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Highlights: New PERIS grants, updates from Oryzon and Almirall, crowdfunding exits, advances in oncology, antibiotic resistance and stem cells

The summer break slowed down business and research activity but brought with it some news to brighten up the sector’s holidays

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31.08.2017

Good and not-so-good news among listed companies, business investments, calls for grants, new hospital research units, and breakthrough discoveries. If you missed all of this, here’s your chance to catch up on the latest BioRegion news.

Almirall revised downwards its estimations for 2017 and closed the first quarter with losses of 73 million euros. In this context, Chief Executive Officer Eduardo Sanchiz resigned from his post and was replaced by Peter Guenter from Sanofi, just a few days after the company appointed Ron Menezes as general manager of its dermatology business in the United States.

Oryzon was another listed company that had its investors on tenterhooks. After its fall in the stock market as a result of its agreement with Roche, the company headed by Carlos Buesa gave its investors some good news at the end of July when it presented advances in ORY-2001, its drug for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

In the Alternative Stock Market, Inkemia acquired Otec Riera and Micro-Bios Laboratory with the aim of expanding its range of services and to generate synergies. For the Catalan company this operation meant an initial cost of one million euros, and a variable of 0.5 million euros subject to the continuity of senior management and the results of the next three financial years.

Devicare will carry out a study among patients to evaluate the effect of theobromine, a substance that acts as an inhibitor of uric acid crystallization in urine and which will incorporate a line of food supplements. The company also announced an agreement with the Association of Non-Hospital Clinics and Entities of the Community of Madrid (ACESIMA) in order to improve the management of chronic patients.

In the area of investments, ZeClinics offered a partial exit to some of its investors, who left the company recovering double their initial investment two years after the first crowdfunding campaign. For its part, Vytrus Biotech, a spin-off of the University of Barcelona and specialized in plant stem cell technology, achieved more than 75% of a crowdfunding round of half a million euros, open until 31 October on the Capital Cell platform.

 

No rest for research

In August, Salut opened the call for health research grants as part of the second PERIS call for the period 2018-2020, with a budget of 9.53 million euros. Grants can be applied for until 30 September.

Catalan hospitals continue to drive research. Bellvitge University Hospital has created a Minority Illnesses Working Group. The hospital, which currently has more than 3,000 patients affected by around 200 different minority illnesses, wants to consolidate itself as a healthcare and research reference with this new group which includes professionals from different healthcare services such as pneumology, nephrology, cardiology, neurology, ophthalmology, endocrinology and internal medicine.

The Hospital del Mar in Barcelona has created a new skin cancer unit to enhance the treatment and care of the most serious patients. As well as caring for patients, the Unit will also develop research projects for patients with melanoma and clinical trials for new drugs. Another of its aims is to promote the creation of new research working groups.

As regards to individuals, Josep Baselga, physician-in-chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, was presented with the ESMO Lifetime Achievement Award by the European Society for Medical Oncology. Moreover, the Government awarded ICREA Academia distinctions to 15 researchers in the Catalan University system, 3 of whom are from the life sciences field.

 

Discoveries ‘made in Barcelona’

Cancer is mostly caused by changes in the DNA of our cells which accumulate during our lifetime, rather than those that we inherit from our parents: this is the conclusion of Fran Supek (IRB Barcelona) and Ben Lehner (CRG), who have identified one of the important mechanisms that causes these mutations as a series of errors introduced by a DNA ‘spellchecker’, a mechanism that repairs damage in our genomes.

Researchers at IRB Barcelona, in collaboration with the Biological Research Center (CIB-CSIC) in Madrid, have identified the component that allows a lethal type of bacteria to spread resistance to antibiotics. This is the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, a serious threat in hospitals worldwide and which, in the United States alone, is responsible for the death of 11,300 people each year from antibiotic-resistant infections.

The IRB is also behind a study published in Cell that disproves the theory that with the passage of time stem cells cease to differentiate between day or night (i.e. they lose their circadian rhythm) and that this loss promotes aging. The study –summarized in this informative video– shows that, as they age, the stem cells exhibit greater aging due to a change in their rhythmic functions. A low-calorie diet delays this change and slows down aging.

Furthermore, the first successful case of gene editing in human embryos –an international research study published in Nature– has increased the possibility of modifying the genes of embryos to protect babies from hereditary diseases and has reignited the ethical debate among the scientific community, and here in Catalonia too