The BioRegion: The Catalan life sciences and healthcare sector. Status and analysis

Companies – Analysis by subsector

Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies

Of the 221 biotechnology companies listed in the Biocat Directory, 45 produce new therapies and diagnostic tools, 92 specialize in R&D services and 84 develop products and services in various areas, such as veterinary medicine, agriculture, food, cosmetics and industrial processes.

Over the 2013-2015 period, 27 new biotechnology companies were created (see graphs 5 and 6), which is nearly 14% more than in the previous report. More than half of the new biotech firms provide R&D services (14), among which projects focusing on genetics and bioinformatics abound.

Catalonia leads the biotechnology sector in Spain, both in terms of number of companies and R&D investment. Despite the difference in the figures as a result of the methodology used by the INE,26 Catalonia is ranked first both in number of biotechnology companies and businesses that use biotechnology as well as in R&D investment. The latest data from the INE published in the Asebio Report, for 2013, shows that Catalonia has 14.89% of all companies that use biotechnology and 19.43% of all biotechnology firms, followed by Madrid (12.13% and 17.53% respectively) and Andalusia (9.27% and 15.49%, respectively).27

Graphic 18

R&D investment of Spanish biotech companies by region (2012-2014)

(in milion Euros)

Source: INE

With joint expenditure of €416 millions (28.7% of the total) in 2014, Catalonia maintains its position of leadership in R&D investment in biotechnology. In terms of Catalan biotechnology companies, R&D spending dropped from 2012 to 2013 and then recovered slightly in 2014 (Graph 18).

Graph 19 shows the type of activity conducted by biotechnology firms that provide R&D services —the largest group of biotech firms, which went from 73 to 92 companies. If we compare the current catalog of services provided by these companies with those offered in 2013, what stands out is the growth in CRO (contract research organizations) — services now offered by 36% of companies, versus 23% two years ago— and genomics, services that 11% of these biotech firms offer, compared to 4% in 2013. The number of companies developing diagnostic instruments also increased, up from 8% to 13%.

Graphic 19

Areas of activity of biotech companies in the BioRegion that offer R&D Services

Source: Biocat Directory

Each company may be included in more than one category.

In the group of Other biotechnology companies, which has 11 businesses more than in 2013, the majority still focus on health and animal feed, although the relative weight of this group has fallen due to growth in other areas, including the production of nutraceutics28 —which went from 9% of companies in 2013 to 15%— biotechnology to conserve and recover the environment —from 6% to 11%— and cosmetics —from 12% to 17%— as shown in graph 20.

Graphic 20

Arees of activity of Bioregion companies included in the Biotech – Other category (2013-2015)

Source: Biocat Directory

Each company may be included in more than one category.

The group of biotechnology companies that produce therapies and diagnostic tools is the only one to have shrunk since 2013 —down from 48 to 45 companies— although 9 new companies have also been created in this area. Often, although they see positive results in the initial stages of research and receive support from private and institutional investors, further work ends up revealing the projects are unviable or not attractive enough to obtain the investment and collaborators needed to scale up to market. Drug development requires considerable investment and many years of clinical trials. Every molecule and new therapeutic approach competes with other research being done at the same time, each trying to prove it is the best solution to a specific condition, and this isn’t easy. As a result, this segment is the most fragile and over this period it has seen great successes —Oryzon Genomics, Palobiofarma— but also several other projects forced to fold —like Argon Pharma, Advancell, Era Biotech and Neurotec Pharma, among others— some of which had been around for more than 10 years.

As in the 2013 Biocat Report, we analyzed the activities of the 45 biotech companies working in therapies and diagnostic tools along with that of the 46 pharmaceutical corporations that do R&D in Catalonia.29 Graph 21 shows the weight of generics, production of small molecules and anti-infective agents, which are the main activities of the pharmaceutical companies —linked to manufacturing classical, chemical-based drugs— although researching and producing molecular diagnostic products is slowly gaining ground. Research into peptides and proteins, often linked with more efficient, precise drug-delivery solutions, stands out among the activities in biotechnology companies, along with the production of antibodies.


Graphic 21

Areas of activity of companies working in therapeutics and diagnostics in the BioRegion (biotech and pharma)

Source: Biocat Directory

Each company can be included in more than one category.

As graph 22 shows, neoplasms (cancer) are the priority therapeutic area for Catalan biotech and pharma companies. 38% of all companies work in this field, with research often geared towards types of cancer classified as rare diseases. In this regard, it must be noted that both the experimental drug Oryzon licensed to Roche in 2014 in an operation valued at more than €350 millions and that being developed by Minoryx, which received more than €19 millions in funding in 2015, have orphan drug designation.

Drugs for rare disease are driving many of the large acquisitions of companies on the global market. The extinction of patents —with exclusivity of 7 (USA) to 10 years (Europe)— the high price of these drugs and the total patient loyalty —as they are diseases without any other therapeutic alternative— have made orphan drugs a top priority for big pharma.30 Rare diseases are mainly genetic, which means biotechnology can contribute therapeutic approaches and treatments that aren’t within the scope of traditional pharmacology.

Dermatological conditions (31%), infectious diseases (28%) and the central nervous system (28%) are, in that order, the main therapeutic areas, after cancer, that Catalan biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are working on, in a panorama that is highly diversified.

Graphic 22

Therapeutic areas of pharma and biotech companies in the BioRegion

Source: Biocat Directory

Each company may be included in more than one category.

