Portugal has a rich biotech ecosystem that is rapidly growing, despite sometimes being ovelooked compared with other countries in Europe. These are the companies driving forth innovation in the country.
In recent years, the biotech industry has boomed in Portugal, with some big success stories inspiring the growing creation of new companies. The most recent is Lymphact, a company developing a cancer therapy based on a type of immune cell known as gamma-delta T cells. The technology attracted an acquisition last year by Gamma Delta Therapeutics in the UK, in a deal for an undisclosed amount that one of our sources called “the most successful exit ever in the biotech sector in Portugal.”
Portugal’s biotech industry is particularly strong in the area of medical biotech, followed by industrial biotechnology. On the medical front, the industry is supported by the presence of Bial, the largest pharmaceutical company in the country, with headquarters in the Porto area.
We dug around and got in touch with biotech experts in the country to gather a list of the most promising biotech companies in Portugal that everyone should know of.
Location: Cantanhede, Coimbra
A spin-off from the University of Porto, Immunethep is fighting the spread of antibiotic resistance. Its technology is based on the discovery of a protein produced by different pathogenic bacteria that shuts down the immune system of the host.
The company is developing a preventive vaccine that blocks this mechanism to confer protection against a range of life-threatening pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics. Immunethep is also developing a therapy based on the same mechanism, and its technology has attracted a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Location: Barco, Guimarães
Stemmatters develops biomaterials to regenerate damage to cartilage tissue. The company is developing a hydrogel to deliver cells to the injury site and retent them there. The material is designed to be injected, offering a minimally invasive alternative to surgery and the use of external fixation devices.
Founded as a spin-off from the University of Minho, the company recently signed a partnership with the British company Gelmetix to create a device to treat acute cartilage lesions using its hydrogel. The goal is to improve the outcomes while reducing the costs and the hospitalization time compared to conventional treatments.
Location: Cantanhede, Coimbra
Biotrend is an industrial biotech company that develops and scales up biotechnological processes to generate a wide range of products. The company focuses on using renewable raw materials to make the processes more environmentally friendly.
Some of the projects Biotrend has taken part of in the past include reducing by 80% the cost of producing an industrial enzyme, brewing fermented drinks from fruit juice, recycling paper waste, and producing pheromones to disrupt the mating of pest insects.
Location: Lisbon and Paris
Operating in both Portugal and France, Neurimm Therapeutics works at the intersection of two fields that are attracting a lot of attention lately, combining microbiome and immune research. The company aims to treat diseases that are caused or mediated by the immune system, including infections, inflammation and metabolic diseases.
The technology, originated at the Instituto de Medicina Molecular João Lobo Antunes in Lisbon, regulates a specific type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells that are involved in multiple physiological processes. Neurimm is one of the companies in the portfolio of Seventure, the first French VC to create a fund exclusively dedicated to companies in the microbiome space.
Biopremier develops and sells DNA test kits for a wide range of applications in the agricultural and food industry. Using next-generation sequencing technology, it can detect the presence of specific organisms in food samples.
The company’s products include tests for the detection of genetically modified food, kits to monitor the presence of undesired bacteria in winemaking, and tests to find specific allergens — like peanuts, sesame, celery, and soy — or specific types of meat, such as horse, goat, turkey, chicken, pork, and beef.
TechnoPhage started off with a technology platform for the development of therapies based on bacteriophages — viruses that infect bacteria. Each bacteriophage kills a specific type of bacteria, making them much more precise than antibiotics, and the viruses can also kill those bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The company is running its first clinical trial with a bacteriophage cocktail that is intended to treat infections causing chronic ulcers.
Over the years, the company has expanded and today it also has a platform for the development of small therapeutic antibodies and another for drug discovery using zebrafish.
With science from the University of Coimbra and the University of Leeds, BSIM Therapeutics uses molecular modelling and cheminformatics tools to find new drugs. The company focuses specifically on a rare disease called transthyretin amyloidosis that is caused by a mutation that leads the protein transthyretin to buildup and cause progressive degeneration of multiple organs and tissues
Its most advanced drug candidate, currently undergoing preclinical testing, is a potent stabilizer of the transthyretin protein that aims to slow down the progression of symptoms affecting the nervous system.
