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Lessons for the BioRegion: What can we learn from 2017?

Publications in top journals, rounds of investment, licensing, benchmark events held in Barcelona... 2017 was a year full of good news for the BioRegion of Catalonia. Saying goodbye to the EMA and the political instability were the bittersweet counterpoint. What can we learn from these successes and failures? From research, enterprise and management, some of the main figures take stock. 


“The advances we saw in 2017 open up a new horizon for oncological immunotherapy”

Dr. Josep Tabernero, Director of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and Head of the Medical Oncology Department at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital. President of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO).    

“Over the past three years, we’ve shown that immunotherapy will set the new roadmap in oncology, as genomics did for the past ten years, and this is clearer and clearer every day. In 2017, we were able to help design bispecific antibodies targeting T cells and a tumor-cell receptor, an innovative therapeutic alternative that is very promising for tumors that are initially less sensitive to conventional immunotherapy treatments, like for example most colon tumors. These results open up a new horizon for immunotherapy, for tumors that don’t respond to treatment with checkpoint inhibitors, while also allowing us to reformulate some of the therapeutic strategies we’ve been using. All of these dynamic, ever-changing therapeutic strategies, along with our molecular screening program for tumors and solid experience in clinical trials in the early stages, have allowed us to further consolidate the use of precision medicine in oncology and personalization of therapies using biological and immunological tumor targets at VHIO.”  


“Discovering senolytic drugs opens up therapeutic options for incurable diseases” 

Dr. Manuel Serrano, ICREA researcher at IRB Barcelona, Cellular Plasticity and Disease Group Leader 

"In my opinion, one of the main scientific developments of 2017 was the discovery of senolytics. These drugs can selectively induce the death of damaged cells in the body (known as senescent cells). We know that with many conditions, above all chronic and degenerative diseases, huge amounts of these damaged cells build up in the body. Having the option to eliminate them opens up therapeutic options for incurable diseases, like pulmonary fibrosis. All the studies published in 2017 were done on mice, but clinical trials in patients started in 2017 and in just a few years we’ll know the real potential of these drugs for different diseases. Failure? I can’t think of anything in particular. Unfortunately, in science and innovation, 90% of efforts end in failure!” 


“We’re considering tripling investment in research in innovation, to €90 million in 2019”

Àngel Font, Corporate Director of Strategy and Research for the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation

“Promoting research and innovation is one of the main goals of the “la Caixa” Banking Foundation, which is considering tripling investment in this area to €90 million a year by 2019. The challenge is to do so as responsibly and efficiently as possible. To accomplish this, we launched two important new programs in 2017. The first, to promote scientific degrees, is the new ”la Caixa” Junior Leader post-doc grant program, which will be awarded for the first time very soon. In late 2017, we also launched a Call for health research projects, offering grants for research centers, universities and hospitals in Spain and Portugal. If we’re talking about lessons learned, the guidance received from top-notch experts has been particularly important, through the Foundation’s newly created Consell assessor d’experts en recerca. The cohesion and commitment of the team working to implement the programs are also key. In 2018, we will launch more calls under these programs to increase the FBLC efforts in research and innovation and make the program a benchmark in philanthropy in Europe.” 


"It has been a year of important advances in our own R&D"

Jorge Gallardo, President of Almirall

“In 2017, we finished execution of our strategy to focus Almirall’s pipeline in dermatology. We’ve also attracted loads of talent, led by the new executive vice-president of R&D and CSO (Chief Science Officer), Bhushan Hardas, who has notable experience in the field of dermatology and plastic surgery. This year has also been a time of important advances in our own R&D, both in the preclinical and clinical phases. On an inorganic level, it is worth noting our deals with Athenex to develop a first-in-class drug for actinic keratosis, which is currently in phase III, and with Symatese, initially, to develop a line of hyaluronic acid injectables.”


