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HIGHLIGHTS: Licenses, calls in the sector, 5G, mini-kidneys, new hires and goodbyes

Results from publicly traded companies, European grants and scientific publications round out the headlines for February in the BioRegion

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28.02.2019

Barcelona has been in the international spotlight these past days with the Mobile World Congress. A device that detects Parkinson and a GPS of the lungs were some of the technology from the BioRegion of Catalonia on display at the event.

This month was also International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a perfect excuse to recognize the female talent here in the BioRegion as you can read in this post on our blog. These include two names that were also highlighted by Labiotech on its list of ten most promising young entrepreneurs in biotechnology: Laura Soucek, co-founder and CEO of Peptomyc; and Teresa Tarragó, co-founder and CEO of Iproteos.

The shortest month of the year, however, has left us with many, many more headlines. Most of them come from the pharma sector.

The Chinese partner in AbilityPharma, SciClone, has been granted authorization to begin phase I/IIa clinical trials in China with ABTL0812 to treat pancreatic cancer.

Almirall has paid $30 million for a licensing option to develop and commercialize Lebrikizumab, a treatment for atopic dermatitis, in Europe. The drug is currently in phase IIb clinical trials. Also, Rovi will pay €13.5 million to US company MSD for the distribution rights to a dexchlorpheniramine maleate product line (antihistamines) for Spain and France.

Additionally, German multinational Mundipharma has given up its rights to the active ingredient E-58425 by Esteve. This means the Catalan pharmaceutical company has regained worldwide rights to its main R&D project.

Moving on to new hires: Laboratoris Uriach has brought Xavier Fité on board as director of the pharmaceutical operations department. Amgen Iberia, which increased its staff 11% in 2018, also took on new hires to create a unit specializing in commercialization of biosimilars. Indian biopharmaceutical company the Intas Group has also doubled its personnel in Barcelona, from 50 employees in 2016 to 100 today. Plans for growth are also in the works at Moehs, which will build a plant to produce biocosmetics in Rubí.

 

Not so red numbers

Ferrer cut its financial debt by €70 million last year in financial liability, to €250 million, and is looking for drugs to treat diseases of the central nervous system and pain to fuel growth. The pharmaceutical corporation has closed a deal with Barcelona Tech City to promote the growth of start-ups in the pharmaceutical sector.

The Buesas have also brought their red number back into the black: Oryzon Genomics cut losses by 77% in 2018 compared to the previous year, closing with €1.17 million.

For their part, Galenicum presented a new strategic plan for the coming five years, with the goal of pushing turnover up to €240 million, twice current levels.

It hasn’t all been good news, though: US company Aradigm, owned in part by Grifols, has filed for bankruptcy

 

Grants and investment

Aromics has received €1 million from the European Union to develop the BERMES project and complete the preclinical regulatory stage on NAX035 for malignant mesothelioma, a type of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos.

Scranton Enterprises has invested €1.5 million in a project at Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) that is developing technology to predict the probability of embryos obtained from in-vitro fertilization implanting.

Additionally, the European Union has earmarked €15 million to fund a project to study bacteria’s impact on cirrhosis, with participation from the University of Barcelona, EF Clif, Clinic Foundation for Biomedical Research and Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

 

Hospitals with 5G

Vodafone will provide the 5G network to connect surgeons around the world in a groundbreaking telemedicine project: ‘Telestration’. The ‘remote surgery’ pilot program created by AIS Channel is being developed at Hospital Clinic Barcelona.

The Catalan Health Service (CatSalut) has rectified its decision to move Pediatric Oncology from Hospital Parc Taulí in Sabadell to Vall d’Hebron Hospital: only cases in more intense phases will be derived to the hospital in Barcelona. Also this month, the Pediatric Oncology Unit at Vall d’Hebron has readied systematic genetic sequencing of all solid tumors in children with a poor prognosis.

Additionally, Vall d’Hebron has successfully treated a patient with pre-symptomatic childhood spinal muscular atrophy, for the first time in Spain, with gene therapy. In another vein, Hospital Bellvitge has invested €2.5 million in surgical material.

