inflammation in patients with Crohn’s disease leads to epigenetic changes in fat stem cells. Still in Tarragona, two studies by the research group at Pere Mata Institute University Psychiatric Hospital have discovered that people with schizophrenia have an altered energy metabolism and mitochondrial DNA, which affects organs in the body other than the brain, often suffering from fatigue, diabetes, convulsions or constipation.

A project at IGTP has developed a quick, cheap, effective test to monitor the level of fibrosis in transplanted kidneys. A study by ISGlobal has shown that heat makes lung diseases worse.

And, for the names in the news this May, IDIAPJGol has nominated Dr. Josep Basora its new director, taking over from Concepció Violan.

 

News from biopharmaceutical companies

Regarding investment, Inveready has been in the news because COFIDES is participating in its venture debt fund, closed at €50 million. Genesis Biomed has also increased its fund to €2.5 million, €500,000 more than they initially raised. Droplite has opened a €600,000 round to accelerate manufacturing of its real-time diagnostic device. ZeCardio, for its part, has closed an €800,000 round through a crowdfunding campaign on Capital Cell to promote three lines of research in cardiovascular medicine. Plus, the BVH Partners venture builder has invested in two start-ups and signed a deal with Reig Jofre.

Good news for Catalan company Werfen, which has earned €182 million and grown 6% thanks to its diagnostic medicine business. Almirall has also seen profits shoot up 60% in the first quarter thanks to stockpiling of medications before lockdown. Rovi saw its profits double in the first quarter and has updated its dividends schedule. Also, Oryzon Genomics saw its losses through March drop to €1.1 million.

In mergers and acquisitions, Dara Pharma has acquired COOLVACUM, which produces industrial and laboratory lyophilizers, in order to reinforce its capacity to manufacture machinery for vaccines. And looking to internationalization, telemedicine giant Teladoc Health has chosen Barcelona as the headquarters for its international business outside the US, naming Carlos Nueno president of the business.

And Catalan companies continue advancing with their developments: MJN Neuroserveis has been granted CE medical device marking for its solution that helps people with epilepsy. Neuroelectrics has gained FDA approval to do a clinical trial on its home brain stimulation therapy using telemedicine for patients with depression. And Minoryx has dosed the first pediatric patient with leriglitazone to treat cALD at Hospital Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona.

ADmit Therapeutics received $497,652 from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation to develop its Alzheimer early diagnosis blood test.

And we’ll finish off with the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST), which signed an agreement with Fundació Joan Ribas Araquistain to promote research projects in healthcare and renewable energy. BIST has also joined forces with the International University of Catalonia (UIC Barcelona) to incorporate six researchers in healthcare and the environment through the Bosch Aymerich Foundation FBA Fellows program.