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BIO Europe Spring 2017

The best of the BioRegion of Catalonia in 2017

Cutting-edge studies in the best international scientific publications, rounds of investment, licenses… despite saying goodbye to the EMA and the political instability of this last quarter of the year, the Catalan healthcare and life sciences sector has maintained its role as a global benchmark for this type of ecosystem.



In just a few days, we’ll ring out 2017: a year that, despite the political situation, has been full of positive headlines for companies and research organizations in the BioRegion. It’s time to take stock and remember some of the news that have once again put the Catalan healthcare and life sciences ecosystem in the spotlight both here and abroad.

 Research: the BioRegion in ‘Nature’, ‘Science’, ‘Cell’ and ‘Lancet’

This year the top international scientific publications have once again spread the news of Catalan scientific excellence. Nature has again focused on the BioRegion, this time with an editorial article entitled Spain’s science rivalry, highlighting Barcelona’s dynamic nature and great ability to attract international talent. Nearly twenty Catalan scientists, eight of them from the Hospital Clínic-IDIBAPS, are listed on the 2017 list of the most cited scientists in the world published by Clarivate Analytics.

In oncology, an international study with Catalan participation described the map of the bladder-cancer genome, which will help introduce more personalized treatment for these patients. An international team of scientists led by the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO), has decoded how a common type of lung cancer becomes resistant to drugs just months after treatment begins.

A discovery of ICO-IDIBGI has opened the doors to the development of new “metabolic-epigenetic” drugs categories for Cancer Treatment. Researchers at the Vall d’Hebron Campus participated in a multi-center study published in Science  that shows bacteria from the microbiome travel with tumor cells during metastasis. On its side, an IBEC study published in Nature Cell Biology shows how tumor cells "hijack" healthy cells to promote metastasis and the center has revealed to Cell how physical forces activate genes involved in Cancer.

Another study published in Lancet Oncology by an international team co-led by IRB Barcelona identifies the breast-cancer patients that would benefit from treatment to prevent metastasis.

Nature Communications published how scientists from IDIBAPS and IRB Barcelona have designed a new strategy to get genetically modified viruses to selectively attack tumor cells without affecting healthy ones. Another study, by the Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute, reveals the effectiveness of a new treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

This year we have seen the success of a collaboration between research and industry: researchers at IDIBELL successfully tested a new drug, developed by Esteve, to prevent the onset and pain of neuropathies caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients, especially colon cancer. Moreover, according to a clinical study led by the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) and Institute for Health Science Research Germans Trias i Pujol (IGTP) this opens the doors to a blood sample being used to choose the best treatment for patients with advanced colorectal cancer.

A team led by Pere Santamaria, of Idibaps, has published a paper in Cell on a new mechanism through which the microbiota interacts with the immune system and regulates the onset of autoimmune diseases, which opens the door for new drugs to fight these conditions. Additionally, researchers at the University of Barcelona have discovered an essential mechanism in the process of regulating salmonella infection. In another area, a team from the Institute of Neurosciences of the University of Barcelona has participated in designing the first light-operated drug to treat pain.

Researchers at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) have discovered previously unknown DNA arrangements in tiny bacteria, which could have medical and industrial applications.

On the other hand, B·Debate, a Biocat initiative and the "la Caixa" Social foundation to promote the scientific debate, has once again placed Barcelona in the center of international research with the organization of a dozen conferences and meetings in collaboration with Catalan research centers. This year, the topics have been industrial biotechnology, artificial intelligence, genetic expression and regulation, tropical viruses, microbiome, evolutionary genetics and populations, social integration in the cities of the future, cancer and epigenetics, bioengineering and female cancer.


New in the ecosystem

The race to host the new headquarters of the European Medicines Agency kept Barcelona in international headlines all year long but didn’t have the hoped-for outcome. However, the Catalan capital is home to the new headquarters of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

The research world now has a new European initiative that aims to bridge the gap between research and society: it is known as ORION, coordinated by the Center for Genomic Regulation and has nine members, including the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Biocat has also joined as an associated partner.

This year, the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST) has taken a new center into its structure, the Institute for Bioengineering of Barcelona (IBEC), and a new general director, Gabriel M. Silberman, who took over for Miquel A. Pericàs. Another important name: Albert Barberà, former CEO of Biocat, was named director general for Research and Innovation in Health this past summer.

In the chapter on bad news, hundreds of institutions in the sector, including universities and research centers, have had their finances frozen.

In the business arena, the BioRegion ecosystem continues the startup race with the creation of numerous innovative startups. You can learn about the experience of these new entrepreneurs in the Start-up Generation section of the Biocat website.


