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Jordi Naval (Photo: © Fundació Bosch i Gimpera).

Jordi Naval: “I think both researchers and companies should expand their scope of vision and ask themselves where they are headed”

Jordi Naval takes over the management of Fundació Bosch i Gimpera (FBG) with a clear objective: building a climate of trust and interaction among researchers, investors and the productive fabric. A very ambitious challenge that Naval faces with the skill and resolution that his double 'expertise' as both, a scientist and entrepreneur, has given him.


Naval, who holds a BSc in Pharmacy from the UB and a BSc in Biochemistry from the UAB, has co-founded six companies in the field of health: Infociencia, Anaxomics, Enemce Pharma, Genocosmetics, HIV-Therapeutics and Aelix Therapeutics, a spin-off arising from the Hivacat consortium that has just clompleted a a Series A funding round of €11.5 M to promote the development of the first  therapeutic vaccine to cure HIV infection. Mr. Naval also chairs of the Entrepreneurs School Foundation since 2010.

Now, as head of the FBG, and from its headquarters at the Barcelona Science Park (PCB), Mr. Naval intents to “shake out the innovative ecosystem” so that the wealth of scientific and technological production of universities and research centers in Catalonia is transformed into “wealth and benefits for society.”

– Firstly, we would like to know what your first impression was as the new director of the Fundació Bosch i Gimpera…

The people. I was pleased to join a fantastic team of committed and talented professionals, with a significant level of know-how.

– Who would you value the more than 30-year history of the FBG?

We are a benchmark in the Spanish State in technology transfer. From the 10 projects managed by an amount of 480,000 euros in 1984 we have gone to 620 projects in the amount of 28.5 million euros in 2015. This expansion was possible thanks to the hard work of many professionals and managers of FBG, with a clear strategy led by the University of Barcelona.

In any case, the UB (similar to other Catalan universities) still has much potential to explore in terms of transfer and innovation. If we take as the outset that we are in the Top 10 in any indicator of the quality and excellence of research, we must recognize that the indicators and innovation indicators that measure impact (patents, licenses and spin-offs) still need to reach higher positions in the rankings if we are to compare ourselves with other universities in the European setting.

– Based on this context, what challenges have you set for yourself as head of the institution in the short and medium term?

The FBG has to boost the innovative ecosystem by promoting close work and interactions between different agents to accelerate the impact of innovation in society and, from the Fundació Bosch i Gimpera, we have to the professional catalysts and main driving force of such interactions.

We want to encourage a climate of trust between researchers and the productive fabric. In this way, research will have more impact on society. The overall goal is to ‘shake out’ the ecosystem and foster interactions and collisions; we want researchers and research groups to interact -both of which have a huge potential- with us and also with scientific entrepreneurs who speak a similar language, with investors, with potential buyers of the developed technologies and with companies. We will play an active role in this interaction and will act as mediators to serve the needs of all parties.


– Although only a few months have passed since you were appointed to this post… Have you already launched any new projects that you would like to highlight?

On the one hand, with the English charity Medical Research Council Technology (MRCt), we have launched the “Call for targets” program, which offers researchers from IRB Barcelona and UB the change to participate in collaborative projects aimed at the development of small molecules or monoclonal antibodies against therapeutic targets, sharing both the risks and the economic retorns  of this projects with its partners.   

On the other hand, we have also launched the Health & Bio Team Dating, an innovative annual meeting that connects science and business with the aim of creating new business ventures in the form of fast or “speed dating” events. This pioneering initiative in Catalonia, met on December 3, gathered about sixty researchers and CEOs with the aim of bringing together the reality of researchers and entrepreneurs for a common purpose: to create new companies in the field of health.

– The FBG develops what is referred to as third mission of the University: to enable the scientific and technical capabilities and research results generated in academia reach the market. How do you assess the capacity, in terms of knowledge transfer, of the UB?

With regard to the activities of knowledge transfer including the establishment of spin-offs, patents, agreements with companies and science parks activities, according to data provided by the LERU (the League of European Research Universities), the University of Barcelona generated a contribution of 205 million euros to the Catalan Gross Value Added (GVA) and 5,119 jobs; 270 million euros to the Spanish GVA and 6,590 jobs;  and 338 million euros to the European GVA and 8,250 jobs. These indicators demonstrate that the UB is a cornerstone of the Catalan and Spanish economic fabric. Furthermore, for every euro it receives, the University of Barcelona generates 4.97 euros to the European economy.

The UB and the public higher education system are getting exceptional results in terms of quality of research. Therefore, the starting point is strong. However, the results in the indicators of innovation and transfer still have much room for improvement. Looking to the future, this allows us to be optimistic and expect a growth in the transfer of knowledge and innovation, in terms of not only financial impact but also social impact.

– Recent reports reveal that Catalonia has a rich scientific and technological production of quality. But it appears that the transfer of this knowledge to the production setting continues to be ‘a pending subject’ in the Catalan Innovation System…

All of this is unfortunately true today. In terms of scientific production and efficiency, Catalan universities and public centers stand high in the ranking, as reported by the latest report issued by the Association of Catalan Public Universities (acronym in Spanish ACUP), and as reported in previous reports. A good example of this is that the impact of the publications of the Catalan public universities is 33% higher than the world average.

Yet, data relating to knowledge transfer do not reflect the same positive trend. The wealth generated by this research is much lower than what we ought to merit.

For example, the University of Leuven in Belgium has an annual turnover of 88 million euros in patents and licenses, while, according to the report of the ACUP 2015, the total turnover in Catalonia is only 0.5 million. Besides the fact that indicators are fully comparable, what is clear is that there is enormous growth potential in Catalonia and at the UB in particular.


– What is, in your opinion, the main obstacle or ‘bottleneck’?

This question is difficult to answer. I think both researchers and companies would need to expand their scope of vision, and ask themselves where they are heading.

Many researchers want their research to reach people, sometimes in the form of new drugs, or by solving technological problems or problems with the consumers. The question is: once it is demonstrated that research works … How can I get my product to market? How can I benefit society? Many times one ought to consider that the best way to do this is through an existing company or by participating in the creation of a new one.

Conversely, companies that need to innovate in order to grow should be more open to imagination and envision how excellent university research can be transformed into value proposals for them. To achieve this goal, companies have to approach researchers without fear and help them add value to their research.

In short, the bottleneck is the result of mutual ignorance, distrust, lack of common vocabulary and lack of opportunities for constructive collaboration. These spaces need not be physical, but can be in the form of seminars, partnering events, information workshops, mentoring programs by entrepreneurs or experienced scientists, challenge sessions, etc., a whole variety of dynamization activities that we, here at the FBG, want to implement.

And obviously, also the third leg is needed, which is access to funding, both public and private, but, strictly speaking, I do not think that is a limiting factor in the growth of innovation.

– What would it take to change this situation?

First, we must incentivize both parties to engage in this interaction. On the one hand, by stimulating the offer (transferable university research) and on the other, by stimulating demand (companies that can absorb innovation). On its own, research will hardly make it to the market and create wealth, but it is also true that Catalan companies (mostly SMEs) will struggle to innovate without any kind of support. A healthy balance and continued contact with the main actors in the system should always be borne in mind.

We must be aware that the situation will not change in two days. It takes years and patience, but we need to have a very clear idea of where we want to go. It is a long-term strategy, but society deserves the effort to have the excellent results in research be transformed into wealth and benefits for the population.