Skip to main content
< Back to news
Image: Barcelona Science Park.

The public centres of the Barcelona Science Park, at the forefront of frontier research and innovation

2022 was a year of progress for the centres, institutes and public research groups present at Barcelona Science Park (PCB) in terms of generation of knowledge, transfer of technology, management of innovation and financing. All R&D&i activity generated by these entities consolidate the PCB as one of the most powerful and most valuable European ecosystems related to the area of health.

In 2022, the institutes, centres and public research groups of Barcelona Science Park moved €50M between public (€40M) and private capital (€10M).

The Biomedical Research Institute of Barcelona (IRB Barcelona) -occupying 5,462 m2 in the Park in 2022, with 28 research groups, 9 scientific platforms and over 400 people dedicated to research -executed a total of €17.5M (€11.1M of public funding and €6.4M of private financing).

The Bioengineering Institute of Catalonia (IBEC) -occupying 3,828 m2 with 23 research groups and 286 researchers – achieved a total of €15.1M (€12.3M of public funding and €2.8M of private financing).

The National Centre of Genomic Analysis (CNAG) -occupying 1,401 m2 with 16 groups, and a scientific team of 80 professionals- obtained €10.6M (€10.1M of public funding and €0.5M of private financing).

The Institute of Molecular Biology of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC) -occupying 2,032 m2 with 35 research groups and 132 researchers raised a total of €0.9M (€0,6M of public funding and €0.4M of private financing).

Standing out within the institutes, laboratories and research units of the University of Barcelona (UB) present at the Park, is the Technological Unit of the Institute of Cosmos Sciences (ICCUB-Tech), which raised €4.2M and the group of the IBUB Molecular structure of nuclear receptors which raised €0.7M. Finally, the UB Biomolecular NMR Group (BioNMR Group) -recognised by Generalitat Government of Catalonia- raised €0.8M and the Laboratory of Metabolic Dynamics in Cancer of the UB obtained €0.2M.

“It is difficult to summarise in one document all the activity carried out in the research centres installed in the Science Park. The scientific production, transfer of technology and innovation generated in just one year in our installations pushes us to continue making the best installations available to our entities to continue promoting this eco-system of health and life sciences, which is already a reference in Europe”, highlights Maria Terrades, director of the Barcelona Science Park.

Scientific production and transfer of technology

The public groups and centres in the Park presented a total of 26 priority patent applications and expansions: IBEC (12), IBMB-CSIC (8), and IRB Barcelona (6).

Regarding the management of information arising from the patents, a key element of the innovation process, IRB Barcelona signed two licensing contracts for its patented technologies in 2022, and IBMB-CSIC signed one.

The research of all the centres also had a great impact on the scientific community, with a total of 587 publications in prestigious international magazines in their field of research: IBEC (239), IRB Barcelona (182), CNAG (77), IBMB-CSIC (56), ICCUB-Tech (21), the group of IBUB Molecular structure of nuclear receptors (5), the UB- Biomolecular NMR Group (4) and the UB-Metabolic Dynamics in Cancer Group (3).

New research groups and recruitment of talent

2022 saw the creation of two new research groups at IBEC: Biomaterials for neural regeneration, led by the Severo Ochoa Distinguished Professor Samuel I. Stupp, director of the Simpson Querrey Institute (Northwestern University, USA; and the group Bioinspired interactive materials and protocellular systems, led by ICREA Research Professor César Rodríguez-Emmenegger, junior group leader at the DWI-Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials (Aquisgran, Germany).

For its part, IBMB-CSIC incorporated five new research groups, four of them led by Ramón y Cajal research personnel: Artificial Intelligence for protein design (Dr Noelia Ferruz); Epigenetics and Metabolism (Dr Marcos F. Pérez Browne), Structural Systems Biology (Dr Héctor García-Seisdedos) and Synthetic Structural Biology (Dr Ulrich Eckhard); which are joined by the group Cell dynamics focusing on immunity, morphogenesis/regeneration and mechanobiology, led by the Serra Hunter Lecturer at the UB, Dr Esteban Hoijman.

Disruptive technologies, a strategic asset

At the Molecular Imaging for Precision Medicine laboratory at IBEC, led by Irene Marco, a HyperSense, dynamic nuclear polarisation equipment for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) was installed, the only one in Spain and one of the few throughout Europe. This equipment can improve the signal up to 10,000 times compared to a conventional NMR procedure and enables cellular metabolism to be studied in real time.

In 2022, the CNAG considerably increased the equipment at the centre, incorporating, among others, devices for the sequencing of individual cells, Chromium Connect and Chromium X (10X Genomics); a FACS flow cytometry system (Becton Dickinson) to isolate the cells; new technologies to carry out direct DNA/RNA sequencing experiments on tissue: CosMx (Nanostring) and Vutara (Bruker), as well as a large number of complementary laboratory apparatus. It also increased its data processing capacity with the incorporation of storage disks with a capacity of 4.8PB (3.5PB net) and 4,736 computing cores.

