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HIGHLIGHTS: The BioRegion in international press, Mind the Byte acquires Intelligent, problems with the FDA, board elections, cutting-edge research

2018 has kicked off with a month full of headlines regarding business operations and scientific publications 

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The BioRegion of Catalonia was highlighted this month in the International Pharmaceutical Industry (IPI) journal. With the title The BioRegion of Catalonia: What's Behind the European Country with More Pharma Companies per Capita?the journal’s winter issue featured an editorial report, compiled by Biocat, on the potential of our ecosystem and of the companies and organizations it is made up of.

These companies and organizations have been the focus of many headlines this January. One of the most commented was that Mind the Byte has acquired 100% of Intelligent Pharma and consolidated its leadership on the Spanish market, while hoping to become one of the most important bioinformatics firms in Europe. The company headed up by Alfons Nonell-Canals will fund the operation, closed in December, with a €3-million capital increase they expect to close before the summer. For now, the companies will remain independent legally and in terms of management.

Also in the news was the FDA’s negative vote on Pulmaquin, a drug acquired by Grifols in 2013 through a 35% stake in US-based Aradigm Corporation. This announcement caused Aradigm’s stock to tank and the company is now facing a class-action suit for defrauding stockholders.

Two candidacies will be on the ballot in the elections to choose the first board of directors of CataloniaBio & HealthTech. The first is led by Jaume Amat, founder and CEO of Specipig and former CataloniaBio board member, and the other is led by Albert Gallart, CEO of Grupo Pulso and former president of the HealthTech Cluster. The list headed up by Jaume Amat features Lluís Chico, managing partner of NEOS Surgery; Maribel Bergés, co-founder and CFO of Spherium Biomed; and Àngel Alonso, CEO of Vecmedical. The candidacy of Albert Gallart includes Sergi Rabazza, Business Division manager at Laboratorios Hartmann; Félix Villar, partner at IN2; and Eduard Valentí, Regulatory Affairs director and head of Pharmaceutical Quality at Esteve. Voting will take place on February 8 at the general members’ assembly.


Business news

Minoryx has begun trials in humans (phase II/III) with its adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN) treatment at Vall d'Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona. The study will recruit a total of 100 patients in eight countries in the European Union (EU) and USA. 

Chemotargets has reached an agreement with the FDA to work on a research plan for five years geared towards improving safety assessment of drugs.

Pangaea Oncology has signed a contract with Roche Diagnostics to provide genetic analysis services for the NRAS and BRAF genes in oncology patients in Spain. Plus, Pangaea Oncology has renewed its contract with AstraZeneca Spain to provide liquid biopsy genetic analysis services for hospitals.

Gebro Pharma has signed an agreement with Israeli biotech firm Can-Fite BioPharma for the exclusive distribution of piclidenoson (CF101). This molecule is currently in phase III trials for rheumatoid arthritis and will begin phase III this year for psoriasis. Gebro has made an initial payout of €1.6 million and milestone-based commitments for launch and sales of approximately €6 million, as well as royalties. Once clinical development is complete, it will be marketed in Austria, Spain and Switzerland.

Stat-Diagnostica has begun launching its point-of-care diagnostic test in hospitals in Europe so they can evaluate its benefits. The company expects to begin the commercial launch of the product in the second quarter of this year.

Top Doctors has invested €1 million in technology to add new services to its mobile app. The Barcelona-based firm, which is active in Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and the USA, will now give users the option to have a private chat or video consultation with healthcare professionals.

Women’s health and wellness laboratory Procare Health expects to double turnover to €10 million by moving into seven European countries: Italy, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia. 


Business funding: good numbers to kick off the year

Medical technology company Rob Surgical, a spin-off of the UPC and IBEC, is preparing a €3-million round to fund the regulatory process for its laparoscopic surgery robot Bitrack. With this prototype, the Barcelona-based firm led by Jaume Amat hopes to reach the market by 2019 and compete with US-based Intuitive Surgical by offering their product at half the price.

Atrys Health has closed a €9.2-million round with participation from Inveready, Cecu Inversiones, Caser, Grupo Pascual, Grupo Melca, Onchena and the company’s management team, which will use the investment to acquire new machinery to diagnose and treat cancer.

Ahead Therapeutics, a spin-off of the Institute for Health Science Research Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP), Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) and ICREA created last December, has raised €1.1 million to develop therapeutic products for autoimmune diseases like type-1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

MJN Neuroserveis has closed a €750,000 round of funding led by Ship2B with business angels from IESE and Capital Cell. The start-up, which is based in Blanes, has designed a device that alerts epileptics when they’re about to have a seizure.

GoodGut, a spin-off of the University of Girona and Idibgi that is developing a colon-cancer diagnostic test, has opened a round of funding to raise €4 million. The company has just completed its first clinical trial to validate its product, plans to reach the market towards the end of next year and has already raised €2.2 million in public and private capital through investment, loans and subsidies. 


Corporate operations: January sales

The aforementioned acquisition of Intelligent Pharma by Mind the Byte wasn’t the only corporate operation this month. Grifols has reinforced its Hospital Division by acquiring a 51% stake in the U.S. technology firm MedKeeper for USD 98 million. On the other hand, Grifols will get €70 million for selling its €39.4 million in Tigenix stock to Japanese pharmaceutical company Takeda. Additionally, Grifols has acquired a 188 hectare plot of land next to its plant in Clayton, North Carolina (United States) for $9 million.

