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HIGHLIGHTS: BioRegion throws itself into tackling the pandemic, research calls and new investments

Advances in Covid-19 research and devices mark the news in the BioRegion in April

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28.04.2020

This April, SARS-CoV-2 continued to be the absolute center of attention around the world and, obviously, in the BioRegion of Catalonia as well. Sant Jordi was on lockdown, like most Catalan people who had planned to celebrate this special day, but many companies and research organizations in the BioRegion are hard at work in the fight against Covid-19. Let’s look at the most noteworthy headlines. 

 

Covid-19 therapies and vaccines

Firstly, the Catalan Ministry of Health has earmarked €4 million to fund 19 research projects at IRISCAT centers, to find treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. The call is supported by AQuAS and Biocat, which will provide technical support for the projects. In this post, you can learn about the 19 projects selected and here are more details on the five new therapies some of them are working on.

Grifols has thrown itself into the coronavirus and expects to have a test ready in May and a treatment in July, with help from Nostrum Biodiscovery, which is contributing data for smart drug design. Also, Amgen and Adaptative Biotechnologies have joined forces to develop a Covid-19 treatment. Oryzon, for its part, has been granted authorization from the Ministry of Health to test the drug Vafidemstat in hospitalized patients in serious condition.

SOM Biotech has also identified and validated in vitro, in collaboration with Ewha Womans University in South Korea, three drugs that can be repositioned to treat SARS-CoV-2, using its AI technology.

IBEC researchers, in collaboration with international experts, have identified a drug that can block the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The drug has shown efficacy in mini kidneys.

Regarding clinical trials, the research groups led by Oriol Mitjà and Bonaventura Clotet, along with other organizations, have started a clinical trial with hydroxychloroquine to block SARS-CoV-2. They expect to have preliminary results in just a few weeks. MedSIR has been authorized by AEMPS to carry out the ‘COPÉRNICO’ study to assess the efficacy of a new treatment to improve the prognosis of patients infected with the coronavirus. Vall d’Hebron has begun its part of the clinical trial to assess the efficacy and safety of Selinexor in low doses for serious cases of Covid-19.

For their part, ROVI and HM Hospitales have kicked off a clinical trial on bemiparin in patients with pneumonia due to Covid-19, while Laboratorios Rubió has announced its collaboration on a groundbreaking clinical trial to curb the spread and cases of Covid-19.

Hospital Sant Joan de Déu has kicked off the Kids Corona research platform to research how the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus affects mothers and babies, which seems relevant to understanding how the virus spreads.

 

Digital platforms, databases and laboratories focused on the pandemic

The IrsiCaixa-BSC-IRTA consortium, with support from Grifols, will be publishing the results on test with existing drugs for the coronavirus in real time and open to all, and IRB Barcelona has begun working with Amazon to develop an IT tool to speed up the search for drugs to fight Covid-19.

AIS Group and Esri have opened up to the people data on 40 indicators with sociodemographic and economic data on Spanish society that could be relevant in terms of Covid-19.

Atrys Health has launched several coronavirus initiatives: converting its laboratories into Covid-19 testing labs, making its thoracic CAT scan and x-ray tools available to hospitals, and offering its big data and AI technology to help calculate statistics regarding the evolution of the virus. Hipra, the benchmark center in preventive animal health, has also loaned its labs to hospitals in Girona to help fight Covid-19.

Mediktor has seen its activity increase tenfold with the coronavirus: the telemedicine platform compiles the patient’s symptoms from their answers on a questionnaire and uses AI to diagnose their condition and give them a prognosis of how serious it is.

Flomics has launched a new cloud-based solution to detect and research the NGS of Covid-19. Flomics took part in the 2nd edition of CRAASH Barcelona, Biocat’s acceleration program in collaboration with CIMIT and EIT Health, which, by the way, just announced the projects selected to take part in the 3rd edition.

 

Technology and devices to fight the disease

These days, there is a lot of discussion of the need to increase our capacity to detect the virus as a key to controlling it. So, the Catalan government has approved the ORFEU program for mass detection of Covid-19 to complement the healthcare system’s capacity to get tests to diagnose SARS-CoV-2. 

Regarding the devices needed to treat Covid-19, ventilators are once again in the news this month. There are five from Catalonia that have gained approval from the Spanish Agency of Medicines (AEMPS): Leitat 1, Oxygen, Respira, DAR and Q-Vent.

