Home' Technology Review : May June 2007 Contents divers shouldtheyneedto returnto the
site to collect further samples.
After the samples a re scanned, small
shavings are tested for antitumor proper-
ties. But the invertebrates aren't the only
species tested; all the bacteria and fungi
colonizing the creatures are cultured
and tested as well. Scientists evaluate the
potential of tens of thousands of sa mples
each year. When one shows promise in
combating tumor growth or killing
tumor cells outright, the molecule
responsible is isolated and patented, and
then chemists develop synthetic versions
of it. Those new compounds then begin
the same dr ug-testing path as all other
potential cancer drugs.
Today, the company has 250 employ-
ees working on all aspects of drug dis-
covery, identification, synthesis, and
testing. One compound, Yondelis,
which is derived from a tunicate named
Ecteinascidia turbinata, is close to
receiving approval for treatment of soft-
tissue sarcomas. Yondelis is also being
studied for the treatment of ovarian,
breast, and prostate cancer. Four other
compounds are in earlier testing phases.
And according to Cuevas, a handful
more a re promising, though she says it's
too early to be specific.
"If we pass the European authorities
and begin marketing the dr ug, this will
be an important moment," says Cuevas.
"It's important for the company, because
it will be the first pharmacological drug
that PharmaMar puts out on the ma rket.
It's important for the ma rine-science
com munity, because it will be the first
marine cancerdrugonthe market.And
in general, it will show that this isn't a
crazy idea, as people thought when Dr.
Fernández-Sousa started. It will dem-
onstrate that the sea can be an important
source for new dr ugs."
Growing New Companies
Though Spain has a number of home-
grown phar maceutical companies, as
well as a few companies formed in past
decades that focus on biotechnology, the
most significant increase in companies
formed has taken place in only the last
One of the most prominent examples
of this new growth is Genetrix, formed
the Spanish biotech trade association
ASEBIO). Genetrix spun off from the
CNB in 2001, when Garmendia
realized that while Spain produces a
significant amount of quality research,
there were limited paths to commercial-
ization. She came to an agreement with
the Spanish Research Council to buy a
number of patents. The company began
acquiring patents and building a base of
widely varied services and research.
Today, Genetrix has given rise to seven
other spinoff companies.
"When I first joined, a year ago, we
had 50 or 60 employees," says Claudia
Jimenez, whoisin charge ofthe compa-
ny's corporate development. "We're
already up to 100. And every month
there are two or three new faces in the
In new labs being constr ucted for the
spinoff Cellerix, the most advanced
company in the Genetrix family,
researchers walk around covered from
head to toe in white, with white caps
covering all exposed hair. They're pre-
paring a new lab to work with adult stem
cells. This is the only company in Spain
with the authority to produce stem cells
suitable for use in medicine.
Cellerix has two different lines of
research. One, in clinical trials, uses
stem cells from fat tissue commonly
found in the abdominal region to treat
complex perianal fistulas. There is cur-
rently no tr uly effective treatment for
these fistulas, which occur when an
opening forms between two passages in
the body in the course of a variety of dis-
eases, particularly Crohn's disease. "The
only treatment today is surgery, and in
most cases the fistula reappears after
surgery," says Gabriel Marquez, vice
president of research at Genetrix. "Plus,
the surgeon almost always has to cut the
sphincter muscles, so there's practically
a 100 percent guarantee that the patient
will suffer from incontinence."
In the treatment that Cellerix is
studying, adult stem cells a re isolated
from the patient through liposuction,
cultivated, and then implanted in the
patient. In trials, this therapy has healed
the r uptures. This is one of the most
advanced studies using adult stem cells
from easily obtained lipids (as opposed
to bone marrow, for example) for thera-
A second line of Cellerix's research,
also in clinical trials, is devoted to the
rare skin disease epidermolysis bullosa,
in which patients lack a critical protein.
Special Advertising Section
PHOTOS COURTESY OF IRB©
Above: One of IRB Barcelona's labs
analyzes dysfunctional liver cells.
Below: IRB Barcelona researchers
study a benign colorectal tumor, outlined
in green, to prevent its spread.
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