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HIGHLIGHTS: Rounds of funding, grants, pipeline advances, appointments and discoveries in leukemia

Rounds at Ability, Elma and Vytrus and “la Caixa” grants, among the top headlines in September

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30.09.2019

September means back to school, and back into the general swing of things. Barcelona kicked off this month a new season with global benchmark congresses in the sector, giving us news like: Oryzon Genomics has presented preliminary findings from its phase II trials on the drug iadademstat to treat relapsed small cell lung cancer, which has shown “signs of clinical efficacy”. Specifically, according to the biotechnology firm, the study reveals an 86.3% decrease overall as it is an epigenetic drug. This data has spurred on the company’s shares on the market.

Another highlight comes from Ability Pharma, which has closed a €3.5-million round of funding led by the Inveready venture capital group and a fund managed by the Everis consultancy firm. The operation comes with some shifting of chairs: Maribel Berges, former executive at Spherium Biomed, is taking over general management of the company and Carles Domènech, co-founder and previously CEO, is now the executive president and will continue leading scientific activity. 

More rounds to kick off the new investment season: Elma has closed a €3 million Series A funding round led by Mangrove Capital partners, while ICF Venture Tech II, the new fund from the Catalan Institute of Finance, got its feet wet by injecting half a million euros in biotechnology firm Vytrus Biotech, as part of a €1.5 million round that also included the Júlia perfume store chain. Vytrus is still working towards its goal to go public on an alternative stock market, MAB or Euronext Growth.

We welcome new investors in the BioRegion: Pan-European VC fund Target Global is opening an office in Barcelona. Its investments already include companies such as Doctoralia or MediQuo.

 

Corporate news

AB-Biotics will hold an extraordinary general shareholders’ meeting on October 4 to gain approval for leaving the alternative stock market (MAB), after Japanese pharmaceutical company Kaneko acquired a majority stake in the biotechnology company through a friendly takeover.

At another company traded on the MAB, Inkemia shareholders approved the sale of essential shares in the company as a way to improve the group’s structure and make it more attractive to potential investors. Inkemia is currently negotiating with US-based Crescent Hill Capital Corporation, which specializes in industrial companies that are going through a restructuring.

Top Doctors has kicked off its move into the Middle East: this platform that specializes in managing medical appointments online will be digitalizing the healthcare sector in countries that belong to the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC). The company will open its first headquarters in Riyadh, with a team of 15 initially and support from the main office in Barcelona. Top Doctors is investing $1.3 million in this project.

Additionally, Devicare has published in Clinical Medicine Insights Urology1 the results of the clinical study demonstrating the efficacy and tolerance of its products Lit-Control® pH Up and Lit-Control® pH Down to regulate urine pH in patients with kidney stones.

DD BioLab, the Spanish subsidiary of the Dutscher group, has doubled its market share in Spain. Since it was created in 2014 at the Barcelona Science Park, the company has posted sustained annual growth of 39%.

Atrys Health has bought a teleradiology services company in Colombia. Moreover, Atrys Health expects to take on former minister Josep Piqué as a new independent advisor.

 

News among the big fish in the sector

Ferrer has seen sales shoot up 50% for its most well-known analgesic, Gelocatil, due to the limitations put in place this summer on sales of the most popular painkillers: 1-gram paracetamol and 600-mg ibuprofen.

For its part, Almirall has begun selling Sativex, the only cannabis-based drug approved in Portugal and geared towards patients with multiple sclerosis. The Catalan pharmaceutical corporation has hired Mike McClellan, formerly of Israeli multinational company Teva and Sanofi, to be its new CFO.

Grifols and the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation have signed a collaboration agreement to carry out projects together specializing in the sector of automation, robotics, instrumentation and other technology and infrastructures associated with the healthcare sector.

 

Calls and public appointments

Robert Fabregat, previously chief of the cabinet for Catalan Minister of Health Alba Vergés, has been appointed the new director general for Healthcare Research and Innovation. Fabregat is taking over for Albert Barberà, who was named director of the UOC eHealth Center this past July.

Additionally, Pere Condom Vilà, head of Catalunya Emprèn since 2014, has announced he will be leaving his position with this program that provides support for entrepreneurs run by the Government of Catalonia.

The Catalan Government and the EC are putting €3.3 million towards hiring new researchers at Catalan companies and R&D stakeholders through the ACCIÓ Tecniospring INDUSTRY program. And if you are working on minority diseases, take note: CatSalut has launched two new calls to set up a network of clinical experience units working in minority diseases, bringing together experts in primary immunodeficiency and neuromuscular diseases at various healthcare centers.

EIT Health and the European Investment Fund (EIF) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to attract additional funding to the health and life science sector across Europe by cooperating to establish a Venture Centre of Excellence (VCoE).

