A piece of news
Discoveries in neurodegenerative diseases, economic reports and advances in the 'pipeline' , in May's headlines
Numbers were the main focus of headlines in the BioRegion of Catalonia in May: many reports with positive results and one round of investment. Plus, this month brought us significant clinical milestones at biotechnology firms and hopeful news in research, especially in Alzheimer.
One of the most commented-on headlines of the month, however, has a first and last name: Josep Lluís Sanfeliu has left Ysios Capital, which he co-founded 11 years ago, to start his own investment firm. It will be called Asabys Partners, be based in Barcelona and specialize in early-stage biotech, medical technology and healthcare innovation projects. Asabys aims to raise €60 million and begin investing in the fourth quarter of this year.
The firm that is continuing to invest is Alta Life Science, leading a round of €4 million in Bionure. The round, which is still open, will allow the family-run company to move into the clinical phase with its neuroprotective drug for neurodegenerative diseases in the United Kingdom. Bionure has named Guy P. Nohra, founder of Alta Life Sciences, chairman of its board.
Another of the companies co-founded by Albert G. Zamora, Virtual Bodyworks, is preparing a €2-million round of funding for this summer. The spin-off of the University of Barcelona, ICREA and Idibaps is preparing to launch its first product, VRespectMe, a program to help rehabilitate perpetrators of gender-violence.
Meanwhile, blockchain has captivated Capital Cell, which is trading in the stock market for cryptocurrencies: the crowdfunding platform specializing in the life sciences has discarded its plans to go public on a stock exchange in 2018 and is preparing an ICO (initial coin offering) of up to €20 millions.
This month, there has been a lot of news about Alzheimer research. Researchers at the Fundació ACE-Barcelona Alzheimer Treatment & Research Center presented the first preliminary results of a study on Alzheimer funded by Grifols and the “la Caixa” Foundation that has identified three categories of genes involved in the development of the disease.
Additionally, the Pasqual Maragall Foundation has created a new Clinical Research Unit for the Prevention of Dementia, promoted by the Barcelonaβeta Brain Research Center (BBRC), to study the risk of dementia within 5 years in 400 volunteers between 60 and 80 years old.
What role do genes play in this risk? Idibell has participated in a study, published in Nature Medicine, that identifies a genetic mutation that predisposes people to having Alzheimer. Another group of Idibell researchers has published the preclinical results of an experimental drug in Cell Reports. The drug is opening the doors to a possible treatment for Rett syndrome, the second most common cause of intellectual disability in women after Down syndrome.
Changing therapeutic area, researchers at IDIBAPS published in Nature Medicine the most exhaustive molecular description yet of chronic lymphatic leukemia, the most common type of this cancer. Also, Science published a study that discovered a basic survival and functioning mechanism of breast stem cells. A researcher from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) is participating in the study, led by Princeton University.
Hospital del Mar has also launched a research project to analyze whether liquid biopsies are viable for treating and monitoring patients with ovarian cancer, while the Banc de Sang i Teixits has started to test a lymphocyte bank for transplant patients with Vall d‘Hebron Hospital in Barcelona and La Fe Hospital in Valencia.
And something to keep an eye on: researchers from the Catalan Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), Institute of High Energy Physics (IFAE), the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) and ophthalmologists from Barraquer Ophthalmology Center are putting the final touches on a retinal prosthesis that will allow blind people to see again. The prototype is expected to begin testing in pigs this fall.
This month, Oryzon Genomics has recruited the first patients for its Etheral study, a phase IIa clinical trial of the Ory-2001 molecule for Alzheimer, being conducted in Spain, France and the United Kingdom. The company led by Carlos Buesa announced this month that they will now be covered by a US investment bank, ROTH Capital Partners, which has set the company’s target share price at €15. The announcement led to a significant rise in the stock price.
Additionally, Spherium Biomed has finished phase II clinical trials on a drug to treat mucositis, mouth ulcers that are one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. The company is negotiating co-development of phase III clinical analyses with international partners with the goal of launching to market in 2022.
Also this month, Ferrer recruited the first patients for its phase I/II clinical trial on a treatment for acute traumatic spinal-cord injury, co-developed with Basque biotechnology firm Histocell. The trial is being led by Vall d'Hebron University Hospital.
The companies in the BioRegion that are traded on the MAB presented their results for 2017 this month. Inkemia doubled sales in 2017 for a total of €4.7 million, with EBITDA up 8% (€644,000). The company achieved these results despite its investments to launch subsidiaries in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Atrys Health closed out 2017 with turnover of €6 million, up 32.3%, and profitability up 73%, with EBITDA at €1.83 million. Atrys has strengthened its standing in telecardiology by purchasing International Telemedicine Hospital (ITH) based in Aragon.
AB-Biotics is still in the red, although the company managed to cut its losses by 85% in 2017 to €895,000. The company saw revenue of €7.29 million, 81% more than in 2016. Also in the red, Pangaea Oncology finished last year with sales up 4.1%, to €2.6 million, with losses of €727,000, and Medcomtech saw its business volume rise 5% in 2017, to €28.5 million, although its losses were also up 31% to €2.23 million.
Through its subsidiary Aradigm, Grifols will attempt to market the drug Pulmaquin in Europe after being denied approval in the US recently. The company has already submitted an application for approval to the European Medications Agency. Regarding the Asian market, Grifols announced it will be moving into China, in a joint venture with a local company, to create a network of plasma-donation centers, with an initial investment of €50 million.
But the United States continues to affect the company’s financial results, for better and for worse: Grifols earned €1 billion in the first quarter of this year, down 3.6% due to the depreciation of the dollar. On the positive side, Trump’s tax cut for businesses continues to drive profit, up 7% to €143.4 for the quarter.
Almirall continues to grow in the United States, looking into purchasing the licenses to products or portfolios of products in this market where its subsidiary Aqua has seen sales drop 80% after losing the patent to its main drug. Almirall saw net profit of €30.9 million in the first quarter of 2018, up 57.1% from the same period in 2017. These results put an end to the spate of red numbers Almirall posted at the end of 2017. Additionally, the Gallardo brothers have increased their stake in the company to 66%.
Reig Jofre’s earnings were up 7.7% in the first quarter, to €2.24 million, due to the positive evolution of the antibiotics business and of Forté Pharma, which encompasses the food-supplements area. Reig Jofre will invest €30 million through 2020 in expanding its plant in Sant Joan Despí, to manufacture lyophilized vials and liquid vials.
Work has also begun at the Mesoestetic Pharma Group, which specializes in medical cosmetics and aesthetic medicine to build a new R&D center in Viladecans. The company posted turnover of €65 million in 2017.
The creators of Wallapop have launched a new app called Elma Care, which gives patients a preliminary diagnosis using questions about their symptoms and offering them the option to chat or have a videoconference with a specialist. The project has raised €1 million in funding from Antai and the founding partners.
In medical technology, CreatSens Health, a spin-off of Rovira i Virgili University, has developed a device to control potassium levels in a drop of blood for dialysis patients. The device has been validated with patients at Hospital Clinic and the product is now entering the regulatory phase.
The Barcelona Science Park, Bosch i Gimpera Foundation and Barcelona Institut d’Emprenedoria have launched the MedTeX acceleration program, specializing in medical technology and digital health. Up to 11 companies will be selected to participate in the first edition.