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Is Barcelona the place to be for clinical trials?

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With this year's Clinical Trials Europe taking place in Barcelona, Jordi Naval, CEO of Biocat - an organization that champions the healthcare and life sciences ecosystem in Catalonia - explores what makes the area such a globally renowned hub.

“Catalonia is one of the three most dynamic hubs in healthcare and life sciences worldwide”, according to Joseph Damond, Executive Vice President for International Affairs at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). Catalonia, with its capital Barcelona, has a population of more than 7.5 million inhabitants and a territory comparable to countries like Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Israel. In terms of GDP and population, we can also compare Catalonia to European Union countries such as Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, or Ireland. Its publicly funded healthcare system ensures universal access to top level hospitals to the general population, thus widening the base of patients eligible to participate in clinical trials.

The BioRegion of Catalonia hosts a wide network of CMOS, CROS, and hospitals where trials can be conducted, and you can also find a wide variety of world-class consultants, regulatory advisers, market access specialists, technology provide and so on. Any company can execute operations at the top level using only local providers and professionals. This solid ecosystem of technology providers and specialized companies ensures the execution of all clinical activities in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Moreover, one can find local, world-class hospitals for conducting top-level clinical research, such as Hospital Clínic, Vall d’Hebron, Sant Pau or Sant Joan de Déu (children’s hospital).

In fact, quality, safety, fast recruitment of patients and competitive costs make the BioRegion of Catalonia a location of choice for clinical trials. A full pre-clinical to post clinical program can be carried out in Catalonia at a significantly lower cost than in other key regions in Europe, the UK, or the US.

According to AQuAs, the main Catalan public research centers have an average of 5,000 participations in 3,400 unique trials each year. Cancer continues to be the main focus of clinical trials at almost all of the institutes: one in three clinical trials (37.6%) are in oncology, followed by the circulatory system (8.8%), blood and immune system diseases (8%), and infectious diseases (6.3%). 60% of the clinical trials are phase III (41%) or phase IV (19%).

The XXIII Informe BEST (December 2017) shows Catalonia's leading position in Spain. BEST is a strategic project that brings together 45 pharmaceutical laboratories and 59 hospitals to create a platform of excellence in clinical drug research. The Clinical Research Ethics Committees (CEIC) of reference are Catalan in 1,479 of the 2,871 trials (51.5%). Plus, Catalan centers had a total of 5,744 participations (27.1% of the Spanish total) and the 33,971 patients from Catalonia make up 28.6% of the total.

Another valuable source of information on innovative activity of Catalan hospitals is the Plataforma de Innovación en Tecnologías Médicas y Sanitarias (ITEMAS). It is made up of 31 associated innovation units, 10 of them from the BioRegion of Catalonia. These 10 Catalan ITEMAS units, despite making up only one third of the platform members, attract half (49.7%) of all funds from international projects awarded and 42.1% of revenue for clinical trials.

Success story: Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus

The Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus is one of the most active in Europe in clinical trials. In 2017, this hospital started 301 new trials and had more than 1,000 trials underway with over 5,500 patients. In 2017 alone, the hospital recruited more than 1,600 new patients for its trials, 1,096 of which were in oncology. More than 52% of the center's trials are phase I and phase II.

For example, Dr. Josep Tabernero, director of the VHIO and head of the Medical Oncology Service at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, presented a phase Ia and Ib study on the agent RO6958688 at the annual Congress of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). This novel bispecific antibody for the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and the T-cell receptor has been tested as a therapeutic agent, on its own and in combination with atezolizumab. Vall d’Hebron is heading up the first clinical trial in Spain to treat acute spinal injuries using mesenchymal stem cells and has contributed the first patient to an international study on the drug MIN-102 for adrenomyeloneuropathy, developed by Catalan biotechnology company Minoryx Therapeutics.

If you want to be kept in the know regarding the BioRegion of Catalonia, you can sign up for the Biocat newsletter, or check out their directory of companies: there are currently more than 1,300 entities in Catalonia identified through the Catalan Life Sciences Database.

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