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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, June 2010
WEB Exclusive story

Fledgling Biotech Firm Finds
Andalucia Attractive

By John W. McCurry
Javier Velasco is CEO of Neuron BPh
Javier Velasco is CEO of Neuron BPh

euron BPh, an up-and-coming biotech firm now based in Granada, Spain, is a spinout of research at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid. The company's CEO, Javier Velasco, says when the time came to start up his company, it was more appealing to move south to the Andalucia region of Spain, which has placed great emphasis in developing life sciences.

"At the time we decided to set up the company, the Granada Health-Science Technology Park was developing," Velasco says. "We decided to move here because we trusted the regional government of Andalucia that there would be a focus on innovation in the health sector. I think we did right. We are convinced that companies like ours should be around a scientific environment, close to hospitals, close to public research centers. We came from Madrid and we are very happy here. We have received a lot of local support. So far, so good."

Velasco says support for his company has come in the form of local and regional government grants.

"The government helped us to have a better business plan," Velasco says. "They gave us patent applications support so we didn't have to go to Madrid."

Neuron is currently one of about 50 companies operating in space in the park's Business Innovation Center, and also occupies other space in Granada, but the company has plans to develop a larger, 4,000-sq.-m. (43,000-sq.-ft.) building in the park.

"We plan to begin construction after the summer," Velasco says. "It will be a larger building and will have space for all of our labs, our offices and even animal facilities. We will also have room for growth."

Velasco says Neuron will continue to have a U.S. presence at its commercial office in Jupiter, Fla. The company currently employs 40, including 30 full-time researchers. When the new building opens in 2012, Velasco expects his staff to be around 80.

The Granada Health-Science Technology Park has a major expansion effort under way, including a $245-million plan at the University of Granada for construction of the new buildings of the Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Dentistry and Health Sciences (Nursing, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy) as well as a Central Services Building. These buildings will house more than 100,000 sq. m. (1 million sq. ft.) of space.

Also opening soon is a new building for the Andalucian Center of Excellence for Research into Innovative Medicines (MEDINA), which hopes to become a center of international reference in the drug discovery areas of infectious diseases, oncology and immunomodulation.

Solutions for Humans and for Industry

Neuron BPh has two divisions: Neuron Biopharma, which is focused on the discovery and evaluation of drugs and nutraceuticals to prevent and treat neurodegenerative diseases, especially Alzheimer's disease; and Neuron Bioindustrial, which is devoted to develop bioprocesses for pharmaceutical, chemical, agro-food and biofuel applications. 

Velasco says Neuron Biopharma specializes in the first step of development of novel compounds and conducts preclinical studies.

"Our objective is to go to phase 1 and phase 2 clinical studies in humans and after that license the product," Velasco says. "It's the classic biotech model. In our BioIndustrial divison, we develop bioprocesses using microbial strains. We have a large library of microorganisms. We develop bioindustrial processes for our uses and for other companies. That has allowed us to have revenue from the first year. We broke even last year and we will have a continuous line of income very soon."

Neuron goes public this week. Velasco says Neuron will be listed in a specialized Spanish market (Mercado Alternativo Bursatil) for small tech companies and will be the first biotech company in the market.

Neuron's first product in the pipeline, through its BioIndustrial division, is Microbiotools, which uses the residues or by-products of industrial processes as feedstock to develop added-value compounds. One of the products is called MicroBiOil, a process to transform surplus glycerine into biodiesel. Neuron recently signed an agreement with Spanish energy company Repsol to pursue projects of joint interest.

A Neuron researcher is pictured in the company’s current lab space at the Granada Health-Science Technology Park.

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