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The best of the BioRegion of Catalonia in 2018

New international benchmark research centers, historical corporate operations, million-euro rounds of investment, new hires and resignations… Let's go over the biggest headlines of 2018 in the Catalan healthcare and life sciences sector.


Just a few days before we ring out 2018, it's time to look back over everything that has happened over the past 12 months in the sector. Like every year at this season, here at Biocat we are remembering some of the most noteworthy headlines concerning companies and research organizations in the BioRegion of Catalonia.


Main rounds of investment

This month, Biocat presented the Biocat Report, which among other messages highlights the increase in international investment in the sector. This year, we have witnessed some large operations. In September, Minoryx Therapeutics closed the most significant funding operation in the Spanish biomedical sector this year, a €21.3-million series B round with local and foreign investors.

Abac Therapeutics, a spin-off of Ferrer, was the focus of another noteworthy operation in February when they closed first round of funding, valued at €16 million

On the stock market, Oryzon Genomics closed in september a capital increase of EUR 13 million. With more modest figures, many other companies have also raised funds this year, for example: Alta Life Science, led a round of €4 million in Bionure, that this year has brought Laurent Nguyen on board as the new CEO of the company.

Just this month, Spiral Therapeutics closed a $3.7 million round to take its LPT99 molecule to treat hearing loss into phase I trials. In the digital health arena, Mediquo has closed two rounds for a total of €4.5 million. This company, called the WhatsApp of medicine, has launched its app on the North American market.

Mediktor, too, has closed a €3-million round to enter the North American market.  More information on investment operations in the BioRegion of Catalonia is available in the Biocat Report.


Corporate operations

February brought an important milestone for the sector: Dutch technology conglomerate Qiagen has acquired Stat-Dx for €154 million, one of the most important operations ever in the Spanish biotechnology sector.

Another million-euro acquisition was the deal to sell Catalan pharmaceutical company Euromed to German Dermapharm for €300 million by US fund Riverside and the acquisition of Advance Medical by Teladoc for $352 million (roughly €301 million).

Other biotechnology firms have had smaller operations, for example: Japanese multinational Kaneka Corporation acquired 34.05% of AB-Biotics, while iVascular has invested €8.7 million to acquire 10% of US start-up NaviGate Cardiac Structures, and Uriach has acquired two Italian companies.


Names in the news

This year Josep Lluís Sanfeliu has left Ysios Capital, which he co-founded 11 years ago, to start his own investment firm, Asabys Partners, with Clara Campàs, previously director of Strategy and Development at Kern Pharma.

Jaume Amat, founder and CEO of Specipig, was chosen president of the new board of CataloniaBio & HealthTech, created from the merger of CataloniaBio and HealthTech Cluster; and Maria Terrades replaced Ignasi Belda as the new CEO of the Barcelona Science Park

Also this year, there have been many new faces in politics: new Catalan Minister of Health, Alba Vergés; Maria Luisa Carcedo is the new minister of Health; or Pedro Duque as the new Spanish Minister of Science, Innovation and Universities.

One of the hottest news stories happened far from home and has not been bereft of controversy. The Catalan oncologist Josep Baselga has resigned as the chief medical officer of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York after it was discovered that he had not disclosed payments from industry, which could cast doubt on his research articles.

The saddest news, however, was saying goodbye to CEO of UPF Ventures Àlex Casta this December.


News from pharmaceutical companies

Grifols has continued acquiring new companies this year, including German firm Haema, the largest private network of donation centers in Germany, and is now negotiating with Shanghai RAAS pharmaceutical laboratory to acquire the Chinese company for €4.4 billion. This year, Grifols has demonstrated a significant reduction (61%) in the progression of moderate Alzheimer's disease using its AMBAR (Alzheimer Management by Albumin Replacement) treatment protocol. 

Almirall has gotten the green light from the FDA to launch a new antibiotic, Seysara, in the US in early 2019. With this product the company expects to see sales between €150 and €200 million.

Ferrer has named Ricardo Castrillo, from Chiesi, as its new general manager for Spain and Mario Rovirosa is the new CEO of the Ferrer group.

The Catalan pharmaceutical company has sold German company Trommsdorff to Dermapharm for over €100 million and is looking to sell off its generics units in Spain, as well as chemical products and vaccines.

Boehringer has also done some divesting, as they face the final stretch of the sale of their plant located in Malgrat de Mar, with 350 employees. For its part, Esteve has announced it is beginning a redundancy procedure to lay off up to 103 workers in Spain.

On the other side of the scale, Reig Jofre has expanded its plant in Toledo after investing €10 million and will invest €30 million through 2020 in expanding its plant in Sant Joan Despí (Barcelona). Also Laboratorios Salvat has launched a new subsidiary, Pharmaloop, with an industrial plant in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid).

