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Barcelona’s quest for high impact science

Barcelona’s quest for high impact science

Carla Maté

Innovation Project Manager en VHIR

OpenAI GPT-3

Oscar Guerrero

Predoctoral Researcher en Institute of bioengineering of Catalonia

One of Barcelona’s great strengths is its scientific research.

Researchers in numerous fields have made major advances, pioneered medical treatments pioneered, and developed cutting edge technologies in Barcelona. Science is doubtless one of Barcelona’s main assets.

How is scientific activity in Barcelona funded? 

The city is currently exploring a funding model based on three international benchmarks:

  • The Basque Country model aims to both foster creativity and research and to promote entrepreneurship.
  • The French model strives to reduce bureaucracy and improve the quality of research.
  • The German model aims to ensure the independence of research institutions.

A hybrid model would not be viable without the participation of public institutions, companies, and foundations. Although most research centers benefit from public funding, private funding, largely by companies, is also very important

How successful is scientific research in Barcelona?

Barcelona's scientific output is outstanding in two respects: volume and quality. In terms of volume, research carried out in Catalonia represents almost 27% of the scientific publications produced in Spain. And in terms of quality, this work is published in high-impact international journals such as Nature by Barcelona Global, make a real impact on the community, business, and day-to-day life of the Science. The contributions made by Catalan universities alone have an impact 42% higher than the international average.

Who is responsible for these achievements?

Support for scientific activity in our city comes from several sources. However, it is worth highlighting the leading role of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST), the largest research center in Catalonia and one of the main centers in Europe. Autonomy, excellence, infrastructures and the attraction of talent are essential for making BIST a world benchmark.

If we have (almost) everything, what is the problem?

Although research and development in Barcelona benefits from both public and private investment, the truth is that this investment is not sufficient to catapult the sector to the levels of other European or American countries. For example, the percentage of GDP that Spain allocates to R&D&I (1.41% in 2020) is well below the European average (2.19%), proving that we still need to move towards a model that results in greater impact and added value.

The problem, as is almost always the case, cannot be found in specific components, but rather by understanding the sum of its parts and ensuring that every part contributes its full potential. We have identified the players who are essential for turning the Catalan innovation ecosystem into an international benchmark:

  • The Researchers: currently generate high-level research with an international impact, but they need more extensive training in entrepreneurship and technology transfer to generate the socio-economic impact that investors and the market need to invest in their projects.
  • The Public Administration: is committed to innovation and science and provides different initiatives and competitive funding, but it still needs to adapt to the agility and competitiveness of start-ups if it is to lead the region.
  • Universities and technology centers (together with their transfer and innovation offices) are fundamental for linking science and society and bringing the most innovative technologies and therapies to the market. We must create a more sustainable and impactful innovation approach, adapt processes and build multidisciplinary teams in line with the needs of researchers, investors and the global market.
  • Investors: there are an increasing number of investment funds and “science philanthropists” that specialize in life sciences. However, these resources are not sufficient to meet entrepreneurs’ existing demands, so it is still necessary to develop closer relations with international investment funds. Investors must also be brought closer to the academic world in competitive co-creation and investment environments.

Finally, it is essential to foment an overall culture of innovation that encourages ground-breaking projects, attracts international talent to find the opportunities they need to shine, and enables Barcelona and Catalonia to lead the world.

Note: For the original post in Spanish we drew on a “third author” called GPT-3, a new artificial intelligence tool that generates written language from guidelines, thus using cutting-edge science to create the article.

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