Specialists in biomolecules
Doctor in Medicine and Vice President of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (SEMERGEN), an entity which he has been connected with since 2004. He is one of the promoters of the SEMERGEN Research Agency and a member of the organizing committee for the most recent congress which broke participation records. He practices as a physician in the Casar Health Centre in Cáceres. He is also a professor of the UEX-SEMERGEN Chair in Primary Care Education and Research of the University of Extremadura, as well as the author of more than 90 national and international publications.
The 39th National Congress was held in Granada at the end of October What are the main conclusions that stand out from the board of directors?
This year’s congress, with more than 4,600 physicians, has been an incredible success in terms of attendance. For us, the most important part was the participation of young members and residents, who will lead the continuity of SEMERGEN, created in 1973, and our promotion of science and research through the Research Agency.
Is the growth of osteoarthritis alarming?
Yes, it is, due to specific conditions such as the ageing of the population: Around 28% of the world’s population over 60 years old has osteoarthritis. This is a very old and common disease, but now we’re focusing more on it because patients complain and we’re trying to resolve the symptoms, but we’re not working on prevention yet. This is our medical challenge for the future.
Tell us about the current overview of osteoarthritis in Spain. The EMARTRO study has been carried with the participation of more than 1,300 patients and 60 primary care physicians. The result?
Patients with osteoarthritis are usually women (70.3%), frequently overweight (75%) or obese (50%), with osteoarthritis in different parts of the body and nearly twice the likelihood of suffering other diseases compared to patients without osteoarthritis with the same characteristics. Patients with osteoarthritis also suffer anxiety and depression and consume significantly more depressants and anxiety anxiolytics than patients without osteoarthritis.
“Now we’re focusing more on osteoarthritis because patients complain and we’re trying to resolve the symptoms, but we’re not working on prevention yet”
What role do family doctors play in the research and treatment of chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis?
Since we arrived to the SEMERGEN board of directors five years ago we have promoted Primary Care research because studies until now have been carried out in hospitals. We Primary Care physicians are precisely the ones that carry out daily practice with patients and we can contribute all this knowledge, which has not yet been fully appreciated. On the other hand, if we want the training in Primary Care to be part of the universities, research is a key point.
Which pharmacological treatments do patients with osteoarthritis have?
The majority of the options are to mitigate pain such as analgesics and anti-inflammatories.
Are SYSADOAs an innovative option in this field?
SYSADOAs such as chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine and hyaluronic acid are good medications to prevent and relieve symptoms. For prevention, we also recommend leading a healthy lifestyle with a calcium-rich diet, practising moderate sport and losing weight, when appropriate.
“Our goal is for Primary Care to be a place in the Spanish healthcare system where specific scientifically-based, innovative products are investigated”
Bioibérica has promoted the PICASSO clinical trial, the first in the world to study the efficacy of combining chondroitin sulphate and glucosamine for osteoarthritis of the hand together with the three Spanish societies for family medicine (SEMERGEN, semFYC and SEMG). Why is the leadership of family doctors in this study so important?
As I’ve mentioned previously, our goal is for Primary Care to be a place in the Spanish healthcare system where specific scientifically-based, innovative products are investigated in order to be able to prescribe them.
In the professional field, what is your dream?
To ensure the recognition that Primary Care deserves in our country and for it to be the basic pillar of the healthcare systems as it is in other countries such as England or the United States. Unfortunately, we can see that the Spanish Administration is cutting investment more and more, with differences between autonomous communities, and this concerns me.
A medical or scientific milestone that has captivated you.
The research by Severo Ochoa about nucleic acids as the origin of life.
The best book that you’ve read.
I have a bit of a one-track mind, reading medicine all the time, but perhaps The Spanish Civil War, by Hugh Thomas.
Your favourite song.
Lucía by Serrat.
A great city to live.
Salamanca, where I studied medicine.
Photo: From left to right, Dr. José Polo with Dr. Luis Llisterri – © SEMERGEN
2016 was a year of great positive impact for biotechnology in Spain, both economically and socially. Three figures from the latest ASEBIO Report, presented on 26 July in Madrid, clearly show this: the biotechnology sector generates 8.6% of the GDP, nearly one million jobs and €578 million in internal R&D expenditure. Plus, the sector attracted €127 million in investment and forged 158 strategic alliances. Spanish Minister of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness Luis de Guindos, who participated in the event, said, “The government is aware that we must give more support to research, as it creates highly qualified jobs and generates wealth.”
If we look more closely at these figures, we can see that the sector saw total revenue of €90 billion in 2015, down from 2014 when it was on par with tourism (10.35% of the GDP, as we explained in this post). Biotechnology companies contributed more than 930,000 positions to the job market, up 2.6%, which is higher than the average for the Spanish economy as a whole (2.1%). Internal R&D expenditure also increased, up 8.31%, to hit an all-time high.
