Knowledge transfer: from basic research to industry and the markets

Recently, the swiss company Biocartis and Hospital del Mar announced their license agreement that enables Biocartis to develop a new colon cancer test. The test is based on research results published by Dr Montagut and her team in Nature medicine on 2012. They described a specific epidermal growth factor receptor mutation which makes colorectal tumours resistant to cetuximab, whilst they remain sensitive to treatment with panitumumab. This is a clear example of how basic research results derive into benefits for the society, in this case by allowing better and personalised therapy for colon cancer according to each patient’s characteristics. Often it is perceived that basic research results have scarce or none practical applicability. And sometimes this is true, as basic research seeks knowledge as an objective itself, independently from market parameters. But fundamental research also leads to innovative and applicable new ideas. In biomedical research, for example, better knowledge of molecular mechanisms involved in pathologies enables finding new and more efficient therapeutic alternatives.

Catalan researchers publish at a comparable level to other European countries of similar size, such as the Netherlands or Denmark. However, transfer is one of the debilities of our research system, and when we compare Catalonia with these countries on patents per million of inhabitants or the ratio publications/patents, our results are not so good. Therefore, we should not forget basic research, it is necessary to foster it and provide stability and continuity to research projects, but at the same time knowledge transference has to be one of our priority objectives


Research at the University: Catalan universities, leaders in scientific production

On July 22nd, Science and Development Foundation presented their annual report on Spanish universities. In this report, a ranking of universities and institutions was established on the basis of indicators such as the total volume of scientific production, scientific quality measured by impact indicators, and the percentage of papers published within the 10 % most cited in each category. The ranking was based on scientific publications from the Scopus database between 2007 and 2011. The authors of the report developed also a normalized impact index, taking into account the different specialties and the diversity of publication and citation patterns of several scientific fields. According to this index, the first four institutions in the ranking are Catalan: Barcelona University, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona Autonomous University and Rovira i Virgili University. Furthermore, when the percentage of excellence was measured, Rovira i Virgili University ranked the first position, with a rate above 10%, followed by Lleida University, with a rate of about 9%. Other Spanish rankings, such as UGR Ranking of Spanish Universities according to Fields and Scientific Disciplines, also show good positions of Catalan universities. In the international setting, the Performance Ranking of Scientific Papers for World Universities 2013, which has been recently published, shows that Barcelona University is the only Spanish university included among the best 100 worldwide universities. This ranking evaluates productivity and the impact of publications of top 500 worldwide universities for the period 2002-2012. Barcelona University has advanced to position 89 as it was listed as 115th in the previous edition of the ranking.

According to Luis Sanz, Director of the Institute of Public Goods and Policies, who prepared the report for the Science and Development Foundation, the reasons for the success of the Catalan university system are essentially three: the development of a strategy based on the flexibility and autonomy of schools and universities, that for example, allowed creating the ICREA program of international talent recruitment; second, the encouragement of alliances that led to the emergence of partnerships and foundations with several partners; but, above all, scientific excellence benefits from the existence of an environment supporting it. The commitment of the autonomic government, providing additional resources and stability, something that has not happened in other autonomic communities, has been one of the keys of success.

Therefore, in an independent Catalonia we should not be worried about our future as researchers. The aim of boosting research is in our nature. As we stated in our manifesto, we need a well-funded research system, efficient and competitive, and that will be more easily secured if we are independent.

Two catalan researchers awarded the prestigious Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Award 2013

Two catalan  researchers from Barcelona will share Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Award 2013. They are Eduard Batlle, ICREA Professor, Oncology Programme Coordinator and Director of the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and Joan Seoane, also ICREA Professor, Director of Translational Research at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and Principal Investigator of the Gene Expression and Cancer Group, both for their dedicated work in oncology. “This recognition is very positive for cancer research and recognizes Barcelona as an epicentre for cancer research of excellence with many internationally renowned groups and institutes”, they affirm.

You can read the entire report by clicking the link:



The AIDS vaccine is cooked in Catalonia

Last week took place in Barcelona a Global Congress on AIDS vaccine, AIDS Vaccine 2013. This is possible because Catalonia has a large critical mass of researchers who do quality research in this area. In recent days the media have been debating about it, because this vaccine is one of the greatest challenges of modern biomedicine.

AIDS Vaccine 2013 is organized by the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise and the HIVACAT Program for HIV vaccine research, of this year’s local organizer. HIVACAT is an unprecedented public-private consortium , located in Barcelona, formed by the two largest HIV / AIDS research centers in Catalonia, the IrsiCaixa Institute for Research on AIDS and the Infectious Diseases and AIDS IDIBAPS / Hospital Clinic of Barcelona team, in collaboration with Esteve and supported by Obra Social “La Caixa”, the Government of Catalonia and the Clínic Foundation.

The message these days was that, even though the HIVACAT program funding remains intact thanks to its scientific quality and the commitment of its donors , more investment is needed to remain competitive internationally and finally defeat the disease. A minimum of 4 million Euros would allow the first steps towards a clinical trial featuring some of the recent discoveries made by scientists Catalans. An extra effort is necessary to take the leap between excellence and success.