Location: Cantanhede, Coimbra
Exogenus Therapeutics develops therapies aimed at stimulating tissue regeneration. The company was created to develop a technology conceived at the University of Coimbra based on exosomes — the molecular vehicles that cells use to transport molecules across the body.
The company’s first product targets the treatment of chronic wounds that do not respond to conventional treatments, with the goal of reducing the time it takes for them to heal. Other applications further down the line include infections and inflammatory diseases affecting the skin.
Location: Matosinhos, Porto
Fastinov is a company developing fast tests to determine whether a pathogen is susceptible or resistant to antibiotics. Its FAST test (an acronym for flow cytometry antimicrobial susceptibility test) can yield results within 2 hours, which is a significant improvement compared to the standard method used in hospitals, which requires over 2 days.
This technology can help find, rapidly, the best antibiotic to treat a patient with an infection. This can reduce the mortality as well as the costs of caring for the patient, plus it contributes to slowing down the emergence of resistance that happens when patients are treated with the incorrect antibiotic.
Conveniently located in a city near the sea, BioMimetx develops a paint additive against marine fouling — in other words, to keep microorganisms from latching onto and growing on boats. The company offers an environmentally friendly alternative to the toxic chemicals currently used for this purpose.
BioMimetx uses bacteria to produce the additive, which is a mixture of antimicrobials and algaecides. The additive is biodegradable, so that when it inevitably ends up leaching into the water, it degrades within one month.
Luzitin is developing photosensitizing drugs that react to light with the goal of treating cancer. These compounds are used in photodynamic therapy, a procedure in which, using light of a specific wavelength, the drug is activated, releasing toxic compounds that kill the cancer cells and the blood vessels that feed them with nutrients. The main advantage is that the rest of the body is spared by shining the light only where the tumor is located.
The company has successfully completed phase I/II clinical trials proving the potential of the technique and is now looking for a partner to continue the clinical development of the technology. Luzitin is also investigating using the technique to treat acne.
With technology originated at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Nano4 Global develops diagnostic tests to detect DNA and RNA fast and affordably. The company uses gold nanoparticles that interact with the target molecule, turning the solution red if it is present, and turning blue if it is not. Nano4 claims the test can yield results within an hour.
Nano4’s most advanced test in development is for the detection of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. Others in the pipeline include a test for Zika and another for leukemia.
TREAT U is aiming to increase the efficacy of cancer drugs while reducing the nasty side effects that are often associated with them. The company has developed a technology that uses nanoparticles to deliver drugs not only to the target cancer cells but also to the cells of the blood vessels that nourish the tumor.
In preclinical trials, the technology has proved to work on breast cancer cells independently of whether they had the three most common genetic mutations in this form of cancer or not . TREAT U was able to target cells of patients with triple negative breast cancer, the most severe form of breast cancer where the three genes are inactive.
A spin-off of the MIT Portugal Program, SilicoLife uses computational biology to accelerate and optimize the development of microbial strains for applications in industrial biotech. Combining artificial intelligence and synthetic biology, the company designs and engineers molecular pathways for the production of both natural and artificial compounds.
SilicoLife is taking part in a project for the production of the industrial solvent n-butanol from sustainable sources. The company is also part of a EU-funded project to produce over 100 high-value compounds by studying and engineering a molecular pathway that is central to cell metabolism.
Biosurfit develops rapid diagnostic tests that only need a drop of blood from the patient. The company has developed a piece of equipment where the samples are loaded for analysis. Using microfluidics and laser beams, the technology can provide a quantitative measurement of the target molecule.
Biosurfit is selling tests to perform blood count, to monitor the levels of a marker for blood glucose control in diabetes, and to measure a protein that indicates the risk of heart disease and stroke. The company expects to launch soon a new test to measure the levels of different types of cholesterol.
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