In the last decade or so, Spain’s biotech industry has grown dramatically, with international investors increasingly interested in the country’s scientific landscape, turning it into one of the most competitive industries globally.
In 2019, the Spanish biotech sector invested more than €940 million ($1.06 billion) in R&D, doubling the amount in 10 years. And, in 2020, total funding for biotech in the country exceeded €150 million ($168.5 million).
In addition, the country hosts BioSpain, which is one of the largest international biotech events in southern Europe, and attracts large crowds from within the industry. In fact, it is expected that there will be more than 2,000 participants, including 800 companies from more than 30 different countries, at this September’s event, which will take place in Barcelona – Spain’s premier biotech cluster.
So, with the biotech sector booming, here we take a look at the top five currently based biotech companies in Spain, listed in alphabetical order.
Aelix Therapeutics is a clinical stage biotech company based in Barcelona, in northeastern Spain. It is a spin-off of HIVACAT – a Catalan program for the development of therapeutic and preventive vaccines against HIV – and focuses on developing new therapeutic vaccines 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. Immunogens – called HTIs – are based on the observation that T-cell responses to certain regions of HIV are enriched in people with a non-progressor clinical phenotype. Therefore, HTI brings together these beneficial areas in one vaccine.
Earlier this year, Aelix announced positive topline results from the AELIX-003 trial, which evaluated the safety, tolerability, immunogenicity, and efficacy of the company’s vaccine in combination with a Gilead-studied Toll-Like Receptor 7 (TLR7) agonist – vesatolimod (VES) – in people with HIV taking antiretroviral therapy.
Based in Madrid, the capital of Spain, Algenex is a private biotech company developing disruptive technologies to increase the production of recombinant biology. Its proprietary technology is based on the Baculovirus vector expression system (BVES) in insect cells, and focuses on animal and human health.
Spanish Biotechnology has two proprietary platforms, called Top-Bac and CrisBio, which have been developed in response to industry challenges in biological production; namely, development time, scalability, flexibility, and cost.
BVES can significantly increase the speed and versatility of expression of various protein families, enabling faster development times for protein-based pharmaceutical or diagnostic products.
Several years ago, Algenex inaugurated a new vaccine manufacturing plant in Madrid, which has the capacity to produce up to 100 million doses of vaccines for 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 new biologic therapies aimed at initiating cell metastasis and lipid metabolism to treat advanced cancer.
The company has created humanized antibodies to make its drug candidate, ONA-046, potentially 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 those that promote metastasis. When found on these cells, CD36 triggers cancer invasion and migration, because it allows cells to absorb fat molecules for 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 to start clinical trials for its top candidate in the coming years.
Oryzon Genomics is a public clinical stage biopharmaceutical company focused on developing personalized, innovative epigenetic drugs 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 is a key biological determinant for cellular differentiation and function, and transcriptional imbalance plays 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 involved in the regulation of the expression of many genes that are important in the onset and development of cancer and central nervous system (CNS) disorders.
Headquartered in Spain, the biotechnology 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 was developing a gene therapy for Stargardt’s disease, which is a rare genetic eye condition that occurs when fatty material builds up in the central part of the retina, called the macula. This disease primarily affects children and young adults, causing vision loss.
Since Stargardt’s disease is caused by a change in the ABCA4 gene that is – at 6.8kb – too large for a single adeno-associated virus vector (AAV) to package sufficient genetic material to treat it, SpliceBio focused on harnessing the potential of intein to overcome this limitation.
Inteins are a family of proteins that perform a process known as protein splicing, linking peptides together to form new proteins, and the company’s co-founders are able to develop separate inteins engineered for therapeutic use.
By 2022, the biotech company raised €50 million ($52.7 million) in oversubscribed series A funding, which will be used to help move its lead program for Stargardt disease into phase 1 of clinical development.