Ten Spanish Biotechs to Watch in 2022

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While Spain’s scientific infrastructure has long been hailed as world-class, the southern European nation has often struggled to translate its excellent science into viable commercial companies. However, a growing cadre of clinical-stage firms are aiming to change that narrative and become the biotech success story that Spain so desperately craves. Read on for ten such companies to watch.

 

Reaping the benefits of operating in Europe’s fifth-largest economy, the eighth largest pharma market in the world, the fifth largest medical devices market in Europe, and home to an impressive scientific output, Spain’s biotech sector has been on a streak in recent years.

In 2019, the Spanish biotechnology sector invested over EUR 940 million in R&D, doubling the number in 10 years; in 2020, total funding for Spanish biotechs surpassed EUR 150 million; and in 2021, the association representing the country’s biotech industry, ASEBIO, broke its registration record.

“It is clear that the Spanish biotech ecosystem is world-class in terms of scientific production, talent and scientific infrastructure. What we lack is the ability to transform the science we generate into industry and economic value; it is a chronic challenge that has faced us for 50 years, but, luckily, we are making progress,” Ion Arocena, president of ASEBIO, explained to PharmaBoardroom.

As the country awaits billions of euros from the European Union – with the aim of accelerating Spain’s economic recovery and the “reindustrialization” of its health sector – Arocena argues that “biotech can play a critical role in supporting the economic recovery of Spain and Europe; we have earned the right to be recognized as an essential part of the knowledge-based economy.”

For many players in the sector, in line with global trends, oncology has become the hotspot, but Spain also enjoys expertise in degenerative diseases and advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs), where many companies have succeeded in commercializing.

Two challenges outlined by Arocena were the difficulty of raising enough capital and recruiting highly-skilled workers for certain positions.

“Traditional [finance] tools [from the Spanish public sector] were based on soft loans which are not designed to finance high-risk projects with long timelines. There has been progress made in that field after Spain launched a public VC instrument, similar to a matching fund, for biotech startups called Invierte. The instrument was frozen for a couple of years and reactivated in 2019 and 2020.”

“In terms of human resources, our CDMOs are having a difficult time finding highly skilled people inside the country for their GMP manufacturing sites, quality assurance or regulatory affairs; they are going abroad or having to develop training programs to develop the skills internally,” Arocena says.

 

Ten Spanish Biotechs to Watch

 

 1. Minoryx Therapeutics

  • Founded in 2011, based in Barcelona, R&D center in Belgium
  • CEO and Co-Founder: Marc Martinell
  • Focus Area: Orphan CNS disorders

Minoryx is a Phase 3 clinical stage biotech company focused on the development of differentiating treatment options in orphan central nervous system (CNS) disorders. The company has so far raised more than EUR 85 million, most recently from the European Investment Bank.

Their lead program, a novel PPAR gamma agonist (leriglitazone), is currently in clinical development for X-ALD and other CNS diseases. Leriglitazone has been granted Orphan Drug Designation for X-ALD and for Friedreich ataxia by both the European Commission and the US FDA.

 

2. Oryzon Genomics

  • Founded in 2000, based in Barcelona
  • CEO and Co-Founder: Carlos Buesa
  • Focus Area: Epigenetics-based therapeutics

Oryzon is a public clinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing innovative epigenetic personalized medicines for patients with cancer and CNS disorders. The company has been listed on the Spanish Stock Exchange since 2015 and has two compounds in Phase II clinical trials: iadademstat, an oncology asset with orphan-drug status from the EMA, and vafidemstat for the treatment of neurological diseases.

 

3. Ona Therapeutics

  • Founded in 2019, based in Barcelona
  • CEO: Valerie Vanhooren
  • Focus Area: Oncology

ONA Therapeutics is a biotech company, a spin-off of ICREA and IRB, and specializes in the discovery and development of therapeutic biologics targeting the lipid metabolism in order to treat advanced cancer. According to Fierce Pharma, “Ona is going after one of the most widespread unmet needs in oncology. The metastatic tumors it is targeting arise in many solid tumors and have very negative implications for patients. In kidney cancer, for example, 12% of patients with tumors in distant parts of the body are alive after five years, compared to 93% of people with localized disease.”

 

4. Aelix Therapeutics

  • Founded in 2015, based in Barcelona
  • CEO: Dr Melanie Rolli
  • Focus Area: Immunotherapies for HIV infection

Aelix Therapeutics is a Barcelona based company focused on the development of a therapeutic HIV vaccine to be used in cure or possibly eradication. The company was originally founded in 2015 as a spin-off of HIVACAT, a Catalan public-private research consortium.

The company signed a Clinical Research Collaboration Agreement with Gilead Sciences for a phase II study and participates in the EU Horizon 2020 project MISTRAL.

 

5. Peptomyc

  • Founded in 2014, based in Barcelona
  • CEO and Co-Founder: Dr. Laura Soucek
  • Focus Area: Oncology

Peptomyc is a Spanish clinical stage biotech company spin-off of the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and the Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) in Barcelona. The company focuses on the development of a new generation of cell penetrating peptides (CPPs) targeting the Myc oncoprotein for cancer treatment.

 

6. Highlight Therapeutics

  • Founded in 2010, based in Valencia
  • CEO: Marisol Quintero
  • Focus Area: Immuno-oncology

Highlight Therapeutics is a private, clinical-stage company focused on immuno-oncology. Its lead drug candidate, BO-112, is a best-in-class RNA-based therapy that aims to “initiate a powerful immune response, leveraging a unique multi-target approach to turn ‘cold’ tumors ‘hot’ and therefore visible to the immune system.” In addition to in-house research, Highlight Therapeutics has a number of external collaborators, including Merck & Co and UCLA.

 

7. Algenex

  • Founded in 2005, based in Madrid
  • CEO: Claudia Jimenez
  • Focus Area: Synthetic protein production

Algenex is a private biotechnology company, backed by Cleon Capital and Columbus Ventures, that develops disruptive baculovirus-based technologies for the production of recombinant biological products. The company recently inaugurated its new vaccine manufacturing plant in Madrid, which can produce up to 100 million vaccine doses.

 

8. VIVEbiotech

  • Founded in 2015, based in San Sebastián
  • CEO: Gurutz Linazasoro, MD
  • Focus Area: CDMO, lentiviral vectors

VIVEbiotech specializes in lentiviral vectors with expertise as a GMP CDMO focused on the manufacture of lentiviral vectors from early stages to GMP. In early 2021, VIVEbiotech announced it was expanding its facilities to ramp up production and further optimise its production processes for lentiviral vectors.

 

9. InnoUp Farma

  • Founded in 2013, based in Pamplona
  • CEO and Co-Founder: Maite Agüeros
  • Focus Area: Drug and vaccine delivery systems

InnoUp’s technology platform uses nanoparticles to develop solutions for the administration of oral drugs. One of its projects enables oral administration of anti-cancer drugs with low oral bioavailability. Another ongoing project uses nanoparticles as an adjuvant in immunotherapy and vaccination. In addition, InnoUp also uses its technology to develop new OTC products.

 

10. Chemotargets

  • Founded in 2006, based in Barcelona
  • CEO: Dr. Scott Boyer
  • Focus Area: Predictive analytics solutions for pharma and biotech products

Chemotargets is a biotech company that analyses the efficacy and safety of new drugs in development. The company’s CLARITY platform received an FDA license in response to the US drug regulator’s need for a computational tool to predict outcomes of drug use.


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