Gate2Brain, INBRAIN Neuroelectronics, and Pulmobiotics, three start-up companies from the BIST Community, have received nearly 7 million euros in funding from the European Innovation Council to support the development of their respective technologies. The companies were founded at the the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona), the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), and the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG), respectively.
Gate2Brain and INBRAIN Neuroelectronics have each been awarded through the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator programme, which supports small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular start-ups and spinoff companies, to develop and scale-up game-changing innovations. Pulmobiotics was awarded through the EIC Transition Challenges programme, which supports further development of promising results generated by EU-funded projects, including the European Research Council’s Proof of Concept grants.
Gate2Brain, a spin-off developed by IRB Barcelona, the University of Barcelona (UB), and Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute (SJD), has a patented technology based on peptides (small proteins) that efficiently cross biological barriers, such as the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain. As if they were molecular shuttles, these peptides can carry drugs that unaided cannot reach the brain to cure it. The first indication that will benefit from the technology is in the field of pediatric brain tumors.
As Dr. Meritxell Teixidó, CEO of Gate2Brain, explains, the 2.5 million euros received through the EIC Accelerator programme will contribute to advancing the preclinical regulatory studies of their drug G2B-00. This development is being conducted in collaboration with the Sant Joan de Déu Pediatric Hospital and targets brain tumors with intact barriers. In two or three years, these results will open the doors to a clinical trial.
“Man has dreamed of traveling to the brain for decades and, in fact, science fiction has dedicated books and films such as Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage. Gate2Brain’s dream is to improve the health and quality of life of people suffering from central nervous system diseases by improving drug delivery to the brain and treating it” says Dr. Teixidó. She also adds that “today, just before Christmas, that dream is one step closer thanks to funding from the EIC Accelerator.”
INBRAIN Neuroelectronics, a spin-off company launched by ICN2 and ICREA, is at the intersection of Medtech, DeepTech, and Digital Health, and aims to develop medical solutions based on graphene technology for application in patients with neural-related disorders.
The EIC Accelerator will provide INBRAIN substantial financial support with grant funding (non-dilutive) of €2.5 million for innovation development costs, as well as a direct equity investment of up to €15 million, managed by the EIC Fund, to drive the world’s first graphene intelligent brain network platform towards commercialisation.
In addition, as an EIC-selected company, INBRAIN will receive coaching, mentoring, access to investors and corporates, and other business acceleration services as part of the EIC community.
“After the support of the European Graphene Flagship programme that helped maturing our innovative graphene technology, the backing from the EIC call demonstrates the potential of this technology in revolutionising neurotechnology and scaling to levels where European and worldwide patients could benefit for a variety of neural related disorders” says Dr. Carolina Aguilar, CEO of INBRAIN Neuroelectronics.
“We are excited to use this grant to further advance our research and development in unlocking the full potential of the unique graphene properties as ideal material for neural interfaces that require both recording and delivering safe and effective stimulation” comment Dr. Jurriaan Bakker and ICREA Prof. Jose A Garrido, CTO and CSO of INBRAIN Neuroelectronics respectively.
Researchers at Pulmobiotics, a start-up founded at CRG in 2020, have begun work on a ‘living medicine’ to improve the efficacy of lung cancer treatment. The research proposal has been selected through the latest round of the EIC Transition Challenges and will be supported with 1.9 million euros of funding.
In recent years, a class of drugs known as immune checkpoint inhibitors have become standard of care for treating non-small-cell carcinomas. These drugs are a type of immunotherapy, a treatment that uses the body’s natural immune system to eliminate cancer cells. They block the action of proteins called immune checkpoints, which normally keep the human immune response from being too strong; when these proteins are blocked on immune cells such as T-cells, it frees them to attack cancer.
Despite the effectiveness of immune checkpoint inhibitors, they don’t work for every patient and their toxicity can cause serious side effects. Patients with advanced non-small-cell carcinomas often fail to respond to the treatment or develop resistance only after a few months, leading to disease recurrence. Less than 25% of patients survive beyond a five-year period.
Researchers at Pulmobiotics plan to overcome resistance to immunotherapies in lung cancer by combining it with a ‘living medicine’, a treatment that consists of a modified bacterium repurposed to activate the immune system in and around the tumour. Conventional drugs that treat tumours often also target healthy cells and tissues. Unlike these treatments, a ‘living medicine’ can be engineered to travel straight to the disease site, where it can set up shop like a temporary factory, producing a variety of therapeutic molecules.
The researchers believe that this ability for local and sustained production could be key to improving the efficacy of lung cancer treatments. Their ‘living medicine’ will produce molecules that would normally be too toxic if used throughout the body, but that when produced locally stimulate the accumulation of immune cells in the tumour without affecting healthy tissues.