For their part, Rovi carried out an €80-million capital increase to fund clinical trials, commercialization and other corporate needs that could include acquisitions.


New European benchmark centers

The Josep Carreras Foundation inaugurated the new headquarters of its Josep Carreras Leukemia Research Institute at the Campus ICO-Germans Trias i Pujol-UAB in Badalona. With more than 10,000 m² of space and investment of €26 million, it is the largest science center in Europe devoted exclusively to studying this disease, and will be led by Manel Esteller.

Hospital Sant Joan de Déu has begun work to build a new pediatric oncology center, which will cost approximately €30 million and is expected to open its doors in the second half of 2020. 

The Research Institute of the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau has inaugurated its new building and the Catalan Ministry of Health has created a Clinical Cancer Genetics Service. For its part, the fourth MareNostrum supercomputer, at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center Centre Nacional de Supercomputació (BSC), has multiplied its power

At the hospitals this year, we've seen groundbreaking new techniques, for example: Vall d’Hebron has implemented the first automatic system to trace surgical patients in Spain and Hospital Vall d’Hebron has become the first center in Spain to use magnets to simplify surgery in babies, while the Bellvitge University Hospital has created the first bank of frozen fecal samples in Spain. 


Groundbreaking discoveries in research

Biocat has launched this year the new Bibliometric Portal of the BioRegion of Cataloniawhich makes data on the scientific production in biomedicine made by researchers working in research entities in Catalonia available to researchers and society at large.

The most noteworthy publications signed this year by researchers in the BioRegion include numerous advances in oncology. For example, this year Nature has published an international study including IDIBELL and ICO that identifies a new drug to jointly treat the main types of lung cancer, called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Sant Pau and UAB published a study in EMBO Molecular Medicine which shows the efficiency of nanoparticles to selectively destroy colon cancer cells and IRB Barcelona is opening the doors to using immunotherapy to treat aggressive colon tumors and metastasis. 

A study led by IRB Barcelona in collaboration with VHIO, Hospital Clinic Barcelona and Hospital del Mar has identified a protein that keeps breast-cancer metastasis cells dormant. Also this year, we read that ICO and IDIBGI have participated in Concord-3, the largest cancer study in the world and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), who has published the most up-to-date list so far of the 299 genes involved in developing cancer.

News in the HIV sector, too. Researchers at IrsiCaixa and Hospital Universitario Gregorio Marañón in Madrid have managed to leave five HIV patients with no detectable viral reservoir after a stem cell transplant. One of them does not even have antibodies to the virus, which could indicate that it has been eliminated from their body. 

Also this year, Science published the largest study on genetic autism spectrum disorder, that involved several Catalan centers.

And one advance with a global impact: a study published in The Lancet by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), warns that Yaws disease is more resistant to antibiotics than previously thought, forcing the World Health Organization (WHO) to rethink its strategy to eradicate it.


Bringing science to patients

Catalan biotechnology companies are currently developing 18 potential drugs, 11 more than in 2013. Three potential drugs are already in phase III.

For exemple, this year Minoryx has begun trials in humans (phase II/III) with its adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN), with 100 patients in eight countries in the European Union (EU) and USA. In September, Minoryx announced the first patient in the United States.

Also Oryzon Genomics is advancing on development of Ory-2001. After beginning a phase IIa clinical trial in multiple sclerosis early this year, the biotechnology firm recruited the first patients for a study in the same phase on Alzheimer this May.  Also, the company has received authorization from the Spanish Medication Agency for a phase-IIa clinical trial to test its drug ORY-2001 on patients with aggressive episodes.

Ability Pharma was granted orphan drug designation for ABT0812 to treat biliary tract cancer. The FDA has also approved a phase I/II clinical trial on the molecule and the company has recruited its first patient in France in a phase-II clinical study underway with ABTL0812. For its part, Ferrer recruited the first patients for its phase I/II clinical trial on a treatment for acute traumatic spinal-cord injury. The trial is being led by Vall d'Hebron University Hospital.

Aelix Therapeutics has signed a deal with Gilead Sciences to conduct a phase IIa clinical trial on a functional cure for HIV, while 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. Spherium  has also begun phase I clinical trials on its product Cilakin to prevent acute kidney failure and has completed the phase-II tests of a drug to treat atopic dermatitis.

Also moving into a new phase is Som Biotech, which specializes in drug repositioning, beginning phase IIa clinical trials on SOM3355, a drug that could be used to treat Huntington.

As a result of the sector's evolution, in terms of social impact, Biocat estimates at least 10 products and advanced technologies developed in the BioRegion of Catalonia will reach patients by 2025. You can learn more about the evolution of the pipeline in the sector in Catalonia in the Biocat Report.