More investments, in this case from the private system: HM Hospitales is looking to grow in Barcelona, purchasing two additional centers in the capital or metropolitan area, while Corachan expects to invest €17 million this year to renovate its facilities, mainly with a center of excellence in oncology.

 

Mini-kidneys and other scientific news

Researchers at Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) have created artificial mini-kidneys similar to those of a six-month fetus using stem cells. This milestone was published in Nature Materials.

In oncology, Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) demonstrated for the first time in vivo that the antibiotic linezolid suppresses tumor growth rate and increases autophagy. The study was published in Molecular & Cellular Proteomics. Furthermore, a study by Hospital del Mar published in Clinical Cancer Research discovered that the presence of a type of immune cells called natural killer cells in aggressive breast tumors is an indicator that the body is responding to treatment with antibodies.

In Haematologica, Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute and the University of Cantabria presented new approaches and prognostic tools to improve survival in cases with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, one of the deadliest types of childhood leukemia.

News in respiratory diseases. A study led jointly by Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) has concluded that exposure to chemical substances, like parabens, phthalates and perfluoroalkyls, during pregnancy and the first years of a child’s life can affect respiratory health. The paper was published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

Plus, the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG), in collaboration with Pompeu Fabra University, has identified the proteins that control mucous production, which opens up a new pathway to treat conditions of the respiratory tract and colon. The research was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) has identified more than 800 new regions of the genome that could be relevant to human evolution. The results were published in Nucleic Acids Research. Another groundbreaking discovery: Dr. Josep Trueta Hospital in Girona, Santa Caterina Hospital in Salt, IDIBELL and the University of Navarra have identified a disease, spinocerebellar ataxia 48 (SCA48), caused by a genetic mutation not previously identified.

“La Caixa” is helping promote, with more than €180,000, an initiative of IRBLleida, CIBERES and Health Research Institute Hospital La Fe that will help advance a personalized medicine project aimed at predicting how treating sleep apnea benefits resistant high blood pressure. Also this month, the University of Lleida (UdL) has inaugurated its second Biomedicine building, where 417 researchers from the UdL, IRBLleida and abroad will work. The complex has 9,000 square meters of space. The director of IRBLleida, Elvira Fernández, has retired and the center will hold a public call to find her successor.

The ALBA Synchrotron and the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) in Portugal have signed a collaboration agreement to promote the use of the synchrotron among the science community in Portugal.

Hospital Universitari Mútua Terrassa has published a study in the Journal of Crohns and Colitis that concludes 5% of patients with intestinal inflammatory disease taking immunosuppressants have serious infections.

And if all this news has made you hungry, better to take it easy: Rovira i Virgili University, Pere Virgili Institute and CIBEROBN have shown that eating quickly increases your risk of having high blood triglyceride levels.

 

Calls you won’t want to miss

Time to break out your calendar. Biocat is looking for early-stage therapeutics to participate in Here comes your lead, a new program that will put drug-discovery projects in contact with partners to set up research collaboration models. Registration is free of charge and will open soon.

If you’re looking for investment, you have two dates coming up soon. Biocat has opened a new call for participants in The Investment Readiness Series- France Edition, an initiative that aims to bring together Catalan projects and companies in the healthcare and life sciences sector with French investors, and vice versa. The deadline for the call is March 19 and it is geared towards companies and projects in the healthcare sector that are ready for seed capital and series A investment. The program is free and the event will take place on May 22.

Plus, April 11 will be the 24th Healthcare Barcelona Investment Forum, a meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors in the healthcare sector. The deadline to submit projects is March 18.

Additionally, Biocat has also opened registration for the 9th introductory bioentrepreneurship course “Claus per Bioemprendre”, which will take place in Barcelona on April 30 and May 7 and 14. The course is geared towards life sciences students and graduates, masters students, PhD candidates and young researchers.

And, if you haven’t done it yet, you can still sign up for the 2nd edition of the Open Innovation Forum, an open innovation program that gives companies the chance to share their innovation challenges and get proposals from research groups and centers to solve them. The first session will take place on April 3, 2019 at Caixaforum Barcelona.