Probably this is a reality that an independent Catalonia would have to face. We have a solid base but we must redouble our efforts to change the current trends in research funding. The wealth of a country is also measured in terms of scientific production, in biomedicine and in any other field, and its ability to transfer this knowledge to the market. We must work hard as a country to grant success in the quest of a AIDS vaccine and to reinforce research and innovation in the broadest sense.

Listen to the Congress Opening Press Conference at: www.aidsvaxwebcasts.org

Listen to Dr. Gatell, from IDIBAPS-Hospital Clínic of Barcelona and co- director of HIVACAT, at TV3 program Els Matins (In Catalan):

Listen to Dr . Bonaventura Clotet from IrsiCaixa and co-director of HIVACAT in TVE program Los Deseayunos (from minute 40) (in Spanish):

View interviews with the Congress organizers by Barcelona Press Room:


Barcelona is attractive for major scientific conferences

In recent years Barcelona has become an even more attractive destination to organize a conference. It is the fifth city in the world in terms of number of international congresses held, according to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). Almost half of them were medical or scientific conferences. Recent examples are the congress of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD), which last week brought about 20,000 diabetes specialists to Barcelona, or the European Respiratory Society Annual Meeting, which crowded the city with pulmonologists during the first half of September.

Read more…


6 Advanced Grants from the European Research Council for investigators belonging to the catalan research system

In its sixth 2013 Advanced Grant competition the European Research Council is awarding 13 research groups of Spain, 6 of them belonging to the catalan research system. Despite in absolute terms it is not a high figure (it represents a 2.1% of the total number of grants), in relation to population size (number of grants per million of inhabitants), Catalonia is in the 9th position, near to Denmark, Sweden and Belgium, and over France, Germany and Spain.

The awarded investigators from the catalan research system are:

Eduard Batlle (IRB). ICREA. Life Sciences

Jordi Galí (CREI). Social Sciences and Humanities

Maciej Lewenstein (ICFO). ICREA. Physical Sciences and Engineering

José Remesal (UB). Social Sciences and Humanities

Jan Eeckhout (UPF). ICREA. Social Sciences and Humanities

Paul Verschure (UPF). ICREA. Physical Sciences and Engineering



The Catalan Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), the first global research laboratory in physics

Although this happened before would open this blog, we are pleased to let you known that the the Catalan Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) has become the world’s first research laboratory of Physics and Astronomy, according to the Mapping Scientific Excellence where the Catalan Institute for Research in Advanced Studies (ICREA) is in the third position and the Institute of High Energy Physics (IFAE) in position 18th.
This ranking, measuring the quality of research has a global impact. ICFO which last year celebrated a decade, is working to extend the boundaries of knowledge of photonics, the science and technology of the use of light, especially laser light. The institute is located in the campus of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) in Castelldefels (Barcelona). As a result of its work on knowledge and technology transfer, five ‘spin off’ companies have emerged.

ICFO participates actively in the “Graphene Project.” Besides the Human Brain Project, the European Commission has also granted a billion of euros to the Graphene Project, an essential project to promote emerging technologies and help creating new jobs. These studies about this two-dimensional crystal may revolutionize the telecommunications and even medicine.

Led by Professor Jari Kinaret from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, researchers involved in the Graphene project are from seventeen European countries. It is hoped that this extraordinary material can be used to manufacture electronic paper, ultra think and flexible mobile phones, lighter aircrafts, more durable batteries, artificial retinas and so on. It can also replace the silicon used to make chips 500 times smaller and 10 times faster. The list of participants is huge, but it is noteworthy that among them are catalan Institutes: Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology (ICN), Institute for Photonic Sciences (ICFO) and UPC-Catalan Plastic Centre (part of Centre for Research and Technology)


Discovery of a new marine invertebrate


A research team of the University of Barcelona (UB) and the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) recently discovered a new species of Osedax, a marine invertebrate that feeds on bones named Osedax deceptionensis. This species is one of the two first species of this marine worm that has been found in the Antartida, in Deception Island —hence the name. The results have been recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and cited in other journals such as NatureScience i National Geographic, among others.

The research is a part of the Actiquim-II project that began in 2010 and is directed by Professor Conxita Avila, from the Animal Biology Department of the UB and member of the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio). Sergio Taboada, from the same department and Javier Cristobo, from IEO (Gijón) have also participated in this project.


6 catalan research groups obtain Starting Grants from the European Research Council

The European Research Council (ERC) has selected 287 top scientists in its sixth Starting Grant competition. Starting grants aim to support young investigators who are about to establish a proper research team and to start conducting independent research in Europe. In 2013, 6 of these grants are for catalan research groups. According to number of grants per million inhabitants, Catalonia is in the 9th position of 19 countries, while Spain without Catalonia (8 grants) is in the 16th position. Grants worth up to €2 million each, and cover a wide range of topics, in the areas of Physical Sciences and engineering, Life sciences and Social sciences and Humanities.

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Catalan scientists discover that the hormone FGF21 protects the heart

The research group led by Dr. Francesc Villarroya, from the University of Barcelona, has shown, in a study performed in rodents, that the hormone FGF21 has a protective function against cardiac hypertrophy. The study, published last June in Nature Communications, shows that the lack of FGF21 is associated to cardiac dysfunction, while treatment with this hormone reverses these alterations in mice. FGF21is produced in the heart and it is released to protect cardiac cells against hypertrophic insults. These results open new avenues in the investigation on the prevention and treatment of cardiac diseases.