But we don’t just need more ventilators: Catalan company Airtècnics has created an air purifier that disinfects the environment, getting rid of the coronavirus, that is up to 99% effective, and HP has begun manufacturing in Barcelona a respiratory circuit to improve oxygenation in Covid-19 patients. Plus, Eurecat has successfully tested a new system by company E. Vila Projects to disinfect masks using infrared and ultraviolet light.

For their part, Althaia, FUB and Avinent have designed protective shields and door handles opened with the forearm that have been installed at several hospitals. And, with a specific at-risk group in mind, pregnant women, the Barcelona Provincial Council, Eurecat and Treematernity have begun manufacturing single-use fetal monitoring belts, to help prevent the spread.

 

Calls for Covid-19 research projects

The European Committee has earmarked €48.5 million for 18 research projects under Horizon 2020, the EU framework program for research funding.  Also, the ”la Caixa” Foundation has opened a call for coronavirus research projects, with €1.5 million earmarked for funding.

Universities, the CSIC and Santander have set up a fund with €8.5 million for projects mitigating the impact of the coronavirus. Also, the AXA Research Fund has launched a call “Mitigating risk arising from the Covid-19 pandemic” to fund Covid-19 research projects.

Under the framework of the European research project IMI-EHDEN (European Health Data & Evidence Network), a rapid emergency call has been launched, open to hospitals and other institutions with access to clinical data on the Covid-19 pandemic to facilitate standardization of this data.

Capital Cell, Big Ban Angels and BioHub VLC have also launched a national call for business projects that focus on fighting the virus that causes Covid-19.

And do you, as a citizen, have ideas to help tackle SARS-CoV-2?  The “la Caixa” Foundation and IrsiCaixa have created the Coronavirus Community Lab (CCL), the first citizen science project geared towards improving overall health. They are accepting any type of idea from the community to improve global health, including proposals for tackling Covid-19.

 

It’s not all Covid-19 in the BioRegion

Apart from all the news associated with Covid-19, April also left us with some news in other areas.

Chemotargets opened a €15-million round of funding that will allow the company to expand into the field of drug discovery. Invivo Ventures invested €2 million in biotechnology firm Pulmobiotics to develop a treatment for ventilator-associated pneumonia. If you want to know more about how the Covid-19 crisis will affect investment in the sector, don’t miss the post this month on the Biocat blog.

RemAb Therapeutics has developed a drug that selectively targets antibodies and could be used to treat microbial infections. Good news, too, for Oryzon, which presented efficacy data for two clinical trials on Vafidemstat in Alzheimer patients.

In terms of internationalization, SocialDiabetes has signed new deals with Axa to consolidate its position in Mexico and with Axenya to expand into South America. Adas3D Medical has closed a deal to help internationalize its software for cardiac electrophysiology diagnostics: Canadian company Circle Cardiovascular Imaging has acquired a minority stake in the company, in addition to signing deal to distribute its products globally. Nostrum Biodiscovery appointed Ezequiel Mas its new CEO and has fast-tracked its expansion plan. For its part, MOWOOT was chosen the ‘Best Medical Device Company’ at the International Investors Conference, RESI EUROPE 2020.

 

Research beyond the pandemic

BStartup opened the III BStartup Health call, for healthcare projects in the very early stages. In Europe, Catalonia has been awarded 10 grants for research of excellence with a maximum of €25 million in the latest call held by the European Research Council (ERC Advanced Grants). Four of the projects chosen are in the healthcare and life sciences. Find out more about them on the Biocat website.

IDIBELL stands out this month in oncology: a pilot study sequencing intestinal microbiota has laid the groundwork for research into early detection markers for colon cancer and another study at the same center has shown that the lack of nutrients in tumor cells attracts the cells that inhibit the immune system.

Cancer was also the focus of a study at IrsiCaixa that is opening the doors to immunotherapy to treat cancer in HIV-positive patients, who were previously excluded from trials on this sort of therapy.

A study by IRB Barcelona has shown that histones and their modifications are key in adapting to cell stress. And, finally, the ALBA Synchrotron will be home to two new large-scale facilities, one geared towards molecular biology and valued at €1.7 million, led by the Molecular Biology Institute of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC).