ICREA researcher Roger Gomis, head of the Growth Control and Cancer Metastasis Lab, has recently been awarded a 2016 "Knowledge Industry Grant" (Producte), by the Catalan Government’s Agency for Management of University and Research Grants, for the further development of a therapy for the treatment of breast cancer. His 18-month project, "Lipid targeting in breast cancer", aims to obtain a monoclonal antibody, based on a well-defined molecular target, that is suitable for patient treatment and to complete its pre-clinical development phase.
“This grant allows us to turn the genetic models that we have used in the project, into potential therapeutic tools and to demonstrate that we can obtain a certain phenotype in mice. If the project is successful, we'll take it to the next level”, says Roger. It could bring about a change in clinical practice and an improvement in the prognosis and management of breast cancer patients, and in life expectancy.
“When it comes to turning a successful laboratory project into a drug, access to capital is crucial. Without the right investor, even the biggest breakthrough will not reach the market,” says Roger. As a founder of Inbiomotion, a spin-off of IRB Barcelona and ICREA launched in 2011, he is not only tenacious but also adept at raising funds for his projects.
Roger set up Inbiomotion with the aim to develop biomarkers to predict bone metastases from biopsies of primary tumours. Here, he explains what setting up a spin-off is all about.
The first thing is to write good patents. If you make a very important discovery and just present it at a congress, then you will not be able to patent it. The examiners will tell you that you have already published it, and investors have to make sure the projects they invest in are not going to be copied. Capitalizing on such a discovery costs millions of euros. Biotechnology investments can involve considerable risk, and the expectations of return on investment are high.
That’s when institutions step in. Sometimes, to keep the patents, you have to use your own resources. No one is going to invest in something that you don’t believe in yourself.
Failure, as long as you have done things in a reasonable way, is acceptable. Investors understand that there is an inherent risk in biology, and if a clinical trial doesn’t work, you are not penalized.
When you make a discovery and plan to transfer the technology, you may need to start experiments or proof-of-concept to make sure it has a potential application. At this point, it is useful to have access to certain grants. In our case, Inbiomotion was made possible because in 2008 Ysios Capital Partners came to Catalonia and raised 100 million euros to invest in biotechnology. Nowadays, even more funds are available, and they attract the attention of European investors.
Not really. Science is an end in itself. In fact, at IRB Barcelona we channel our efforts into understanding the biology of processes and do not take a commercial approach. It is later on that we consider whether a project meets a medical need.
If science limits itself to answering immediate questions in order to find a practical application, it would never be possible to address other as yet unanswered questions in both biology and other sciences. No one initially thought of using the Internet as a tool for business and banking. It was not conceived as a response to the needs it has ended up satisfying. The same thing happens in biology.
(Written by: Roger Perelló)