Finally, the UB-Biomolecular NMR group installed and started up the 1 GHz NMR Equipment in 2022, thanks to an €8.9M grant awarded to the University of Barcelona by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the NextGenerationEU fund in 2021. This is the first equipment in all of Europe and second in the world —after Japan— that uses high temperature superconductors to generate magnetic fields in a 1 GHz NMR instrument. With such high magnetic fields it achieves a very important increase in resolution and sensitivity, as well as a significant reduction in data acquisition times. This will be a big boost for the structural and dynamic study of complex biomolecules.

Scientific research of excellence

The public groups, centres and institutes at the Park once again made clear their commitment to their pioneering collaborative research and high global impact.

During 2022, as a whole they participated in a total of 1,414 national and international research projects and networks: IRB Barcelona (238), IBEC (137), IBMB-CSIC (53), CNAG (48), ICCUB-Tech (5), the UB-Biomolecular NMR Group (3); the UB-Metabolic Dynamics in Cancer Group (2) and the IBUB Molecular structure of nuclear receptors Group (2).

Each and every one of them worked extremely hard due to their commitment to developing projects that contribute to improving people’s health and quality of life.

• In 2022, the CNAG achieved very significant advances, one highlight being that achieved by a team led by Ivo Gut, leader of the Biomedical Genomics Group and Director of the CNAG, and Marta Gut, head of the Sequencing Unit, which developed, together with VHIR, a new method for sequencing the human mitochondrial genome which could be introduced in the future as a general test for the clinical diagnosis of patients who have mitochondrial diseases. In 2022, the GPAP platform, created at the CNAG, enabled the re-analysis and re-assessment of genomic and clinical data of people with rare neurological pathologies and for these to be shared with the research and medical community all over Catalonia; the research, led by Sergi Beltran, head of the Bioinformatics Unit, within the framework of the URD-Cat initiative, constitutes an important milestone to putting an end to “the odyssey of diagnosis” of people affected by rare diseases. The CNAG also continued to participate in it is a key part of consortiums such as the European Reference Genome Atlas (ERGA), which is carrying out the sequencing and assembly of the genome of many species around Europe, and it also actively participates in the Catalan Initiative for the Earth Biogenome Project (CBP), the aim of which is to create a detailed catalogue of the genomes of various endogenous species. The Unicellular Genomics team took part in a study coordinated by IDIBAPS-Clínic Barcelona-UB researchers, which reveals that the cells responsible for the progression of leukaemia are already present at the time of diagnosis, offering new strategies for their treatment. The CNAG also contributed to an international study, led by the UAB, which describes how the three-dimensional structure of the genome and its function in the diversification of mammals has evolved, providing high performance sequencing data. More information on the CNAG website [+]

•  During 2022, the IBEC continued merging science and engineering to promote active ageing, the medicine of the future and regenerative therapies, in a very special year marked by its 15th anniversary. A team led by Juan M. Fernández-Costa and Javier Ramon-Azcon, from the Biosensors for Bioengineering laboratory, developed a “multi-organ-on-a-chip” to study the communication between the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin and those of the muscles, a powerful tool to develop and test new diabetes drugs. A project led by Elena Martínez, leader of the Biomimetic Systems for Cell Engineering group, in collaboration with the Bacterial Infections: Antimicrobial Therapies group, led by Eduard Torrents, developed a 3D model of the human intestine that mimics the characteristics of the intestinal mucous and its surface. An international team, co-led by ICREA Research Professor Samuel Sánchez, leader of the Smart Nano-Bio Devices group, and by César de la Fuente-Núñez, from the University of Pennsylvania (USA), created nanobots to fight against bacterial infections able to autonomously carry bactericidal peptides (small proteins) to the infection site. Another international team, led by the ICREA Research Professor Pau Gorostiza, leader of the Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches group, and Tobias Moser, Director  of the Institute for Auditory Neuroscience of the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG), developed the first light-controlled drug (photodrug) that could improve the hearing of people with cochlear implants. A research project led by Elisabeth Engel, leader of the Biomaterials for Regenerative Therapies group, developed a revolutionary biomaterial called bioink to generate a human breast tumour through 3D bioprinting, opening the doors to the development of more personalised therapies. More information on the IBEC website [+]

• IBMB-CSIC continued promoting research of excellence during 2022 in a broad spectrum of life sciences, specifically in structural biology, genomic regulation, cellular biology and cellular development. A project led by researcher F. Xavier Gomis-Rüth, head of the Proteolysis laboratory, identified a molecule, neprosin -which is found naturally in the digestive fluid of the carnivorous plant Nepenthes ventrata– as a promising channel for the treatment of coeliac disease, as it could counteract the effect of the toxic peptides that cause the disease. Another project, led by Enrique Martín Blanco, describes a predictive model of the mechanics of the morphogenesis of the nervous system of Drosophila which could help understand equivalent events in the human nervous system. A team led by Dr Martí Aldea, leader of the Spatial control of cell cycle entry group, revealed the relationship between the Mad3 protein and the control of the size of cells, on which the scale and effectiveness of most molecular processes that take place there depend. A research project into Drosophila, led by ICREA Research Professor Gerardo Jiménez, head of the Gene expression and signalling group, revealed the functions of the shortest variant (Cic-L) of the Capicua (Cic) proteins -involved in human neurological syndromes and cancer- which have been a mystery for years. Finally, an international project must be mentioned, led by Dr Isabel Usón, head of the Crystallographic methods laboratory, which provides new structural and genetic data to characterise isoforms from natural sources, using its amino acids assessment tool, Sequence Slider. More information on the IBMB-CSIC website [+]

