A historic year, in every sense
In March 2020, the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 brought the economic and social activity of much of the world to a screeching halt. Organizations’ and their teams’ agility and ability to adapt to the pandemic (or even to transform it) has been crucial in a historic year in which the importance for humanity of innovation in healthcare and research took center stage.
At Biocat, which has a small team yet a modern systems infrastructure, we were able to easily transfer our office online and made a major effort to adapt and modify projects and programs to the new situation, bearing in mind the strategic priorities that we included in the 2020-2023 Strategic Plan presented to the Board of Trustees in December 2020:
1) to promote technology transfer, the development of talent and acceleration;
2) to have an expert voice of our own with sectoral challenges and proposals, providing the administration and entities within the ecosystem with strategic support;
3) to internationally project and position the BioRegion and its stakeholders, helping to attract investment, fostering international connections and promoting international influence on sectoral policies.
Throughout this report, there are specific sections for the projects and activities that received the most resources and had a noteworthy impact, such as support funding of Covid-19 projects along with the Directorate General for Healthcare Research and Innovation (DGRIS), the publication of the 7th edition of the Sectoral Report of the BioRegion with the cooperation of Amgen, the first Alex Casta Awards for the best pitch, the CRAASH Barcelona acceleration program and d·HEALTH Barcelona, not to mention the dissemination and projection of the BioRegion's capacities to improve the ecosystem’s international reputation. Also worth mentioning is the close cooperation and entry onto the board of the Council of European BioRegions (CEBR) and participation in European projects like Boost4Health,which promotes the international competitiveness of our startups, and EATRIS+, which contributes to supporting the long-term sustainability of the EATRIS infrastructure by providing the research community with innovative scientific tools, among others.
Unfortunately, some of the projects or activities that were planned for 2020 had to be postponed due to the pandemic, but we hope to bring them to fruition in 2021.
Unstoppable growth of the sector during the recession
Not even the coronavirus was able to stop the upswing in the sector over the past 5 years, and it surpassed the threshold of €100 million in investment raised for health startups. The BioRegion reached historic figures in terms of the funding secured, participation by international investors and the number of companies created, with the growth in the digital health subsector particularly standing out over the others. This information, along with other major innovation indicators (such as the number of participations in clinical trials for Covid-19) de parti and a summary of the challenges and opportunities facing the sector, were compiled in the 2020 BioRegion Report, which was presented in September in conjunction with CataloniaBio & HealthTech (the final figures for the year were presented in January 2021).
Leadership in a key moment
“Only an innovative country, capable of basing its competitiveness on knowledge to benefit its own society and the global population, can be prepared for what we are facing.”
This is one of the messages from the paper “Recuperem la iniciativa, ara: les claus de la Preparació i la Resposta”, a collaborative proposal led by Biocat that brought together the main driving forces of innovation in the country (Catalonia & HealthTech, Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, Eurecat, FENIN, Foment, PIMEC, Tech Barcelona and LEITAT) and was presented to the Government of Catalonia in the first months of the pandemic. The goal was not only to suggest specific measures and actions to improve Catalonia’s preparedness to tackle Covid-19 and future pandemics, but also to offer a strategic view in line with transversal programs and main nation-building agreements like the PN@SC (National Pact for the Knowledge Society), CORECO (Economic Reactivation and Social Protection Plan) and the Catalonia 2022 strategy, through which the country is sketching out its future and which must unquestionably have the support of an industry like the life sciences and healthcare sector that is a driving force for knowledge and competitiveness.
In parallel to this exercise in influence and thought leadership, Biocat reacted quickly - in coordination with the Department of Research and Innovation (DGRIS) and the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS)- to put together and manage a call to award urgent grants to IRISCAT research centers (Health Research and Innovation Institutes of Catalonia), endowed with €4 million to fund 19 research and innovation projects to prevent and treat Covid-19. In addition to the financial injection, creating a “Covid network” dynamized by Biocat to follow up on the needs of the projects, promote economies of scale, reinforce synergies and organize events to raise awareness of the projects, award prizes to the most disruptive ones and share the advances of cutting-edge research going on in the BioRegion with the whole scientific community.
One of the pillars of the Strategic Plan Biocat approved in 2020 was to roll out Biocat’s own voice and strategic influence. Three key actions addressed this strategic mandate in 2020:
1.- providing expert support to the administration in its Strategic Plans for Health Research and Innovation (PERIS 2021-2027);
2.- representing the innovative life sciences and healthcare ecosystem regarding the challenges and needs of the sector (participating, with European institutions EIT Health and the CE DG GROW) in drawing up a map of capacities for manufacturing vaccines and of therapeutic developments for Covid-19 around the EU and getting companies and organizations from the BioRegion involved in the associated decision-making
3.- channeling and bringing together initiatives from the innovative ecosystem to address the country’s challenges (proposal to compile and prioritize proposals for Next Generation EU funds, helping build one of the pillars, the hub of emerging therapies and personalized medicine, along with key entities in the system like the Blood and Tissue Bank and Catalonia Bio & HealthTech), through the Health 2030 project, one of the 27 projects from the Next Generation Catalonia Plan.