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HIGHLIGHTS: important events in Barcelona, research advances and investment, new business developments

This November has been packed with events in the community, including the World Hospital Congress, CaixaResearch Conference, Barcelona Tech Spirit, the new Deep Tech Node program, an Unconference and the inauguration of the new accelerator “Barcelona Health Booster”.

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29.11.2021

Events and inaugurations of noteworthy programs

There have been several important events, conferences and programs this November, now on the doorstep of the holiday season. Firstly, the 44th World Hospital Congress, which in the end was able to be held in a hybrid format in the city with the title: “People on board: Transforming Healthcare”, to promote excellence in social and healthcare management through talks, networking sessions, poster presentations, panel discussions and exhibitions. Another two-day science event was held virtually to share the takeaways from Covid-19 and keys to tackle future pandemics, with renowned speakers like Maria Neira, director of the Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health Department at the World Health Organization, organized by the CaixaResearch Institute and Biocat. In the entrepreneurial arena, Tech Spirit Barcelona brought together the city’s startup and tech community in person for two days of debates, meetings with investors and talks at Casa Llotja de Mar, with Nixi for Children winning the pitch competition. Artificial intelligence and its impact on the healthcare sector was on the program thanks to Biocat and EATRIS (Spirit partners for the event) and digital health was also covered in sessions featuring HumaITcare and Social Diabetes, among others. Finally, we’re excited to note the inauguration of the new “Barcelona Health Booster” accelerator, an initiative of the PCB (which expects to reach full occupancy by 2025) and the Barcelona City Council, with collaboration from Biocat, which this year will be home to 11 projects and will surely help scale up many companies in the ecosystem. In the same line, also promoted by the City Council but this time through a joint project with the five main Catalan universities (UB, UAB, UPC, UPF and UOC), a program has been launched with a Deep Tech Node grant of €840,000 to impact a hundred science and technology startups in 2021-2023.

The BioRegion, on the cutting edge of research

In November, there are two important days for researchers and professionals in the BioRegion: World Science Day and World Diabetes Day. These showed, on one hand, that Barcelona is one of the top hubs in Alzheimer research in the world (6th worldwide and 2nd in the European Union by volume of publications) and, on the other, which business projects and digital solutions are fighting diabetes in Catalonia, a market worth €3.7 million. 

Covid-19 research and advances continue from HIPRA, which has been awarded a €15-million public grant for a clinical trial of its vaccine, which is about to move into phase II. Also, from Reig Jofré, which is beginning inspections to gain approval for manufacturing the Janssen vaccine at its new plant.

Regarding cancer research, a team of researchers at the UAB has described how a substance called gossypol helps eliminate glioblastoma cells, an incurable type of brain cancer, opening the door to new treatments. Also, researchers at ICO/IDIBGI in Girona have discovered the cause of failure in cancer treatment with fatty acid synthase (FASN) inhibitors, which will allow for new cancer treatments. Another study, also by ICO researchers but at IDIBELL (as part of an international study), has described a mechanism through which breast cancer cells create collagen shields to protect themselves from the immune system, suggesting that antibodies that block the formation of these shields could be used as a new therapeutic strategy. And, at the IRB, as published in Nature, researchers have discovered how palmitic acid, a fatty acid in palm oil, increases the probability of cancer metastasis.

More funding and investment

In the section on funding and investment, this month we’re congratulating Elisabeth de los Pinos and the team at Aura Biosciences (a biotech firm in the Ysios portfolio), which has gone public on the Nasdaq in the US with an initial public offering (IPO) that raised €65 million. Despite not being based in the BioRegion, this success story is noteworthy because it hits close to home and indicates the maturity of the business sector: Sanifit, led by Joan Perelló, has been acquired by Vifor Pharma, a multinational corporation specializing in cardio-renal therapies.