•  During 2022, the IRB Barcelona made significant progress in the research into cancer and metastasis and disorders related to metabolism and ageing, and in the fundamental understanding of the mechanisms underlying health and disease. A team led by ICREA Researcher Dr Eduard Batlle, head of the Colorectal Cancer laboratory, identified the population of residual tumour cells responsible for the reappearance of colorectal cancer in other organs; Scientists from the Cellular Plasticity and Disease laboratory, led by ICREA Researcher Dr Manuel Serrano, showed that inducing senescence in cancer cells improves the effectiveness of the anti-tumour immune response, to a greater degree that the dead cells that are commonly used. An international consortium, co-directed by Dr Eduard Batlle, revealed the pre-clinical data of MCLA-158, aimed at cancerous stem cells of solid tumours, establishing the bases for incorporating the use of organoids in the drug discovery process. The Structural Bioinformatics and Network Biology laboratory, led by ICREA Researcher Dr Patrick Aloy, developed a computational tool to integrate and harmonise the large quantity of available biological data, which provides information on how the different biological entities relate to each other, including over 30 million functional interactions. As an approach to personalised medicine, the study of the Genome Data Science laboratory, led by ICREA Researcher Dr Fran Supek, proposed that the “mutational footprints” of the repair of DNA are a promising predictive genetic marker to specify which tumours will respond to certain therapies. More information on the IRB Barcelona  website [+]

Within the IBUB, Dr Eva Estébanez’s team, leader of the Molecular structure of nuclear receptors group, made important advances in the study of the superfamily of nuclear receptors through various biochemical and biophysical techniques such as X-ray crystallography and surface plasmon resonance (SPR). Among them, a project stands out which revealed the great plasticity of the glucocorticoid receptor, its great potential to design more selective drugs and with less side effects than those generated by classic corticosteroids. In another study, this team showed that oleic acid is an endogenous metabolic ligand of TLX -a key regulator of transcription relating to cervical, breast and prostate cancer and leukaemia-, a discovery that opens unexplored drug paths to counteract cognitive and mental deterioration in ageing and diseases associated with the reduction of neurogenesis. A research project of the group on the connection of the human androgens receptor and AR-NTD -the incorrect folding of which is involved in prostate cancer and Kennedy’s disease– opened an innovative channel for drug discovery applications. In 2022, Dr Estébanez’s team also made important discoveries related to the aetiology of spinal muscular atrophy and the genes SMN1 and SMN2, with great potential for the design of new therapies. And in another project, the group showed that the study of the interaction between the mineralocorticoids receptor and the glucocorticoids receptor could be of clinical interest for the treatment of inflammatory diseases and related to auto-immune diseases of the skin. More information on the website of Dr Estébanez’s group [+]

The ICCUB Technology Unit (ICCUB-Tech), focussed on the development of instrumentation for high energy physics, astrophysics and space projects, and big data processing systems, continues working in a very prominent role on international projects as relevant as the Gaia and Solar Orbiter missions of the European Space Agency; the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) experiment of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), at CERN; as well as in other multi-national scientific collaborations, such as the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO) and VIRGO, and national ones, such as the NewSpace Strategy of Catalonia programme, of the Generalitat Government of Catalonia. Among its main advances during 2022, highlights include obtaining the European PetVision project for the creation of a PET scanner (Positron Emission Tomography); the participation in technological developments in the format of application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for future experiments at LHCb and for gamma ray telescopes (CTA); the development of an integrated circuit (BETA ASIC) for space applications that will be installed on the China Space Station (CSS); and the publication of the third catalogue of the Gaia mission, with high precision astrometry of 1800 million stars in the Galaxy. More information on the ICCUB-Tech website [+]

In 2022, the UB Biomolecular NMR Group (BioNMR Group)- affiliated to the Inorganic and Organic Chemistry Department of the UB- which studies the formation and remodelling of protein-protein interactions, and their crucial function in regulation processes, created the interinstitutional consolidated group between Alba-CSIC-UB of Integrative Structural Biology; and the Integrative Structural Biology network. Among its most relevant publications, a study stands out in which they showed that a disordered region of the Src protein regulates its oncogenic capacity. The team discovered this region, called ULBR, thanks to the tools provided by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), a technique in which the UB is at the forefront. The project was carried out with experts in colorectal cancer from the University of Montpellier (France). More information on the BioNMR group website [+]