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Medicine and the pharmaceutical sector in Barcelona

Medicine and the pharmaceutical sector in Barcelona

Marta Comella

Disease Access Manager at Novartis Oncology

Felix Zink

Sustainability Lead at Bayern

Barcelona has an extremely strong health sector. Encompassing healthcare and the pharmaceutical and bio-hygiene industries, the sector is the second largest production sector in Barcelona after the automobile industry, generating 7% of GDP and more than 230,000 jobs throughout Catalonia. In addition to leading national and international hospitals, the city of Barcelona benefits from an entrepreneurial ecosystem that nurtures innovation in medicine.

During the COVID pandemic the healthcare system has been pushed to its limits, however, and forced to change. Fundamental needs have emerged that are revolutionizing the sector.

Telemedicine and digitalization

La tendencia en auge actualmente para llegar a más pacientes, de forma más cómoda y pese a la distancia es la telemedicina. La videollamada con un médico que nos sonaba a algo del futuro hace unos años, es ahora ya una realidad. Las grandes farmacéuticas empujan fuerte hacia esta tendencia digital y lo ven como un pilar fundamental del negocio del futuro. En la asistencia primaria, por otro lado, los pasos son pequeños y queda mucho aún por incorporar. Pero contamos con un ecosistema muy innovador con startups en el sector de la salud prometedoras. Un ejemplo es Mediktor, una startup barcelonesa que quiere reemplazar al “doctor Google” y poner a disposición de los ciudadanos una herramienta que usa Inteligencia Artificial para hacer pre-diagnósticos y triaje según los síntomas del paciente. Innovaciones como esta pueden aliviar la presión en la atención primaria y acelerar el diagnostico de pacientes.

Precision medicine

Great strides are also being made in personalized or precision medicine, which consists of preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases in a personalized way, i.e. according to the genome characteristics of each patient, the environment in which they live, and their lifestyle. The greatest advances are expected to be mainly in cancer and rare diseases. This is a major breakthrough, as it will enable the development of increasingly specific drugs and reduce their potentially harmful side effects. In 2021, important steps have been taken in this direction: The University of Barcelona has created a new chair in Precision Oncology and the Catalan government has implemented precision medicine in several key public health centers.

“La Universidad de Barcelona creó una nueva cátedra de Oncología de Precisión y la Generalitat ha implantado la medicina de precisión en el sistema sanitario público.”

The main challenge for the healthcare sector in Barcelona

However, these advances and innovations are still not enough to make Barcelona an international benchmark. The health sector is growing rapidly, as is our life expectancy, and in a few years it will be the sector that has the greatest financial impact. Barcelona needs a shared vision of the healthcare ecosystem, one in which investment capital and talent are working towards the same goals.

It is necessary to learn from other healthcare systems, nurture international talent, and set ambitious long-term goals.

“It is necessary to learn from other healthcare systems, nurture international talent.”

It is also necessary to make the administrative and legal system in the healthcare environment more streamlined and eliminate barriers to innovation and international investment, which is essential for growth. At the same time, the transfer of basic science research to the world of healthcare, which is fundamental for medical advances, must be improved. We have good science, an excellent health infrastructure, and large pharmaceutical companies, but we lack a common vision of the future that will make us a benchmark in the health sector and enable us to attract the best talent. We are all responsible for meeting this challenge since we all want to live long and healthy lives. Investment in the health sector means investment in our future well-being.

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