Crowdequity, with Capital Cell as the main platform, continues to be the focus of capital injections for many projects in the ecosystem. For instance, Kintsugi Therapeutics, a company developing innovative therapies to regulate endoplasmic reticulum stress for the treatment of liver conditions and other pathologies, which has raised €1 million; and IGTP spinoff Biointaxis, which has raised €880,000 to prove biodistribution and safety of its gene-therapy drug BTX-101. Others to launch new crowdfunding campaigns include the first startup created from d·HEALTH Barcelona, UsMIMA, with its device to treat chronic constipation, Mowoot, and an as-yet unheard-of goal: to raise €2 million through the platform, in a campaign with collaboration from German platform Aescuvest and EIT Health; and ELEM, a spinoff of the BSC that hopes to raise €1.2 million to launch V.HEART to market, a platform for clinical trials of new drugs. Finally, Onalabs (which has just moved to the PRUAB) also opened a crowdfunding round for the same amount (€1.2 million) on the international platform Crowdcube to continue working to prevent and predict diseases.

Other notable investments, this time from the Spanish government, include a CDTI grant of €15 million to HIPRA, €8.9 million invested by the Ministry of Science and Innovation for a nuclear resonance device at the PCB, and €1 million that IRTA will use for a confocal microscope to obtain three-dimensional images.  

Business growth and transactions

Multinational digital firms continue to land in Barcelona and established companies advance in growth, as we can see in the inauguration of the new Lacer corporate headquarters, the €20-million investment to renovate the Ferrer plant in Esplugues, and British firm Unmanned Life moving their hub to Barcelona. In this regard, to facilitate fast-track landing of companies from the United Kingdom in the BioRegion, ACCIÓ UK and Biocat have a call to attract companies to the ecosystem, which will remain open through December 13.

Other news from biopharmaceutical companies include Grifols expanding by acquiring 32 plasma centers, seeing a 15% bump in profits and having the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund (GIC) join the shareholders of one of its subsidiaries, investing €880 million. Also this month, Reig Jofré and Swedish company Stada have reached an agreement to increase production of a drug to treat Parkinson that includes building a factory in Sweden. Almirall, for its part, saw its stock price drop 11% with the loss of business in the US, although it expects business to recover in Europe. The biotech firm specializing in probiotics, AB-Biotcs, on the other hand, saw earnings up 19% in the first year under the umbrella of Japanese company Kaneka.

Other notable operations include the acquisition of Catalan regulatory consultancy firm DDR by Veristat, a US CRO located in the Barcelona Health Hub; Oncoheroes licensing its drug candidate volasertib to US company Notable Labs; a strategic agreement between Cuideo and Grup Catalana Occidente that substantially increases the startup’s home care; and an agreement between Flomics and Iselspital (University Hospital of Bern, Switzerland) to provide cancer diagnostic tools. And we can’t sign off without mentioning the new startup promoted by Eurecat, Hospital Sant Joan de Déu and Mobile World Capital Barcelona (MWCapital): Ephion Health, a digital platform to monitor patients with diseases that affect their mobility.

Awards and recognition

Two hospitals have been recognized this month:  Hospital de Bellvitge, celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Hospital de Granollers, with the Best Corporate Social Responsibility and Quality Award, along with Grup Hospitalari Quirónsalud, in the 7th annual New Medical Economics Awards.

In big names this month, Professor of Economics Andreu Mas-Colell has been recognized with the 2021 Benvingut Talent 2021 Award for his contribution to research in Catalonia; geneticist Manel Esteller won the Fernández Cruz Award for biomedical research; Dr. Joan Fabregat Prous won the Pere Virgili Award from the Catalan Society of Surgery for his work in liver transplants; and  Dr. Ramon Brugada, who specializes in researching the basic mechanisms of sudden death, has been granted the Narcís Monturiol medal. And to finish off, there are two IDIBGI biomedical researchers in the top 3 of the Stanford University World’s Top 2% Scientists ranking.

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