The Biomedical Capacities Support Program (Biocaps) has come to an end having achieved its primary objective, namely to ensure that the Biomedical Research Institute (IBI) achieves a level of scientific excellence that has already been acknowledged by the European Commission. During the final conference for this project, which has been funded by the EU to the tune of 4.6 million euros over the past three years, the next goal for the institute was established as receiving accreditation from the Instituto de Salud Carlos III.
The coordinator of Biocaps, África González, noted that the project “has helped us to design a strategy to ensure that the IBI has greater scientific importance and a better ability to transfer its research findings”. After citing the 86 research lines underway, more than 500 scientists, 70 new projects and 7 patents awarded, González also highlighted the incorporation of talent and purchase of state-of-the-art equipment, in addition to the strengthening of collaborations between researchers at the institute and with other European centres of excellence as some of the successes achieved.
She also included the transfer of results as a result of the patents awarded and a good number of collaborations with industry, dissemination by way of more than 500 papers in high-impact scientific journals and the organisation of seminars and workshops. The project coordinator also highlighted the need for stable funding to be able to build on the goals achieved, especially to consolidate the researchers hired over the past three years.
The Rector of the University of Vigo, Salustiano Mato, noted that the project “brings us very close to achieving accreditation for the IBI, while coinciding with the opportunity to ensure continuity for the roadmap put into place by Biocaps for the IBI” as a result of the collaboration established between the University of Vigo and the regional ministry of health, which has resulted in the establishment of the Centre for Biomedical Research (Cinbio) at the University of Vigo and the recent inauguration of the Hospital Álvaro Cunqueiro.
Looking to the future, Mato emphasised the importance of consolidating all research lines established as a result of Biocaps, thereby continuing to attract talent and retain those researchers already hired as part of the project. “We have to start to plan for qualitative improvements, and this begins by incorporating an engineering profile into biomedical research as we have already started to do in some areas of Biocaps,” he added.
According to the scientific director of the IBI, José Ramón Fernández, Biocaps has had a major impact on the centre, especially as regards strengthening collaborations between basic and clinical research groups and the effectiveness of dissemination actions “which have managed to solve the problem that the IBI had as making itself better known to ensure that its activities are fully understood”.
Fernández highlighted the need for clear and unequivocal support from the regional government and the University of Vigo to consolidate the research lines and scientists incorporated as a result of Biocaps in order to achieve accreditation for the IBI and to further improve the level of excellence achieved.
The regional health minister, Jesús Vázquez, took note of this request and guaranteed that “you will have our full institutional support to ensure that the IBI receives accreditation in a similar manner to the institutes in Santiago de Compostela and A Coruña”. In this regard, he noted the establishment of the Health Knowledge Agency (ACIS), which is now responsible for health research and innovation in Galicia, and reiterated the willingness of the Galician Health Service (Sergas) to provide the university with the resources needed to facilitate and improve the work of its researchers.
During the opening conference, Ana Hidalgo, from the national contact point for the EU Widespread programme for promoting excellence in research centres, informed the audience that Biocaps has been selected as a case study.
The senior researchers hired by the IBI as a result of Biocaps, and whose continuity is considered to be strategic with regard to the future, presented the results of their research over the past three years.
Roberto Agis-Balboa, from the Neuroscience and Rare Diseases area, explained that his work has concentrated on the analysis of conditions such as depression and Alzheimer's disease from an epigenetic point of view in order to develop personalised therapies. The coordinator of this area, José Manuel Olivares, listed a total of 52 papers in high-impact journals, six patents and 18 collaborations with public and private institutions as indicators of the activities undertaken as part of Biocaps.
In the Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases and Immune Disorders area, Luiz Stark explained that his group has been working on an alternative solution to conventional dialysis with the aim of reducing the risk of dialysis-related peritoneal fibrosis. The head of this area, África González, quantified the achievements of Biocaps in this field in terms of a total of 152 papers in leading scientific journals, three patents and one spin-off company.
Eva Vigo, from the Metabolism, Nutrition and Rare and Genetic Diseases area, highlighted the five prizes awarded to her research into the use of animal models in biomedical research, specifically the study of factors involved in diabetes and the close collaborations with other senior Biocaps researchers. Her area coordinator, Federico Mallo, noted that the project has resulted in the number of scientists in his team increasing to 60 and has allowed the purchase of infrastructures and the establishment of new international collaborations.
Pío González, coordinator of the Biomaterials, Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine area, highlighted the fact that one out of every four patents and papers in leading scientific journals achieved in the framework of Biocaps were generated by this area. The senior researcher Miriam López summarised her work over the past three years in the field of biomaterials applied to the regeneration of bone tissue.
In the New Diagnostic and Therapeutic Tools area, Susana Álvarez has worked on the search for, and preparation of, novel molecules that may be of use in the study and treatment of diseases, specifically in carcinogenic processes. The coordinator of this area, Ángel Rodríguez de Lera, noted that Biocaps has resulted in the award of 10 new projects in competitive calls for tender and an annual average of 45 papers in leading scientific journals.
César Veiga, from the Ageing and Cardiovascular Disease area, explained that both himself and Roman A. Kireev, the other senior researcher hired in this area as a result of Biocaps, have worked on highly topical clinical and care needs. As an example, he mentioned a watch-like device they are developing to control arrhythmias.
Transfer and innovation
Beatriz Gil de Araujo, from the Transfer and Innovation Unit of Biocaps, explained the process followed to create a completely new and specific model for exploiting the research results generated by the IBI, with 10 projects currently being guided to market. As she explained, the hiring of staff specialising in transfer management, the incorporation of best practices from other bodies and the training of research staff in innovation are the main tasks of this unit.
Industry was also represented at the final Biocaps conference. Elena Gratacos, an executive at the biotechnology company Janssen (Johnson&Johnson group), explained that the current context, in which only 1 out of every 10 molecules that reach the clinical phase end up being approved, is increasingly competitive, therefore her company has decided to adopt an open innovation model in order to become more efficient by prioritising research areas and collaborating with other companies and universities to share their knowledge and experience.
Andrés Francesch, an executive from Pharmamar, a pioneer and market-leader in the development of drugs based on marine resources, explained the complex process that finally led to the anticancer drug Yondelis, the first of its catalogue of products, being approved and marketed in more than 80 countries.
The coordinator of Biocaps, África González, and the scientific director of the IBI, José Ramón Fernández, closed the conference on a positive note by insisting that Biocaps is merely the seed that will now need to be cultivated to make further progress in this line of excellence in the future.