Just days before the new year, it’s time to look back and take stock of 2015, a year that has brought great headlines for the BioRegion of Catalonia.
Because it’s not every year that a company from the local biotechnology sector goes public on the stock market (Oryzon) nor is it every day that one raises nearly €20 millions from national and international investors (Minoryx), while Europe continues to show its confidence (to the tune of €190 millions) in Catalan research projects. Let’s look at some of the best news in the sector in 2015.
While 2014 was the year of the great deal Oryzon Genomics struck with Swiss company Roche for its leukemia drug, which has brought the company €3.5 millions in addition to the €21 millions it saw initially for the molecule, the new deals signed this year by companies in the BioRegion show that the success of the business led by Carlos Buesa wasn’t an isolated incident.
So, in the field of licensing agreements, the case of Palobiofarma and Novartis is particularly relevant, working together to develop an immunotherapy drug for metastatic cancer.
One of the other protagonists of the year is Reig Jofré, which merged with Natraceutical last year to create the fifth pharmaceutical company traded on the Spanish stock market and hasn’t discarded the idea of similar corporate operations to continue growing at the desired pace. Plus, in 2015 the Catalan pharmaceutical company closed a marketing deal with Manremyc to sell its nutritional supplement to fight tuberculosis in Europe.
Investments in 2015 deserve a section of their own. In fact, Oryzon Genomics is one of the Catalan biotech firms that attracted the most attention this year, raising €16.5 millions to help speed their IPO. Another company that has caused quite a stir is Minoryx, which in October closed the largest investment round ever in the Catalan biotechnology sector, receiving €19.4 millions in an operation led by Ysios Capital with participation from Caixa Capital Risc, Health Equity and several international investors.
Other noteworthy rounds include those by Medtep ($2 millions), Transplant Biomedicals (€1.5 millions), Top Doctors (€1.1 millions), Phyture Biotech (€1 million), Galgo Medical (€1 million) and iGlobalMed (€300,000).
In addition to their commitment to local companies like Minoryx, investment funds in the BioRegion also set their sights on foreign companies in 2015: for example, Ysios Capital, which alongside Sunstone Capital led an investment of €8.7 millions in Prexton Therapeutics to develop their treatment for Parkinson-related motor complications.
Furthermore, options like crowdfunding proved to be a viable funding alternative in 2015: ZeClinics closed the largest crowdfunding campaign this year in Spain, raising €100,000. Additionally, Mind the Byte scooped the largest biotech crowdequity round of funding in Spain, raising twice what they expected: €234,310.
Most of the aforementioned rounds of funding were aimed at international growth. Mind the Byte, for example, has moved into Denmark as a first step in international expansion. Other companies are already further along, such as AB-Biotics, which has moved into the United States and Japan with products for oral health and a pharmacogenetic test for personalized medicine, respectively.
Laboratorios Isdin and Grifols are also interested in the US market, the latter having been granted FDA approval to build a new purification plant in Los Angeles. The Japanese market has attracted Reig Jofré, which is working on international growth with Kern Pharma. The Experimental Tuberculosis Unit at the Germans Trias i Pujol Health Sciences Research Institute will sell its products in India and Nepal and Laboratorios Ordesa will continue its expansion in Asia, as well as looking to move into northern and eastern Africa.
From laboratory to market, the path is normally full of moments of great success and some unavoidable do-overs. One of the eureka! moments this year happened at Ferrer, which with Manel Esteller of IDIBELL has developed the first epigenetic diagnostic test for cancer. Also in the fight against cancer, the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) saw noteworthy advances, proving brain tumors can be diagnosed with a spinal tap, without the need for a biopsy.
Likewise, essential projects continue moving forward, like the search for a new HIV vaccine. The first clinical trial on a product of this type created in Catalonia will begin in mid-2016, thanks to the work of a group at IrsiCaixa.
Som Biotech and the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute have also taken another step forward, successfully completing a clinical trail to treat transthyretin amyloidosis, a minority disease that affects the peripheral nervous system and the heart.
In addition to the positive news from individual organizations, 2015 also saw collective successes that confirm the BioRegion of Catalonia’s position in the premiere league of international science. Some good examples of the health of the ecosystem included the grants to institutions of excellence through the Severo Ochoa program, which recognized the IBEC, and the María de Maetzu program, which recognized four Catalan research units.
Plus, new structures have been created to help strengthen the sector, including the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, which brings together the six main Catalan research centers of excellence and is led by Montserrat Vendrell, and new communities to foster innovation in health. On one hand, the Government of Catalonia put in motion the RIS3CAT Communities, a groundbreaking strategy in Europe that aims to transform the business fabric in Catalonia through 2020 and expects to create a community in the health arena. Another European-focused project has also taken its first steps: EIT Health, a continent-wide project led by Sylvie Bove, with the Spanish node led by the UB in collaboration with Biocat and Marco Pugliese as director.
As Europe is one of the great defenders of Catalan science, it’s no surprise that the European Union has put €190 millions towards research and innovation projects at Catalan companies and organizations like Inkemia and Biochemize in the first year and a half of the Horizon 2020 program. Likewise, Grifols has received a €100-millions loan from the European Investment Bank under the Juncker Plan.
2016 promises even more success in a sector that is becoming more and more competitive internationally.