Biotechnology companies devoted to producing therapies and diagnostics in the BioRegion of Catalonia have a pipeline of 98 products in various stages of development (graph 23), 13 of which are already on the market, according to data provided by the companies themselves. Two thirds of these new drugs are in the early stages of research and, specifically, preclinical trials are being done with 35 of them.

One third of these drugs (31) are indicated to treat cancer and neoplasms, followed by those for diseases of the central nervous system (13) and infectious diseases (13). Dermatology, which is the second highest area of interest on Graph 22, is mainly the territory of pharmaceutical companies; biotechnology firms only have one product for this indication in their pipeline and only three companies are doing research in this area. The same is true of cardiovascular conditions, which have practically no presence in the pipeline of biotechnology companies, despite pharma’s interest in this therapeutic area. Biotech firms, however, are interested in the area of endocrine, nutritional and metabolic disorders, with eight products in different stages of development.

Graphic 23

Pipeline of Therapeutics & Diagnostics biotech companies in the BioRegion

(Number of products)

Source: BiotechGate / Biocat Directory

The 46 pharmaceutical companies registered have 30 products in various stages of preclinical and clinical development, and 124 products on the market. The biotechnology firms that work in areas like veterinary health, cosmetics and nutrition have 85 products on the market, most of which (65) are for health and animal feed, with a dozen nutritional products and probiotics and the rest, cosmetics and dermatology products.

Medical technology and digital health

As we’ve mentioned previously, the BioRegion has a group of 94 companies that research, develop, produce and market medical devices and systems, included in the Medical Technology group. However activity in medical technology also extends to 93 companies in the category of suppliers and engineering firms (distributors, manufacturers of medical instruments and laboratory fungibles, engineering firms and electronics companies), 11 biotechnology companies —which produce or distribute in vitro diagnostic devices (IVD)— and two information technology services companies classified in the professional services and consulting category. Therefore, there are a total of 200 companies active in the medtech arena.

Regarding companies in the medical technology category, graph 24 shows their main areas of activity, with the production of reusable instruments (often surgical material) leading the way, as it did in the previous report, with 19% of all registered companies. The production of dental devices has gained ground (second, with 18% of companies) as a result of several existing companies in this area of activity being included in the Biocat Directory for the first time. The third most common area is the production of electromechanical devices (17%).

Despite the wide variety of activities, giving each one a low percentage of companies working in the area, growth has been particularly noteworthy in the number of companies active in diagnostic devices –mainly in vitro diagnostic (IVD)— which accounted for less than 2% of the total in 2013 and is now 8%. Although there are still relatively few companies working in this area, the ones doing so are researching innovative fields like biomaterials and regenerative medicine.

Graphic 24

Areas of activity of medtech (R&D) companies in the BioRegion

Source: BiotechGate / Biocat Directory

Each company may be included in more than one category.

Regarding the companies in the category of suppliers and engineering firms that are active in medical technology, more than half (51) distribute products, one third manufacture production or lab instruments, and a similar number produce lab materials or fungibles (each company counts different activities).

Furthermore, the BioRegion has 40 companies active in digital health, meaning they apply digital technology to address challenges in health, to discover new mechanisms that make diseases work or design new drugs using bioinformatics, to create new online platforms providing medical services or to design software to monitor health or for neurorehabilitation, among many other possible examples.

Specifically, this group of 40 companies includes 8 that offer bioinformatics and computational research services (Acellera, Anaxomics, aScidea Computational Biology Solutions, Chemotargets, Intelligent Pharma, Mind the Byte, Molomics Biotech and Sequentia Biotech). There are several platforms designed to make it easier for patients to request medical visits or appointments (Clinic Point, Doctoralia, Doctux, Medtep, Online Medicus, Top Doctors), services to help professionals work as a team or to monitor and follow up with patients (Bettercare, Bioaccez, Hesoff Group, Linkcare), companies specializing in medical imaging (Alma, Visió Mèdica Virtual, Galgo Medical), virtual reality solutions to treat psychological disorders (Psious, Sinaptiks), platforms for personalized cognitive services (BrainHealth Solutions), communities of patients (Social Diabetis) and even a series of companies that design customized applications or software solutions for hospitals or other healthcare providers.

Experts and analysts believe that in the coming years we will see growth in this segment of companies devoted to finding solutions to health challenges using digital technology. In this regard, a highly interesting initiative kicked off in 2015: the BIB (Bioinformatics Barcelona), an association that aims to act as a catalyst for advanced research and technology and knowledge transfer initiatives in the field of biomedicine that will help better understand diseases and move towards personalized medicine. Big data and bioinformatics, on one hand, and the convergence of disciplines –biotechnology, nanotechnology, photonics, electronics, robotics, etc.— on the other, are transforming research and development of new therapies. It is highly likely that business models will also continue to change, making room for innovative new entrepreneurial initiatives that will make Catalonia even more competitive in the life sciences arena.

26 The INE does a yearly Survey on the use of biotechnology, as part of its Survey on innovation in companies, however the data received isn’t analyzed as a whole but in a random sample. As a result, even though the Biocat registry shows the number of biotechnology companies in Catalonia has grown year after year since 2005, the INE attributes fewer biotech firms to Catalonia for 2013 than for 2012.
27 Informe Asebio 2014, Madrid, July 2015, p. 39.
28 Term coined by combining ‘nutrition’ and ‘pharmaceutical’ to define food products created to address specific consumer health needs. 
29 Distributors and commercial offices without R&D activity are classified in the Supplier & Engineering category.
30 “Los huérfanos seguirán propiciando las compras y fusiones en el sector”, Correo Farmacèutico, 8 June 2015, p. 16.