IRB Barcelona celebrates 10 years of achievements in biomedicine


On Monday 26 October, the “Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona” is to host an IRB Barcelona scientific symposium chaired by its director, Joan J. Guinovart, and the president of the External Advisory Committee, Joan Massagué.

The programme for the 10th Anniversary Symposium combines scientific talks in the morning and sessions addressing science-related topics in the afternoon—the latter including an institutional session with members of IRB Barcelona’s Board of Trustees, Health Minister Boi Ruiz (chair) and Dídac Ramírez (vice president), rector of the University of Barcelona.  This will be followed by two round tables involving high-profile public figures.

October 2005 witnessed the signing of an agreement to set up the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) as a centre founded by the Government of Catalonia. Ten years later, on Monday 26 October, members of the IRB Barcelona community will be leaving their facilities at the Barcelona Science Park behind and heading for the “Centre de Cultura Contemporània (CCCB)”, where they will celebrate the achievements made during these ten years. The commemorative session will be chaired by members of the IRB Barcelona's Board of Trustees, Health Minister Boi Ruiz (chair), Minister of Economy and Knowledge Andreu Mas-Colell, and rector of the University of Barcelona, Dídac Ramírez.

10 years of excellence

With 1,814 scientific articles published over its  ten years—90% in journals of high impact—IRB Barcelona has become a centre of reference—an achievement reflected by the Severo Ochoa Award of Excellence, which was granted to the institute in the first call in 2011.

“From its very outset, IRB Barcelona has pursued excellence relentlessly,” explains Joan Guinovart, who emphasises that “the main key to our success has been giving sufficient support and generous funding to our scientists, especially to young researchers, in order to allow them to freely develop their ideas and make the most of themselves”.

Working around an interface between biology, chemistry and structural and computational biology, the 23 laboratories at IRB Barcelona address basic research projects on biomedical problems of socioeconomic impact, with a special emphasis on cancer, metastasis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and rare diseases.

Joan Massagué, adjunct director of the centre until 2014 and current chair of the External Advisory Board, a body that guides the scientific strategy of the institute, comments on the way in which IRB Barcelona’s policy has hit the mark by “constant external evaluation of scientific performance, a flexible system based on merit, a healthy and respectful environment between members and an exceptional administrative team. This is in addition to the strong political and financial support from the public and private and public organisations, the confidence of which IRB Barcelona has known how to gain”.

Over 10 years, IRB Barcelona has conducted almost 400 research projects, 77 of which international, and has obtained 10 projects funded by the European Research Council (ERC), the most important European funding agency for research of excellence. With respect to innovation, the centre has created 3 spin-offs, identified more than 80 technologies with transfer potential, applied for 30 patents, licensed 8 technologies for the market, and signed more than 100 collaboration agreements with companies operating in the sector.

In the coming years Joan J. Guinovart envisages an IRB Barcelona in tune with the development of the recently founded Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology, which brings together six top centres in Catalonia. “In order to take a major step forward, IRB Barcelona must now contribute to making The Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology a European reference for research. The future looks promising,” he states.

A day to celebrate

The programme for the IRB Barcelona 10th Anniversary celebration includes scientific talks by outstanding speakers in fields related to the institute’s research in the morning and sessions devoted to science-related topics in the afternoon.

The morning session will kick off with a talk by Hans Clevers, from the Netherlands, one of the most outstanding researchers in biomedicine worldwide, holder of a Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize, and international leader in adult stem cell research. Professor Clevers is also the founder of Hubrecht Organoid Technology, a Dutch Foundation that includes the first biobank of mini-organs grown in vitro for the personalised treatment of various kinds of cancer.

The other keynote speakers will be Wei Yang (NIH, USA), Maria Leptin (EMBO, EMBL), and François Diederich (ETH, CH).

The morning session will also involve two Alumni, David Vilchez and Jens Januschke, scientists trained at IRB Barcelona and who now have their own labs in Germany and Scotland respectively. The morning will draw to a close with the presentation of the IRB Barcelona Alumni Network, which includes 734 researchers and staff belonging to 38 nationalities who have passed through the doors of IRB Barcelona over these first ten years.

The afternoon will first be devoted to a commemorative session, followed by a round table debate on the scientific policies needed to guarantee excellence in Europe. This session will involve individuals who have headed or head reference centres in Europe and the United States: minister of Economy and Knowledge, Andreu Mas-Colell, director of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), Maria Leptin, vice-president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Israel Ruiz, and president of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health of the United States, Maria Freire.

Next on the agenda and serving as a closing session, a debate on creativity and innovation, chaired by Antoni Bassas, a journalist with the newspaper ARA, will be held between three leaders in various fields, Joan Massagué, director of the Sloan Kettering Institute, Ferran Adrià, founder of the elBulliFoundation, and Toni Segarra, advertising executive and director of the agency SCFP, which has designed high impact campaigns.

IRB Barcelona’s 10th anniversary event is sponsored by Eppendorf, Bruker, Vitro, Biolab and Made of Genes.