David Ricart «The pharmaceutical industry has turned to the university to see what we are doing»

David Ricart is a project manager at CEREMET, the Centre for Research on Metabolism of the Faculty of Biology. This group was created fifteen years ago, just as the biotech ecosystem was emerging, and that was a good move.

What does the research group do?

We have always focused on lipid metabolism, on its regulation, on how it works in different physiological situations, and so on, and this has led us to research lines related to morbid obesity, bariatric surgery and associated diseases such as diabetes, and heart conditions. This is the group’s core research activity, but for almost fifteen years we have also been conducting research for third parties as a scientific and technical service. We do this through CEREMET, the Centre for Research on Metabolism. We offer all the group’ s expertise and know-how in terms of methodology, consultancy, and management mostly to the pharmaceutical industry.

How do you collaborate with industry?

Over the years, we have mainly worked with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies through CEREMET. For example, for the past four years we have worked with a client on animal models to develop formulations for the progressive release of drugs. The aim is to generate a kind of drug deposit under the skin through a polymer that allows a slow, progressive, and controlled release of the drug. In this project we provide the animal model, its management and sampling, and they perform the analysis.

Moreover, in order to register new products with drug agencies, companies must have the full composition profile of said products. What we provide here is our ability to analyse, for instance, the lipid composition profile required for the registration.

However, we do not merely offer technological and methodological support for the analysis, but also provide support for the preliminary design, the follow-up of the execution, and for the decisions that may be taken subsequently.

Moreover, and this is very important, all our activity is developed under a quality management system certified according to the ISO9001 standard, which is highly valued by companies.

CEREMET also offers a service of animal experimentation

Yes, in this department we have a special room for animal experimentation. It is a subunit of the Animal Experimentation Unit of the Faculty of Biology whose management was delegated to us. This facility allows us to offer to our clients a place where they can keep their animals while we do the maintenance and handling, while they can also perform their own protocols. This is one of the strengths of CEREMET, especially since the pharmaceutical industry has outsourced a lot of facilities in recent years to reduce costs. So, when they have to conduct an experiment, we take care of buying the animals, the maintenance, and all the necessary documentation. We also carry out the procedure, sometimes in cooperation with the company. This is one of the characteristics of CEREMET: on the one hand, experience in animal experimentation and, on the other, the possibility of offering a very flexible service to clients that is adapted to their workflows.

What does collaboration with companies offers to you as a research group?

Sources of research funding have been reduced in recent years, and very often public calls for proposals have limitations as to what you can spend the money on. Financing for active ingredients and equipment is generally available, but it is difficult to obtain financing for personnel. We always had that problem, and in the end human capital is the most important thing. Therefore, it is obvious that there is a clear economic motivation in the collaboration with companies, but from a strategic, non-profit point of view. It’s like a cycle. Throughout its history, our group has accumulated the know-how, expertise, and methodologies that CEREMET now offers to third parties. With the money we get from these third parties, we buy equipment that allows us to access new methodologies and to train our staff, which in turn has a positive impact on the group’s research.

Do companies now approach the University more often to hire its services?

In the past, companies had everything in-house. Pharmaceutical companies had their own large facilities, from compound synthesis laboratories to clinical departments to carry out trials. In order to reduce costs, all this has been outsourced and new service companies have emerged. At the same time, the entire biotech ecosystem has developed. The whole environment has changed, become richer, and diversified.

We started fifteen years ago, just when all this was beginning to emerge. And it was a good move, because somehow we started to make ourselves known when companies started looking for experts in areas of knowledge and methodologies they needed for their development. The pharmaceutical industry has somehow turned to the university to see what we are doing. The university generates knowledge, and the industry generates value. In a way, industry has turned to Academia in search of this knowledge that is being generated. This has been noticed even by the Administration, which is promoting this public-private relationship through, for example, the RETOS-Collaboration programme. Everyone has realised, more or less quickly, that industry needs Academia and that Academia also has an opportunity in industry to do new things and to get funding.

How important is knowledge transfer?

Knowledge transfer is important for both university and industry, but it is also important for society. In the end, Academia is a public entity to which all of us, as a society, contribute money for the generation of knowledge. If people see that this knowledge has a return, they value it. When research was only academic and did not reach out to society, people did not. As researchers, we are very much aware that we want to generate knowledge and discover things, but I believe that we also have to consider how this knowledge and these can be transferred and be useful to society. However, it should also be borne in mind that researchers and universities are not prepared to finish developing a product. We must be clear that when we have an idea we have to turn to industry to see how useful it is. This dialogue must exist. Sometimes an idea can be very good, but its industrial development may not be feasible.

More about David Ricart

The best advancement in history: As a biochemist, the human genome marked a turning point for me.

The worst advancement in history: For me, discoveries are neither good nor bad on their own, only their applications can be qualified as such. For example, the military application of any scientific development is a bad application.

What would you like to see: In the developed world we invest a lot of effort in treating diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s, while in some underdeveloped countries they are dying from diseases related to such basic things as hygiene or water sanitation. The gap is too big. What I would like, in a rather utopian scenario, is for scientific advances to somehow reach the whole world.

The FBG is… a key support, not only for administrative tasks, but also in everything that is needed to reach companies, to know how to work and how to approach the relationship with them. I have personally learned to understand the language and the way companies work thanks to the staff of the Foundation.


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