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HIGHLIGHTS: New funds, Mind the Byte begins bankruptcy proceedings, rounds in biotech firms and advances in research

The goodbye to Josep Esteve added a bittersweet note to a month of new hires and investment news

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25.04.2019

April showers bring May flowers, and also a ton of news that have once again had companies and research organizations in the BioRegion of Catalonia making headlines. There has been a bunch of good news this month, but also some that were bittersweet.

One of these was the last goodbye to Josep Esteve Soler, former president of pharmaceutical corporation Esteve and president of the Dr. Antoni Esteve Foundation, who died in Barcelona at the age of 89. The other, the news that Mind The Byte has voluntarily begun bankruptcy proceedings as they have not hit their sales targets after acquiring their main competitor last year: Intelligent Pharma.

However, this month, shorter than usual due to the Easter break, has also brought the sector lots of reasons to celebrate. An example? Invivo Capital, a venture capital firm led by Lluís Pareras and Albert Ferrer, has launched its first fund in the field of biomedicine with €40 million. Don’t miss this month’s post on the Biocat blog with a who’s who of specialized investment funds in the sector.

Another fund that has recently joined our investment ecosystem, Asabys Partners, has reinforced its executive team with Sylvain Sachot, former executive at Ysios Capital, as director of investment and Eduardo Sanchiz, former CEO of Almirall, as a member of the investment committee. Plus, they have also taken on two new investment associates: Andrea Sáez, who came from Pangaea Oncology, and Guillem Masferrer, from Caixa Capital Risc. From veteran funds, noteworthy news this month includes an operation by Ysios Capital, which participated in a €36 million round in US company Aura Biosciences.

 

Investment and business advances

Companies in the BioRegion of Catalonia are also raising funds. Through Capital Cell, RheoDx closed a €350,000 round of funding, while Tractivus, a spin-off of IQS and IDIBELL, opened a €470,000 round and Devicare will soon open one for €1.5 million, all through the crowdfunding platform.

Spiral Therapeutics, a spin-off of Laboratoris Salvat, is putting the finishing touches on a €5-million round of funding. The operation will bring in a Korean investor, Sunghwan Choi. For its part, HumanITcare is about to finalize its first tests in Barcelona and expects to open a round of funding in September to move into countries in central and northern Europe.

Also going international is Healthapp, a company that creates medical apps and has reached several deals with hospital groups on the Peninsula. The company expects to begin its internationalization process in the United States and Scandinavia.

Here at home, Echevarne clinical analysis laboratories has invested €12 million to move into a new building in Sant Cugat del Vallès this June, the Creu Blanca group will invest €12 million to expand its clinic in Barcelona, and Avinent is investing €8 million in a new production plant with 7,000 square meters of space. Sense4care will begin marketing its Parkinson drug at the Quirónsalud Centro Medico Teknon in Barcelona.

 

Advances in pipeline and new hires

More good news, this time about the pipeline at several companies. Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) and IRBLleida have validated the efficacy of anti-tumor drug ABTL0812, developed by Ability Pharma, to treat endometrial cancer. For its part, Transplant Biomedicals has finished recruiting patients for its first clinical trial in humans with a device to transport and preserve organs to be transplanted.

Grifols is also making positive progress, presenting the preliminary results of their AMBAR clinical trial to treat Alzheimer, which shows its therapy leads to improvements in patients with mild and moderate cases.

In late 2019, Laboratoris Stada will move into the field of biological drugs, launching a teriparatide biosimilar to treat osteoporosis. For its part, Laboratorios Rovi has reached a deal with Israeli company Teva to market the drug Tetridar in Spain, with the main active ingredient teriparatide, to treat osteoporosis.

Almirall has announced a deal to sell Thermigen, its beauty business, to Celling Biosciences. The pharmaceutical corporation has raised €58 million through sales associated with a deal with AstraZeneca.

In the section on names in the news, Esteve has appointed Thomas B. Riisager its new head of corporate strategy and business development, and Lacer has made Ricard Anmella the CEO of the pharmaceutical laboratory.

