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Alfons Nonell-Canals, founder and CEO de Mind the Byte, openning session of SciCloud 2016 (Photo: Mind the Byte, © Sergi Cámara).

Pharma companies innovate through talent management and tech transfer

The fourth SciCloud (Scientific Cloud Conference) event held by Mind the Byte, in collaboration with the Barcelona Science Park (PCB) and CataloniaBio, on the 30th of March focused on the innovation models that four emblematic Catalan pharmaceutical companies (Uriach, Ferrer, Kern Pharma and Reig Jofre) use to compete on the global market and on how technology transfer is being successfully promoted through initiatives like Tech & Business Innovation (TBI) and at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. 


SciCloud 2016, which brought together roughly one hundred researchers and professionals from the life sciences arena, coincided with the fifth anniversary of the bioinformatics firm. CEO Alfons Nonell-Canals remembered in his presentation, “I founded Mind the Byte at a very difficult time, in 2011, right in the middle of the recession. In late 2014, Inkemia IUCT Group joined the project. We’ve channelled the business well and, although many people told us that SaaS for drug discovery wasn’t a feasible model, we’ve always been committed to it, to doing ground-breaking things and to innovating in terms of business model and technology.” Today Mind the Byte is marketing its SaaS worldwide and will soon launch a new generation of software, which the company will debut at BIO-Europe Spring in Stockholm and Bio-IT World Conference & Expo in Boston between the 4th and 8th of April. 

Mind the Byte was created and is growing at the Barcelona Science Park. PCB Head of Business Development Jordi Quintana says the park is now a benchmark in generating knowledge in southern Europe, home to 50 companies and organisations including the CataloniaBio association of companies and Biocat.

A few months ago, at the yearly meeting of the Medicon Valley Alliance, which Mind the Byte is a member of through its Danish subsidiary, “I went to hear Lars Tvede speak. One of the points he highlighted, apart from innovation being a driving force for advancement, was that small countries innovative more, small companies are more innovative and large corporations innovate when they create small teams to generate knowledge,” explained Nonell-Canals.

Uriach, innovating through talent management

In the same vein, at the plenary session Uriach CEO Oriol Segarra explained that innovation in the company and its strategic plan for the coming years is based on talent management. They set the goal of posting turnover of 150 million euros in 2017. To do this, the whole team must be involved: “We don?t just set goals. What?s behind it? We want to inspire people. It is essential to create a circle of trust in which we say what we mean and are relatable.”

Segarra believes that “sometimes we need a bit of strategic storytelling. We’ve been working on five strategic elements: purpose, attitude, aptitude, results and leadership.? Regarding this final point, “If we can’t convey passion, optimism and energy, things won?t go well even if the ideas are great.” 

Steps forward for technology transfer

We can’t speak of innovation in the pharmaceutical industry without debating the current situation of technology transfer in our country. Are we investing enough? “Surely not. And we can’t compete with other European countries. Only 1.5% of companies in Spain actively seek out universities,” explained Marc Ramis, entrepreneur, board member at several companies and CEO of Tech & Business Innovation (TBI).

In this area, we’re seeing a paradigm shift: TTOs are being called on to be sustainable. In recent years, we’ve achieved academic excellence with a great impact on scientific production, which is channelled through patenting, “but licencing income at Catalan universities between 2007 and 2011 was only 4.4 million euros, when an English university can see 6 million euros in just one year.” 

Ramis also believes we must make the industry see the value of TTOs. “In order to foster a sense of community between academia and enterprise, we?re promoting joint actions with the Polytechnic University of Valencia, including joint innovation ventures with companies based on their needs,? he explained. They have also created a TT Translational Fund endowed with 6 million euros, registered with the Spanish National Securities Market Commission, which will invest in university projects over the coming three years.

The cases of Ferrer, Kern Pharma and Reig Jofre

The debate finished off with a round table featuring Andrés G. Fernández, director of Ferrer Advanced Biotherapeutics; Clara Campàs, Strategy and Development director at Kern Pharma, and Isabel Amat, head of Business Development at Reig Jofre. The discussion was moderated by Marta Príncep, director of the Technology Department at Bellavista and member of the Mind the Byte board of directors. 

Pharmaceutical company Reig Jofre is firmly committed to forging external collaborations to complement internal innovation, aligned with their strategies. They have encountered one handicap: “We’ve found that when you’re looking for projects, they are presented in a way that doesn’t clearly define the target profile, or what new contribution they make,” explained Isabel Amat. Amat also mentioned, “The cost of research has skyrocketed, healthcare systems demand we take sustainability into account as well as patient care, and keeping up with the pace of innovation, which is growing at an exponential rate, is difficult.” 

“Diversifying business channels, diversifying geographically and diversifying in innovation over the past few years,” was how Andrés G. Fernández summed up the company’s business model. The most important point is that “we’re lacking valorisation. A good example of this is the Centre for Genomic Regulation, which is investing in taking over projects from the researchers so they can go into industry.” 

Clara Campàs once again stressed the importance of people. In order to get on-board with innovation, “We must ask people to have an open mind and to help us drive this cultural shift.” 

The event came to a close with a few words from Ignasi Biosca, president of CataloniaBio; Mariona Sanz, director of the Business Innovation Unit at ACCIÓ, and Arcadi Navarro, secretary of Universities and Research for the Government of Catalonia, who highlighted Mind the Byte’s innovative capacity and that it is a clear example of what companies should be. 

Arcadi Navarro had words of encouragement for companies, saying “it’s all about being disruptive, empowering scientists”, while Mariona Sanz highlighted the support ACCIÓ offers companies starting out in the science and technology arena, such as Mind the Byte, and that in programmes like H2020 “we’ve been very successful not only because of our scientific abilities but also thanks to our business savvy.” In this regard, Mind the Byte received an SME instrument from the European Commission in 2015 to carry out a project on big data and personalised medicine. 


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