Fairs, missions and events

This past spring, Barcelona was in the spotlight in the sector, once again hosting BIO-Europe Spring, breaking records for Catalan participation with nearly 200 delegates from over 100 companies and organizations in the BioRegion.

Biocat and ACCIÓ organized sessions to enrich the participation and knowledge of Catalan companies in the congress, such as sessions of regenerative and precision medicine and startup competitions. Within the framework of the Mobile World Congress, Otsuka and Biocat organized the Imagine Express 2017, a program aimed at promoting applications in the mobile sector during a four-day train ride from Barcelona to Paris and London.

Barcelona has returned to host this year Health 2.0 Europe, one of the most well-known conferences in this sector in Europe in digital health, and Healthio, which brought together the latest advances in the health industry sector.In June, another 30 attended BIO International Convention 2017.

In addition, Biocat has been behind the missions that have sent Catalan companies to China and Japan (on the occasion of Bio Japan), and the reverse missions that have led to the BioRegion companies from Australia, China, Japan looking for partners.

Biocat also accompanied companies and entities from the BioRegion to the Nordic Life Sciences Days and Bio-Europe Berlin, where different sessions were organized. Furthermore, Biocat coordinated 14 Catalan experts in the scientific mission at the OncoEmergence Forum Montpellier, with the objective of forming consortia for European funding.


Internationalization and commercialization: the top priorities

Because internationalization remains one of the top priorities in the sector. Laboratorios Rubió is preparing to move into the United States and Reig Jofre has shifted their focus to growth in Asia with a subsidiary in Indonesia, and is preparing to expand their plant in Sant Joan Despí for a second time to support their move into the US market in the future.

Almirall spent $55 million to acquire a drug from Athenex to treat actinic keratosis in the United States and Europe and expects to take it to market by 2021. The pharmaceutical company has abandoned its research on a drug for psoriasis of the nails that was in phase III trials, and has launched an innovation platform: AlmirallShare. Another pharma corporation changing its portfolio is Esteve, which got €60 million for returning to Janssen the license for Fortasec. The Catalan pharmaceutical corporation will move into its new corporate headquarters in the Torre Marina building in 2018.

Uriach has licensed its antihistamine Rupatadine to Pfizer  to sell in 14 countries in the Middle East and northern Africa. SOM Biotech closed a licensing deal with US company Corino Therapeutics, which acquired the global license to the drug SOM0226. Bionure has licensed two preclinical candidates in otorhinolaryngology to US company Spiral Therapeutics. 

Transplant Biomedicals has sublicensed a new organ preservation fluid to a European company, its most important international agreement, which will mean more than six million euros of income.

Devicare has set its sights on Colombia, where it closed a deal to introduce its Lit-Control device, and is preparing the launch for the United Kingdom. Also looking towards northern Europe is Mind the Byte, which has signed a deal to share technology with Swedish company Prosilico.

AB-Biotics has closed a deal with Iranian pharmaceutical company Tasnin Pharma to start selling five of its products in Iran this year, and a deal with Israeli group Frutarom to sell AB-Fortis.

But it hasn’t all been good news in this chapter: in late July, Roche announced that, as a result of a portfolio prioritization, it will discontinue the licensing deal it had with Oryzon Genomics to develop the experimental drug ORY-1001. The company headed up by Carlos Buesa, however, did have good news for its investors, presenting advances on ORY-2001, a drug to treat neurodegenerative diseases, and concluding pre-clinical trials on its third molecule, ORY-3001.

In scientific milestones, AELIX Therapeutics has recruited the first patient in its clinical trial to develop a therapeutic vaccine for HIV, and AbilityPharma has been granted FDA authorization for a phase II clinical trial on patients with endometrial or squamous lung cancer and Archivel Farma has presented her therapeutic tuberculosis vaccine.

Besides supporting business and scientific missions abroad, in the framework of bioXclusters plus this year, Biocat has facilitated the identification of investment and commercial partners in the United States and Australia to companies such as Anaxomics and Avida Biotech. On the other hand, to stimulate cooperation and internal exchange, Biocat has launched the calls that subsidize technological collaborations in health sciences through the Boost4Health project.


Investment: less to more

Companies in the BioRegion have once again filled the financial pages of the papers with a long list of investment operations that show how ambitious our companies are and the confidence investors have in our ecosystem. Highlights include Anaconda Biomed, which raised €15 million in a round led by Ysios Capital with participation from Banc Sabadell and foreign investors. Among publicly traded companies, Oryzon Genomics closed an €18-million capital increase that has brought in two new shareholders, US funds Nexthera and Heights Capital.