 

Leading hospitals

Liquid biopsy for gene testing in cancer patients is already a reality and Hospital Clinic will be the first to use it in Europe. This innovative test identifies precisely the right treatment and therapy for each patient.

Hospital Clinic has promoted creation of the Clinic Eye Training Center and will be the first public university center in Europe to set up a comprehensive training center for the surgical field. This initiative has brought about the Learn for Sight program, which provides free training in the latest ophthalmologic techniques for professionals from the third world.

Bellvitge University Hospital has kicked off 24 operating rooms equipped with latest generation technology to do highly complex surgeries. President of the Government of Catalonia Quim Torra and Catalan Minister of Health Alba Vergés inaugurated the center’s new surgical building.

Hospital Parc Taulí in Sabadell has acquired the Bosser building, located next to the hospital complex, and will use it to house the Institute for Research and Innovation Parc Taulí, which is currently spread out in various spaces.

HM Delfos has carried out a €25-million capital increase to fund its expansion plan in Barcelona, ​​which includes purchasing the Children’s Hospital and remodeling its own facilities.

 

“la Caixa” grants and advances in research

We’re starting off the chapter on research with the Government of Catalonia’s new investment in the Alba Synchrotron: the government has announced it has earmarked €20 million for the particle accelerator next year.

“la Caixa” has given out 79 grants to national and international research and innovation projects of excellence, thirty of which went to projects in the BioRegion. These grants fall under various lines of action in the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation’s research area: postdoc grants, to promote research talent; support for research projects of excellence in biomedicine and healthcare; and the CaixaImpulse program, to transfer the results of biomedical research to society.

Mutua Madrileña Foundation is also banking on Catalan biomedical research, investing €600,000 in research projects at the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute, Vall d’Hebron Research Institute and Biomedical Research Institute Sant Pau.

Two new advances in the study of leukemia. On one hand, the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute has discovered the potential of a group of antihistamines to eliminate leukemia stem cells, which are the cause of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), the most common type in adults.

On the other, this month we’ve learned that Europeans have slight modifications in their genome sequence that make them prone to chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the most common in adults, according to a study published in Nature Communications by IDIBAPS researchers.

These days Barcelona hosts ESMO 2019, the most important congress in Europe dedicated to the latest advances against cancer.

In breast cancer, researchers at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) have discovered one of the resistance mechanisms of triple-negative breast cancer: the paper was published in Oncogene.

Still in oncology, researchers at IDIBAPS have identified a mechanism (the ZEB1 protein) that promotes the progression from chronic inflammation to cancer. This protein, in addition to damaging cell DNA, inhibits self-repair mechanisms.

An IDIBELL study has shown that, in order to more efficiently treat patients with liver cancer, it is necessary to know more about the characteristics of their tumor: this opens up new opportunities in personalized medicine for each patient.

And to detect colorectal cancer, MiWEndo Solutions, a spin-off of the UPF, UPC, Hospital Clinic and ICREA, has been created to develop a device using microwave technology to automatically detect polyps during colonoscopies. Ignasi Belda, former director of the Barcelona Science Park, is the company’s CEO.

An international study, which Bellvitge University Hospital and the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) were a part of, has provided new data on pharmacological treatment of heart failure: the paper was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

And, speaking of hearts, ICFO (Institute of Photonic Sciences) has created flexible, transparent devices that adapt to the skin and can be used to measure everything from heart rate to UV exposure from the sun, precisely and constantly. The study was published in Science Advances.

September 21 was World Alzheimer Day, and this month we’ve learned about new advances in the fight against this disease. The UOC has tested a new treatment to delay the disease based on targeted magnetic stimulation of the affected areas. The Pasqual Maragall Foundation, which specializes in this disease, has developed a family of algorithms for easy, non-invasive detection of a patient’s risk of developing Alzheimer. Additionally, Hospital Sant Pau has validated an automated technique to detect Alzheimer early using biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid.

Continuing with studies in neurobiology, scientists at IDIBELL have discovered that children’s brains recover from stroke and can develop language skills thanks to their plasticity.

A study carried out by the Healthcare Institute (IAS) Registry of Dementias of Girona (ReDeGi) and the Girona Biomedical Research Institute (IdiBGi), with collaboration from researchers at IDIAP Jordi Gol and at Serveis de Salut Integrats Baix Empordà (SSIBE), has shown that dementia cuts life expectancy by 8.8 years on average. Plus, women with dementia have a better survival rate than men.

There has also been news on multiple sclerosis: according to a study at IdiBGi, progression of the disease could be predicted with a simple blood test.

And, if this summary has left you thirsty (and not just for more news), think before choosing what to hydrate with: according to a study in which the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) and Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) took part, higher consumption of soft drinks, whether with sugar or artificial sweeteners, is associated with a higher risk of death.

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