Inkemia will pay a maximum of €1.68 million, in cash and stock, to acquire Joaquín Riera Tuebols (Otec Riera) and Laboratori d'Anàlisi Micro-Bios in an operation the company announced in late July and was completed on December 28.

Ferrer has sold German company Trommsdorff to Dermapharm for over €100 million. Trommsdorff manufactured drugs and food supplements for Ferrer and other pharmaceutical companies.

Barcelona-based weight-loss treatment firm Pronokal has acquired the Italian company Società Dietetica Medica (SDM) to advance its internationalization process and move into Italy, Turkey and Poland.


Hospital innovation

Vall d'Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona was the first Catalan center to do robotic surgery for obstructive sleep apnea.

Vall d'Hebron has also headed up a multi-center research project to implement a new diagnostic technique with the wearable textile Holter Nuubo® for use in daily clinical practice. This new protocol, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, helps better detect atrial fibrillation, one of the main causes of serious stroke.

A study by Hospital Vall d'Hebron published in PLOS One shows that lung transplants are underused in patients with pulmonary hypertension. An analysis of 1,391 patients has led to the conclusion that only very few can benefit from this technique due to strict selection criteria, and half of patients potentially eligible don’t undergo transplants.

Hospital Clinic Barcelona will incorporate virtual reality to reduce anxiety in patients before surgery with a free app and glasses showing users the process, from arrival at the hospital to recovery.

The Microbiology Department at Hospital Clinic is preparing a spin-off to develop new antibiotics from patented molecules and quick microbiological diagnosis.

For the first time in Catalonia, Hospital Germans Trias has implanted a new model of heart valve by catheter in 60 patients. It is specially designed for complex patients.  

The cardiology team at Hospital Quirónsalud Barcelona has done the first successful percutaneous septal ablation outside of the public health system in Spain. Additionally, USP Institut Dexeus has formalized its move from Barcelona to Madrid.


Highly productive month in research

Under the new Wild Card program, the EIT Health consortium has announced it will offer €4 million in funding for disruptive initiatives to tackle the two challenges chosen in this edition: Smart Health, which poses the challenge of creating new systems to help artificial intelligence (AI) quickly interpret big data; and Fight Back, which challenges candidates to create innovative solutions to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

The Alba synchrotron, along with eighteen science facilities around Europe, has joined the Leaps project (the League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources), which aims to promote research with this type of tools as a way to update scientific research in Europe.

Nine organizations, including UPF, UPC and BSC-CNS, have launched the Spanish Research Network for Cardiac Computational Modelling (V-Heart SN) to develop a cardiac computational model (virtual heart) that can adapt to the characteristics of each patient, allowing for safer, more effective personalized therapy.

A study led by IRB Barcelona in collaboration with VHIO, Hospital Clinic Barcelona and Hospital del Mar has identified a protein that keeps breast-cancer metastasis cells dormant. The paper, published in Nature Cell Biology, sheds light on the molecular basis underlying how the expression of certain genes facilitates the spread of metastatic lesions

Also in oncology, researchers from the Oncobell program at the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) - Institute Catalan of Oncology (ICO) ProCURE Program have identified a cell receptor that is a key part of ovarian cancer metastasis processes. The event, published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, opens the door to the use of receptor inhibitors as a therapeutic target in the most aggressive variants of the disease.

Researchers at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) have discovered that the genome’s architecture, meaning its spatial organization, isn’t random. It determines the function and fate of cells. The discovery, published in Nature Genetics, is part of the 4D Genome project and is a great step forward in properly interpreting genomics.

Vall d'Hebron and Sant Joan de Déu are carrying out the first clinical trial to determine how effective virtual reality is as a tool to treat patients with ADHD. Also collaborating are Catalan company Psious, which has developed the treatment platform, and Vodafone.

Also associated with this disorder, Pediatrics has named a study involving the University of Barcelona and Sant Joan de Déu University Hospital one of the ten best published in 2017. The paper draws ties between a Mediterranean diet and fewer cases of attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

The largest study to date in Spain on the consequences of obesity, coordinated by Hospital del Mar Barcelona, has detected that extreme excess of abdominal fat is in itself an elevated risk of having cancer or a cardiovascular condition.

Scientists at IRB Barcelona, the University of Barcelona, CIBER for Diabetes and Associated Metabolic Diseases (CIBERDEM) and CIBER for Bioengineering, Biomaterials and Nanomedicine (CIBER-BBN) have identified activators of mitochondrial protein mitofusin-2, a possible therapeutic target for patients with type-2 diabetes.

The analysis of the various intake electrocardiogram patterns is key in identifying patients’ prognosis for myocardial infarction, according to a study by CIBERCV at Hospital Sant Pau.

An international study led by Jordi Alonso, director of the Epidemiology and Public Health program at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM), researcher at CIBER for Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP) and professor of Public Health at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF),  shows that only 1 in 10 patients with anxiety get the right treatment.

Researchers at Rovira i Virgili University (URV) and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) have identified EXD2 as a key player in producing proteins in the mitochondria. The study, published in Nature Cell Biology, may have implications on how we understand and treat metabolic diseases like diabetes and cancer.

Scientists at the Molecular Biology Institute of Barcelona (IBMB) have identified the role the Nek9 enzyme plays in cell division, controlling the initial phases of the process. The paper was published in Current Biology.

BioRegion wrapup