“Our business initiatives need intensive knowledge, investment and long timelines to maturity. This is why we still need special attention: quality regulations that give us the security we need and make our sector attractive, attention to our special funding needs and a firm commitment to public-private collaboration as a successful formula with which we must carry on,” highlighted ASEBIO President Jordi Martí.
Catalonia continues to lead the sector
In Spain, there are 2,981 companies involved in activities associated with biotechnology, according to data from 2015, 8.72% more than the previous year. Of these, 654 are strictly biotech firms and their main activity is in human health and food.
By regions, the greatest concentration of business is still in Catalonia (17.3%), followed by Andalusia (14.7%) and Madrid (10.1%). In terms of entrepreneurship, in 2016 there were 43 new biotechnology firms set up and Andalusia has the most (10) followed by Catalonia (9), the Basque Country (5) and Madrid (4).
Bioibérica, more patents and publications
Regarding patent applications submitted and granted, in 2016 there were 813 patents published in the biotechnology sector, which is down slightly (11%). The business sector continues to be the main patent stakeholder and Bioibérica is among the top 20 companies in this regard, with 4 patents (see page 35 of the report).
Biotechnology companies that are ASEBIO members published a total of 163 scientific papers. The main contributors are BTI Biotechnology Institute (33), PharmaMar (19 publicaciones), Pangaea Oncology (16), Promega Biotech (13), Bioibérica (11) and Amgen (9).
The ASEBIO Report is compiled yearly by the Spanish Bioindustry Association, which Bioibérica is a member of, and reflects the latest data on the sector.
On Twitter with the hashtag #InformeASEBIO2016.
Immunotherapy in dogs with Leishmaniasis: a new strategy to prevent the global spread of the disease
Sergi Segarra, head of R+D of Companion Animal Health Care at Bioibérica
Canine leishmaniosis is a parasitic zoonotic disease, which can be fatal for dogs as well as people. The disease is transmitted by the bite of flying insects called sandflies, which act as the vector. The type of immune response in the infected individuals is very important in determining how these patients progress and also their prognosis. As such, immunomodulation is now being considered as a strategy to handle this disease.
Impromune® is a product developed by Bioibérica which combines nucleotides and AHCC (mycelial extract of Lentinus edodes), allowing the immune response in dogs to be modulated. Recently the results of a study performed on dogs with clinical leishmaniasis was published in Veterinary Parasitology. The study observed that the oral administration of Impromune® for six months results in a clinical improvement similar to (or even better) than that obtained with standard treatment, without promoting the development of xanthine in urine, which is the main secondary effect of the current most commonly used treatment.
Unfortunately, in spite of the extensive use of insecticide collars and spot-on treatments against the sandfly which transmits the disease and in spite of the recent development and marketing of different Leishmania vaccinations, preventing and controlling this disease is still an unresolved problem. Furthermore, there is a great concern as many publications confirm that this disease is clearly spreading at a global scale, principally due to climate change. Given that dogs are the natural infection reservoir for humans, proper handling of infected dogs should lead to a decrease in the prevalence of the disease among humans. In fact, this strategy is included among the measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to control leishmaniasis.
That’s why Bioibérica’s R+D department continues to carry out additional scientific studies in order to obtain more scientific evidence for Impromune® as a type of immunotherapy for canine leishmaniasis, with a special interest in evaluating if it is possible to prevent the progression of the disease in clinically healthy, but infected animals. The aim is to promote a product which can be safely administered long term and, which once its efficacy is confirmed in these situations, would allow for the disease to be controlled better, leading to a decrease in the use of medications which are often associated with the appearance of secondary effects and drug resistance.
Picture: A sandfly vector of Leishmania parasites taking a blood meal through human skin (Source: WHO)
The b Blog editorial team
Life expectancy in OECD countries has risen from 75 years (1990) to 80 years (2012) thanks to innovation in drugs that treat serious diseases which were fatal not long ago (cancer, HIV, malaria…) and others that considerably improve quality of life in high-prevalence chronic diseases such as diabetes and osteoarthritis.
A large part of this innovation is due to biotechnology and the implementation of the ‘omic’ technologies, pharmacogenomics and bioinformatics. The areas where they are expected to have the greatest impact by 2020 are in diagnosing diseases, developing new therapies, and regenerative medicine, according to studies by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the Observatory for Industrial Technology Foresight (OPTI).
Biotech drugs sales were an estimated $US289 billion in 2014 and are projected to grow to $US445 billion by 2019, according to figures from consulting firm Deloitte.
