In the last decade or so, Spain’s biotech industry has grown dramatically, with international investors taking more of an interest in the country’s scientific landscape, turning it into one of the most competitive industries globally.
In 2019, the Spanish biotech sector invested over €940 million ($1.06 billion) in R&D, having doubled the number in the space of 10 years. And, in 2020, the total funding for biotechs in the country surpassed €150 million ($168.5 million).
Furthermore, the country hosts BioSpain, which is one of the largest international biotech events in southern Europe, and attracts lots of people from within the industry. In fact, there are expected to be more than 2,000 attendees, including 800 companies from more than 30 different countries, at the event this September, which will take place in Barcelona – Spain’s main biotech cluster.
So, with its obvious burgeoning biotech sector, here we take a look at five of the top biotech companies based in Spain today, listed in alphabetical order.
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Aelix Therapeutics is a clinical stage biotech company based in Barcelona, in the northeast of Spain. It is a spin-off of HIVACAT – a Catalan program for the development of therapeutic vaccines and prevention against HIV – and is focused on developing a new therapeutic vaccine for HIV that can be included in cure and eradication strategies.
The company’s vaccine program is based on an innovative T-cell vaccine immunogen design that directs the body’s immune defense to the most vulnerable parts of the HIV virus. The immunogen – called HTI – is based on the observation that T-cell responses to certain HIV regions are enriched in people with a non-progressor clinical phenotype. Therefore, HTI brings these beneficial regions together within a single vaccine.
Earlier this year, Aelix announced positive topline results from its AELIX-003 trial, which evaluated the safety, tolerability, immunogenicity and efficacy of the company’s vaccine in combination with Gilead’s investigational Toll-Like Receptor 7 (TLR7) agonist – vesatolimod (VES) – in people with HIV on antiretroviral therapy.
Based in Madrid, the capital of Spain, Algenex is a private biotech company developing disruptive technologies to boost recombinant biologics production. Its proprietary technologies are based on Baculovirus vector expression systems (BVES) in insect cells, and it has a focus on both animal and human health.
The Spanish biotech has two proprietary platforms, called Top-Bac and CrisBio, which it has developed in response to the industry’s challenges in the production of biologicals; namely, development time, scalability, versatility, and cost.
BVES can significantly increase the speed and versatility of expression of a wide variety of protein families, allowing for faster development times when it comes to protein-based pharmaceutical or diagnostic products.
A couple of years ago, Algenex inaugurated a new vaccine manufacturing plant in Madrid, which has the capacity to produce up to 100 million vaccine doses across animal and human health.
A spin-off of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) and the Barcelona Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), ONA Therapeutics specializes in the discovery and development of novel biological therapies aimed at metastasis initiating cells and lipid metabolism to treat advanced cancer.
The company has made a humanized antibody to create its drug candidate, ONA-046, which has the potential to be more effective than traditional chemotherapy treatments. It is directed against CD36 – a fatty-acid receptor – which is found on the surface of many cells, including cells that drive metastasis. When found on these cells, CD36 fuels the invasiveness and migration of cancers, as it allows cells to absorb fat molecules in order to obtain energy.
In 2020, ONA Therapeutics closed a €30 million ($33 million) series A funding round, which at the time, marked the largest round ever achieved by a biotech company in the preclinical stage in Spain. The company now hopes that it can initiate clinical trials for its lead candidate in the coming years.
Oryzon Genomics is a public clinical stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of innovative epigenetic personalized medicines for the treatment of neurological diseases and cancer.
Epigenetics is the study of how behavioral and environmental factors can cause changes in gene expression without changing an individual’s DNA sequence. Epigenetic switches also occur in normal biological or disease processes. Regulation of gene transcription and translation are key biological determinants for cellular differentiation and function, and transcriptional imbalances play a key role in several human diseases.
Therefore, Oryzon’s therapeutic strategy is to target lysine specific demethylase 1 (LSD1), which is a histone modifying enzyme that is involved in the regulation of the expression of many genes that are important in the onset and progression of cancer and central nervous system (CNS) disorders.
Headquartered in Spain, the biotech company currently has two drug candidates in phase 2 trials, including iadademstat, which is a selective LSD1 inhibitor for cancer, and vafidemstat, which is a CNS optimized LSD1 inhibitor for CNS and psychiatric disorders.
SpliceBio’s initial focus is around developing a gene therapy for Stargardt disease, which is a rare genetic eye condition that occurs when fatty material builds up on the central part of the retina, called the macula. The disease primarily affects children and young adults, causing vision loss.
Because Stargardt disease is caused by an alteration in the ABCA4 gene that – at 6.8kb – is too large for single adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors to package enough genetic material to treat it, SpliceBio is focusing on harnessing the potential of inteins to overcome this limitation.
Inteins are a family of proteins that carry out a process known as protein splicing, sticking peptides together to form new proteins, and the company’s co-founders were able to develop engineered split inteins for therapeutic use.
In 2022, the biotech company raised €50 million ($52.7 million) in oversubscribed series A funding, which will go towards helping it take its lead program for Stargardt disease into phase 1 of clinical development.