IBEC leads the largest biotech consortium for healthcare in Spain

Yesterday, the strategic research programme in the area of biotechnology applied to healthcare was presented in Barcelona. The programme will be implemented through the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism Complementary Plans and will run until the end of 2024.

The event took place at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and was attended by the Minister for Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, Catalonia’s Minister for Research and Universities, Gemma Geis, IBEC director and scientific coordinator of the complementary healthcare plan, Josep Samitier, and representatives of the other autonomous regions. The event was hosted by Nuria Montserrat, IBEC’s Deputy Director of Clinical Translation and national coordinator of the biobanks and biomodels platform. 

With a budget of 32 million euros, five of Spain’s autonomous regions will work together, under the plan co-governed and co-financed by the regions, to tackle some of the biggest challenges in healthcare, such as cancer, diseases associated with the ageing process, infectious diseases and rare diseases. 

The representatives of the different administrations pointed out that the research programmes of the recovery plan are an essential tool for the future of the country. They also pointed out that, among these funds for recovery, those related to healthcare research will also be essential for the economy, as has been demonstrated by the current pandemic. To achieve results, the speakers explained, it is crucial that the autonomous regions work together, through expert coordinating agents. 

Due to its track record and experience, the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) has been chosen to coordinate this programme, in which participate institutions from the autonomous regions of the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura. IBEC will thus spearhead the most extensive inter-regional collaboration in the field of personalised medicine. In addition, this biotechnology healthcare research consortium will be one of the largest in Spain’s history, and one of the best endowed financially.  

According to the Ministry for Science and Innovation itself: “The complementary plans are an innovative instrument within Spain’s science policy. This is the first time that joint programming actions co-financed by the state and the autonomous regions have been implemented, which will make it possible to work intensively on research programmes with the state in strategic areas. It will, therefore, also advance co-governance in the field of science, technology and innovation”. 

Biotechnology for healthcare based on cutting-edge techniques 

In the biotechnology applied to healthcare programme, the aforementioned autonomous regions will collaborate closely in the development of tools for diagnosis, prognosis and advanced therapies, aimed at personalised medicine. The goal is to help to provide a response to some of the biggest healthcare challenges facing society, such as cancer, diseases associated with the ageing process (neurodegenerative, chronic), rare diseases and infectious diseases.  

The aim is to highlight, among other things, the advances in what are known as the omics techniques so as to obtain information and new insights regarding the effects of all possible variants in human and pathogen genomes, transcriptomes and proteomes. For example, studies will be carried out on gene expression at the individual cellular level, which is essential for developing new advanced diagnostic and prognostic systems and identifying new therapeutic targets.   

Another central focus of the programme is the development of new personalised and targeted therapies such as nanodrugs, as well as advanced surgical techniques, which in turn require the design of new pre-clinical disease models that exploit the potential of biomimetic systems and biomodels such as organoids or laboratory mini-organs.  

Finally, advanced structural biology approaches, such as state-of-the-art electron cryomicroscopy, applied to personalised medicine, will be used to study, in a quasi-physiological environment, the structural alterations of proteins, cells and tissues which underlie different diseases, providing valuable information for the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies. 

Only by taking an integrated approach to tools for diagnosis, prognosis and advanced therapies will we be able to tackle the major challenges we face in healthcare, such as cancer, degenerative diseases and infectious diseases.

Josep Samitier, IBEC director and Scientific Coordinator of the Complementary Plan for Biotechnology Applied to Healthcare 

IBEC and its European leadership in research and management 

The 2021 report by the Centre for the Development of Industrial Technology (CDTI) highlights IBEC’s presence among the three centres with the greatest capacity to attract competitive European funding, demonstrating steady progress. Between 2009 and 2019, IBEC quadrupled the amount of competitive funding obtained from European calls for proposals.  

Since its inception in 2005, IBEC researchers have been awarded over 20 ERC Excellence Grants, among other achievements, and have made several significant scientific breakthroughs. Recent achievements include the creation and implantation of a stem cell-enriched bioimplant capable of repairing cardiac tissue, and the generation of vascularised mini-kidneys in a laboratory. Major European projects coordinated by IBEC, such as Mechanocontrol, have contributed to understanding the impact of physical forces on the origin and evolution of, for example, cancer. These are just a few examples of how combining medicine, science and engineering can be highly beneficial for society and of IBEC’s leading role in these areas.