 

Groundbreaking surgeries at hospitals

Vall d’Hebron Hospital presented two groundbreaking surgeries this month: on one hand, curing the first ‘bubble baby’ with a transplant thanks to neonatal screening, and, on the other, the first use of robotic surgery for pancreatic cancer in Catalonia with the Da Vinci robot. The hospital announced that, starting in May, it will also promote the first registry of patients with sarcoma in Spain.

Additionally, Sant Joan de Déu Hospital and Research Institute have launched the Share4Rare platform, a huge social network for rare diseases.

HM Hospitales and Institut Guttmann have signed a collaboration agreement to work together on neuroscience and neurorehabilitation projects in the fields of patient care, teaching and research. HM Delfos Barcelona has launched its new 24-hour emergency service.

 

Discoveries in HIV, oncology and the liver

IDIBAPS has shown that a new cell therapy can restore the immune system of patients with multiple sclerosis. The researchers published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). IDIBAPS also participated in an international study that has shown blood platelets play a key role in steatohepatitis, the most advanced stage of fatty liver disease, and its progression into liver cancer. The results were published in Nature Medicine.

More advances in liver research: Sant Pau Hospital and Hospital Clinic published a study in The Lancet showing for the first time ever that it is possible to prevent decompensation of cirrhosis with non-selective β blockers. Plus, University of Barcelona and the CIBER in Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders have discovered a molecule that, when administered orally, improves type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver in mice.

There is also news of advances in HIV research again this month. Doctors and researchers at the Hospital del Mar Research Institute (IMIM) have proven that the body’s response to the HIV virus is the cause of the osteoporosis and bone fractures seen in these patients. The study was published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Additionally, researchers at Joan XXIII University Hospital Tarragona, Pere Virgili Institute (IISPV) and Rovira i Virgili University (URV) have studied the proteome and metabolome of a selected group elite HIV controllers, who can control the virus without therapy.

In oncology, IRB Barcelona has identified a new biomarker that plays an important role in cell death and could be significant in treating some types of cancer: the research was published in EMBO Journal. Their colleagues at IDIBELL-ICO have published in Clinical Cancer Research new bases for treating colorectal cancer by inactivating two key proteins in tumor development. Also, a study in Modern Pathology co-lead by ISGlobal, Hospital Clinic and the University of Barcelona, concluded that cervical cancer that appears without the human papilloma virus (HPV) is less frequent but more aggressive.

Now let’s turn to neurology. Researchers at the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC) have established new benchmarks for a biomarker associated with Alzheimer. The advance, published in Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, will expand the number of people who are candidates for prevention. Additionally, according to research done at the UB Institute of Neurosciences and published in The Journal of Neuroscience, education helps develop and better preserve the frontal lobe of the brain in the elderly.

Targeting this same group, the Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IdiBGi) has completed the first phase of its Ageing Imagenoma project, with data from 1,030 volunteers. The goal is to study the ageing process and its determinants. Also, a study by ISV-Girona, IDIAPJGol, IDIBGI and the University of Girona affirms that there is no evidence to show that widespread prescription of statins for cholesterol is effective in healthy older people.

IDAPJGol also presented a study this month done with more than 100,000 pregnant women, showing links between a history of maternal affective disorders and premature birth.

URV, IISPV and the Physiopathology of Obesity and Nutrition Networking Biomedical Research Center (CIBERobn) published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a new study identifying a model of small molecules capable of predicting insulin resistance and risk of having type-2 diabetes.

In the field of minority diseases, a paper by the University of Barcelona and the Biomedical Research Networking Center on Rare Diseases (CIBERER), published in the journal Expert Opinion on Orphan Drugs has advanced in the study to improve diagnosis of Optiz C syndrome, an ultra-rare disease.

And we’ll finish off today with the newest stakeholders in the ecosystem: Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) has launched Intelligent Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (IDEAI), made up of six research groups focusing on various fields, including healthcare and innovation.