“It was a spectacular year. but we can't et complacent: there are still many challenges for the future"

Pau Planas, CEO of Biokit 

"Biokit finished off 2017 in a spectacular fashion: business is booming, important advances in launching innovative products with high clinical value, excellent new facilities… However, we must avoid complacency and take on board that all of this is not a guarantee of success in overcoming the many significant challenges we are facing for the future. Now is the time to transform the company in ways that make us more competitive in this volatile, complex and uncertain world. And nothing can be more important than creating the conditions to ensure the Biokit talent can continue contributing with the professional and human values that have brought us this far.” 


“Closing €15-million series-A funding takes just as much work as smaller rounds”

Jordi Antolí Gil, Corporate Project Manager at Anaconda BioMed

“The main success of Anaconda in 2017 was closing €15-million series-A funding with local and foreign investors. Quite the milestone for a company in pre-clinical development in southern Europe. From this success, we’ve also learned a lesson: it takes just as much work to close a big round as a much smaller one. From the hurdles we faced last year, we’ve also learned some things: Always make room in the budget for contingencies and be aware that in R&D, on a regulatory level, it is important to get good advice, as the rules may change with no warning or indications to allow you to anticipate them.” 


“We’re playing a very important role in funding start-ups in our ecosystem: now it’s time to grow” 

Daniel Oliver, Director of Capital Cell

“2017 was so intense that it’s hard for me to choose just one thing. For example, we closed a campaign for over €1 million, raised substantial funding and internationalized the company in the United Kingdom. I think the most important thing, though, was creating a solid team that can grow the company. The challenge of scaling up a fintech company isn’t easy but, fortunately, we’re ready for it. We proved that Capital Cell is playing a very important role in the health technology ecosystem in Spain, particularly in Catalonia. We can be proud to have created a product that both we and the rest of the stakeholders recognize the utility and potential of. Now we want to transform that into an even greater impact on the health sector. We’re prepared to grow and become even more important in funding start-ups. The main challenge we’re facing in 2018 is, essentially, growth. We want to reach more companies, more investors, more countries… I think Capital Cell’s value proposition is well established and now we want to take it much further.” 


"A challenge? Raising awareness of the importance of patient empowerment in health management through ICT”

Rosendo Garganta, Founder and CEO of Devicare

“2017 was an intense year for Devicare, as we are growing. Our three main successes were international expansion with Lit-Control®, the first medical solution that allows patients to control their own chronic urological conditions, with monitoring; launching an ambitious clinical program in collaboration with benchmark hospitals; and raising more than €5 million in public and private investment from strategic partners. A challenge for the future? Without a doubt, we have to raise awareness of the importance of patient empowerment in health management through ICT.”


“Political instability is the enemy of our most important challenges”

Jaume Collboni, Former Deputy Mayor of Barcelona, President of the municipal socialists group and one of the spokespeople for the BCN4EMA bid

“The situation with the EMA has made us realize that political instability is the enemy of our more important challenges, especially those that are economic in nature. Over the past months, we had recovered 84% of the jobs lost during the financial crisis. Now, as a result of the independence movement or the local political instability in Barcelona, they’re disappearing again. This is why we have to protect Barcelona. Making the city our very top priority. Nevertheless, we’ve learned that even in the hardest of times, we can work together. We’ve collaborated with other administrations even when it seemed impossible. We’ve worked with civil society to call for more public-private partnership, which is so often maligned. Barcelona has always been a collective project. The example of the EMA should encourage us to keep working together, administrations and civil society side by side, to achieve our shared goals. These challenges may seem impossible but, by working together, history has shown us that we can tackle them, like the ‘92 Olympic Games.”


“The challenge facing the new CataloniaBio & HealthTech board will be to convince members we have something to offer them”

Clara Campàs i Jaume Amat, Representatives of the CataloniaBio & HealthTech management team

“For CataloniaBio, the successes of 2017 included consolidating activities like CataloniaBio Gala Dinner, the Biosuccess Awards, the Lessons Learned sessions, with a notable increase in participants, and the merger with the HealthTech Cluster. As a result of the latter, we now represent more than 170 companies and collaborating stakeholders in order to promote the convergence of biopharmaceuticals, medical technology and digital health. We believe the challenge facing the new CataloniaBio & HealthTech board will be to “convince” members the association has something to offer them and show them that they also have something to contribute to the association and the sector.”