The large operations for millions of euros seen in other years have given way in 2017 to more rounds of between €1 million and €5 million. More modest operations but benefitting more companies. Some of these include: LinkCare, a collaborative medicine platform created at Hospital Clinic, which moved its headquarters to China after closing a €5-million deal with the Guangzhou Global Star Investment fund. Peptomyc, a spin-off of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology, closed a €4.2-million round led by the newly created Alta Life Sciences fund.

Devicare closed a €3-million round from the EMESA holding, with family offices and corporate partners. The same amount was raised by Top Doctors in a round with Addventure, an investment fund based in Moscow.

Mint Labs obtained €2.74 million in a round led by a Californian venture capital.

Transmural Biotech raised €2.7 million from Asisa insurance and Transplant Biomedicals received €2.5 million in the biggest round of funding involving a non-diagnostic medical device company led by Caixa Capital Risc and Kereon Partners.

A spin-off of the Catalan Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, GlyCardial Diagnostics, raised €2.4 million in its first round, led by Caixa Capital Risc and HealthEquity. Inkemia closed a €2.2-million capital increase to strengthen its subsidiaries and create a new subsidiary specializing in synthetic biology. SOM Biotech raised €2 million in a round with 18 international investors, to grow in the United States and fund a clinical trial with its drug repositioned to treat Huntington disease.

Additionally, 2017 has seen new additions to the investment scene in the BioRegion. Inveready created a new fund with €40 million to invest in companies traded on the Spanish MAB and French Alternext; Inkemia created a new fund with €10 million for start-ups and spin-offs in the sector, and just a few weeks ago, Genesis Ventures, a new fund specializing in biomedicine, was created. The veterans, for their part, have continued leading operations here at home and abroad: for example, Ysios Capital has invested €6 million in a €45-million round held by Swiss company Xeltis, and is preparing a third fund that could be operational in 2018 or 2019.


Corporate operations: the BioRegion goes shopping

2017 has brought corporate operations that are strengthening the position of Catalan companies. In January, the merger of Mosaic Biomedicals with the Canadian Northern Biologics went out at last.

Grifols had its own Black Friday on the US market: this year it has acquired 49% of Access Biologicals for €48 million and 44% of GigaGen for €30.8 million, as well as six plasma-extraction centers in the United States in an operation valued at €44 million. The company has also increased its stake in Kiro Grifols, now holding 90% of the company, and invested €16.5 million in a new plant in Brazil.

Here at home, Inkemia has acquired Otec Riera and the Micro-Bios laboratory to expand its line of services, and Palex Medical has acquired the hospital-materials distribution business of the Taper Group, based in Madrid. Additionally, Apax has closed an acquisition deal with Telemedicine Clinic (TMC), a Catalan company that specializes in medical technology.

On the other hand, as a result of the political instability in the last quarter of the year, some companies have announced they will move their business and/or tax headquarters outside of Catalonia. These include Oryzon Genomics, IndukernInkemiaPangaea Oncology,  Laboratoris Ordesa and Stada.


Hospitals, up to date

The hospitals in the BioRegion have continued to modernize this year with new facilities and technology. Vall d’Hebron announced a huge transformation of its grounds and has inaugurated new units in Nuclear Medicine Therapy and Deep-Vein Thrombosis. It has also launched a fundraising campaign for a new Advanced Neonatology Center. Plus, in 2018 the hospital will incorporate a new technique based on 3D skin printing and has developed a new clinical method for less invasive diagnosis of endometrial cancer.

Sant Joan de Déu has inaugurated an innovative new center for research and diagnosis of minority diseases, and has raised more than €14 million to create the largest children’s cancer center in Europe here in Barcelona. The ARI project, promoted by Ari Benedé in collaboration with Hospital Clinic, has raised more than €1 million from individuals, companies and associations to kick off CART leukemia treatment

Hospital del Mar de Barcelona has created a skin cancer unit to improve treatment and care for the most serious patients and has become the first public hospital in Spain to have technology that allows women to control the pressure on their breasts during a mammogram. In cardiology, Hospital Josep Trueta in Girona has become the first hospital in Catalonia and third in Spain to implant a new generation heart valve.

Bellvitge University Hospital has created a Minority Disease Workgroup, Hospital de Sant Pau has inaugurated a new emergency area for the most fragile patients and Hospital Germans Trias in Badalona has begun a pilot program using telemedicine for patients with knee and hip prostheses. 

Furthermore, a few days ago it was announced that Barcelona will host the World Congress of Hospitals in 2020.