Twenty years of biomedical research excellence in Barcelona

By March 24, 2023April 22nd, 2023CRG

Luis Serrano, Director of the BIST centre CRG, has celebrated the twenty-year anniversary of the research centre as a modern success story made possible by political ambition and goodwill. The comments were made this week at a special symposium organised at the Parc de Recerca Biomedica de Barcelona (PRBB) to mark the CRG’s twentieth anniversary.

Twenty years ago, Catalonia decided to think big and bet on the creation of world-leading research institutes that would generate knowledge and transition the economy from one based on sun-and-sand tourism to one that creates new technologies and businesses that can compete at a global scale. I think we’ve succeeded at that,” said ICREA Research Professor Luis Serrano.

At the same time, Dr. Serrano used the symposium to warn that, despite the success of the Catalan research system, there is a danger of complacency that affects research competitiveness and ultimately leads to lost opportunities in the creation of new technologies, jobs, and economic prosperity.

Multiple factors exist which threaten the world-leading but fragile research ecosystem we have built in twenty years. Public funding remains lower than it should be to remain competitive, biotechnology start-ups lack the appropriate research facilities to move into and venture capital doesn’t take the same risks over here than in places like the US. Addressing these factors can go a long way in fulfilling the dream of Catalonia becoming the California of Europe,” he adds.

The Centre for Genomic Regulation first began operations in provisional research labs back in September 2002. Since then, the CRG has recruited more than 1,100 scientists from a total of 60 different countries. A total of 248 administrative staff members have supported the CRG during this same period.

In terms of funding, the CRG has accrued a total of 524 million euros over twenty years. 131 million euros is provided by the European Commission alone, and around half of European funding is provided by the prestigious European Research Council, a research programme that supports the highest level of scientific excellence in the world.

Around 300 PhD students have defended their theses at the CRG, and the institute’s training programme has organised just under 300 internal courses for 4,200 participants, as well as 55 advanced courses for more than 1,200 participants from all around the world.

The CRG’s public engagement and schools education programme – ranging from school workshops to science exhibitions – has organised and participated in almost 20 thousand activities over the past twenty years, reaching roughly 300 thousand people since the institute was founded.

There were 3,800 CRG research papers published over the past twenty years, with four in five articles being under Open Access, meaning they are available online, free of access charges or other barriers. Two in three CRG research papers are co-authored with international collaborators, and the average research paper is cited 68 times.

Since its foundation, innovators at the CRG have launched five different start-ups, generating 110 jobs and raising more than 33 million euros in private capital. This includes Seqera Labs, a data orchestration company started by CRG scientists which raised 22 million euros in a record-breaking Series A round of financing late last year.

A look back over the last twenty years

To commemorate the occasion, we gathered the founding Director of the CRG, Miguel Beato, and current Director Luis Serrano for a candid conversation on the history of the Centre for Genomic Regulation. You can see the conversation in full on our YouTube page:

Important milestones over the CRG’s 20-year anniversary:

The CRG begins operations in provisional research labs in September 2002
In September 2006, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) launches a joint research unit with the CRG
In December 2006, the CRG moves into its permanent headquarters at the newly-built Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB)
In June 2011, Luis Serrano takes over as Director from Dr. Miguel Beato, founder of the CRG
In April 2017, EMBL opens its sixth site in Barcelona thanks to its longstanding partnership with the CRG
In April 2020, the CRG mobilises labs and volunteers for mass testing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic
In October 2022, the CRG and EMBL launch the ‘Barcelona Collaboratorium for Modelling and Predictive Biology’, a new coworking space for visiting scientists

Learn more on the CRG website