- Diagnosing diseases. The goal is the early detection of diseases to seek personalised therapy for each patient (personalised medicine) that enables them to be cured or stop the disease from progressing. In 2011 Bioiberica launched the first genetic test to predict the progression of arthrosis of the knee.
- Developing new therapies. One example is research into biomolecules with a high therapeutic value (peptides, lipids, nucleic acids, monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies…) such as the one Bioiberica is developing for Alzheimer, inflammatory bowel disease and dermatology. Other examples include cell, tissue and animal predictive models that reproduce pathological phenotypes for drug selection; cell screening to measure the efficacy and toxicity of drugs in development; and new therapeutic vaccines and immunotherapy for the treatment of infectious and autoimmune diseases and tumours.
- Regenerative medicine. Although it has a complex regulatory framework and a high cost in terms of preclinical and clinical trials, there are a great many research groups dedicated to this field: cell transplants, adult stem cell reprogramming to make them into cell types for use in organ regeneration, the development of biomaterials and biodyes…
These are three major worldwide biotech trends today, although we should also mention crosscutting technologies like bioinformatics and big data, essential for handling the large volumes of biodata generated and which are enabling us to advance exponentially in research into diseases with unmet medical needs.
We have no doubt we can build on this discussion at the leading biotech sector event, the BIO International Convention, to be held in San Diego (USA) from 19 to 22 June 2017. For now the schedule looks promising, with conferences including A World Without Disease: Can We Get There? (Luke Timmerman, founder, Timmerman Report); Going Digital: What Biopharmas Need to Do to Transform the Value Chain (Todd Skrinar, Life Sciences Advisory Partner, EY) and Path from Big Data to Precision Medicine (Atul Butte, director, UCSF Institute for Computational Health Sciences).
By Xavier Córdoba, Director of the Bioibérica’s Animal Health Division
The progressive increase in population —the FAO estimates that in 2050 the world will reach 9 billion people— and the consequent demand for food have turned aquaculture into a solution which currently produces more than half of the fish consumed in the world.
Aquaculture, an industry which has existed for 30 some years, involves breeding aquatic organisms from coastal and rural zones in order to improve the production. Thanks to this technique humans currently cultivate around 567 species of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and plants. This allows for species to be saved which would otherwise disappear with extractive fishing, thus ensuring greater genetic diversity.
One of the global challenges is to make aquaculture more sustainable. With this goal, we aim to improve the nutrition which is provided to the fish with natural ingredients such as nucleotides and bioactive peptides in order to fight against diseases by reinforcing their immunity system and their digestive capacity, among other aspects which affect food quality and security, as well as the environment. Even so, in a scientific congress in Chile Dr. Daniel Benetti, one of the world’s leading experts in sustainable aquaculture at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science de Miami (USA), explained that recent decades have seen immense advances in sustainability and that aquaculture has a bright future (see the article on the website Aqua.cl).
Asia continues to be world’s leading producer, with 88.5% according to data from the FAO in 2012. In Europe, aquaculture represents 20% of the fish production and provides employment to 85,000 people, 20,000 in Spain, a country which leads the sector and which will preside over the Aquaculture Committee of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean for the next four years.
Sources and resources of interest for more information:
Carles Canet, director of the documentary “Heparin: 100 years saving lives”
When someone asks you to direct a new documentary, I suppose the first thing you feel is very similar to a writer experiencing ‘blank page syndrome’. In our case, it was more like ‘blank screen syndrome’. How do we explain, in simple terms, that a hundred-year-old biomolecule saves more than a hundred million lives a year? How can we use images to transmit, in an interesting way, the importance and development of heparin over the last hundred years? How can we make something audiovisually comprehensible which is so small that we can’t see it, but which yesterday, today or tomorrow could save any one of our lives? It’s taken months of research, trying to understand and a great deal of reading, and complete immersion in the medical, clinical and industrial manufacturing worlds. In these fields, when it comes to making sure that others, through you, understand what you’ve already had to make sense of, I’m certain that being a novice is more of an advantage than a hindrance.
It’s been a fascinating project, not just because of realising how important heparin has been over these last hundred years, but for what we’ve learned in trying to disseminate this knowledge in the most educational and simple way possible.
The most exciting and enriching aspect on a personal level – which I often find – has been the constant awareness that behind every discovery, scientific advance or story, there are people. I’ve observed time and again that no matter how important the story we’re telling – in this case heparin – only people’s passion and enthusiasm can push us forward as a society. I’ve found such passion in many places: surrounded by cutting-edge scientific instruments at Bioiberica; at the Ronzoni Institute in Milan; in the medieval town of Maastricht; at Barcelona’s Hospital de San Pau and the Germans Trias Hospital in Badalona; and in the middle of a livestock farm in Lleida, to name a few locations included in the documentary. These important locations would contribute nothing were it not for the people we found there, including Dr. Coen Hemker, Dr. Juan Carlos Souto, Carlos Grande, Vicens Novell, Joan Bassa and Marco Guerrini, people who on a personal or professional level have influenced us with their passion for their work and for heparin specifically. There are too many people to name them all here, but thanks to each and every one of them we’ve developed understanding, knowledge, respect and admiration for heparin. We’ve also learned to appreciate and value heparin through their work, which is more a passion than a job.
All of this came together to gradually fill the ‘blank screen’ with magic, content and information. If the documentary succeeds in conveying all this to whoever watches it, we’ll have achieved our goal. And I’ll continue believing that one of the best rewards of my job is having the luxury and pleasure of sharing encounters – albeit short – with people who can teach you so much on a human and professional level. With people as passionate as they are, I don’t doubt for one second that heparin will continue to save millions of lives for years to come.
Anna Botta, R&D technician, Bioibérica Plant Physiology
“Agriculture both contributes to climate change and is affected by climate change. The EU needs to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture and adapt its food-production system to cope with climate change.” This was the warning given by the European Environment Agency at the end of 2015, to which were added the following observations:
- Flowering and harvest seasons for cereal crops are now happening several days earlier.
- Extreme heat waves and reduced rainfall and water available hamper agricultural productivity.
- Interannual crop yields are increasingly varying due to extreme weather events and other factors such as pests and diseases.
- Nitrogen-based fertilisers release nitrous oxide emissions and also nitrates to soil and water bodies.
This is why, at the Plant Physiology division of Bioibérica, we are convinced that bioestimulants can play an important role in the fight against climate change, precisely because of their mode of action. These products also take into account the plant metabolism and act on the physiological mechanisms of the crop to increase the resistance and the recovery of the plant in abiotic stressful situations, maintaining the balance between biostimulation and the provision of nutrients during the most critical times for the crop.
Being natural products composed of different raw materials with synergistic effects, biostimulants are also an alternative attempt to reduce the use of plant protection products such as pesticides. Our range of natural plant defence inducers are alternative products, which aim to early and largely promote the plant’s own defences against pathogen infections. In this way, a reduction is achieved in both the number of applications and the dose of plant protection treatments. This translates into less chemical wastes.
Our aim is to continue working for a sustainable agriculture and for the farmer to have the tools needed to adapt to the new conditions and demands of the market, both environmental and technological.
The Spanish biotech sector is in good shape, a message being perceived this week at the Biospain 2016 event organised by the Spanish Bioindustry Association (Asebio) in Bilbao: over 1,500 executives; 50 investors, 700 businesses and 3,000 partnering meetings.
The eighth edition of Biospain has a clearly international and public-private cooperation focus, as Asebio general manager Ion Arocena emphasised yesterday, and has drawn representatives from over 26 countries (guest country USA). Plus many news outlets are devoting their pages and social networks to the meeting, including Cinco Días which said that investors are seeking out Spanish biotechs.
“The Spanish biotech industry conveys a positive message: entrepreneurship, internationalisation and innovation,” said Francisco Javier Garzón, CEO of the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX) at the opening event. However, as Ion Arocena went on to say, it “requires economic and political stability. We have success stories. What’s missing are consistent long-term efforts”.
Heparin centenary reaches Bilbao
The 100 years of heparin, which Bioibérica is promoting this year with an extensive programme of international activities, is continuing at Biospain.
How? At our stand and organising an exclusive presentation of the cooperation agreement between the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), the ISGlobal Barcelona Institute for Global Health and our company to study new strategies based on the creation of new heparin derivative compounds to fight malaria.
The collaboration stems from research work by Dr. Xavier Fernández, director of the Nanomalaria Unit at IBEC-ISGlobal. “We have discovered that heparin has an antimalarial activity and is more affordable thanan antibody,” Dr. Fernández told a packed press conference yesterday.
Congratulations to the Asebio team for the excellent organisation once again of the biennial biotech event in our country.
Can happiness and well-being be measured? The answer is yes and thanks to Big Data it is a reality. In the video at the top of this page, Professor Martin Seligman tells us the details.
A few years ago, we here in Bioibérica put into place “Bioflow“, a training programme which all the employees follow regularly in order to improve their personal strengths and maintain a positive attitude. The programme is based on positive psychology, a discipline which scientifically studies what is it that makes people or communities feel fulfilled, happy and actualized. In the video at the top of this page, Professor Martin Seligman, the founder of this discipline, tells us about its origins.