From football field to factory of the future

Closeness is key to Barcelona's successful investment in biomedical research. In addition to access modern equipment, the researchers are close to clinical environments, to students and to each other.

Three large buildings next to each other at the beach in Barcelona physically symbolize the philosophy, with Barcelona Biomedical Research Park as a research hub in the spectacular building of 55,000 square meters – fully leased.

– Fifteen years ago, this place was a football field. Now, there are seven independent biomedical research centres grouped together in a building with 1,500 scientists from over 50 different countries on site. The location is strategic. Next door is the university hospital, and here is also one of the city’s universities with a specialisation in biology and medicine, says Dr. Reimund Fickert, who is project and communications manager at Barcelona Biomedical Research Park.

The entire building is shaped to facilitate cooperation and promote synergies between researchers.

– There are no barriers between the different research centres; we have an open floor plan to facilitate contact, but also to make the advanced equipment available to all.

Reimund Fickert points out the importance of meetings between people.

– You cannot simply put together different parts of a cluster and believe it will look after itself. Proactivity is required to create creative environments. In our experience, social contacts and meetings are powerful means of development.

To that end, Barcelona Biomedical Research Park is trying to encourage that, in particular by organising some 300 conferences per year and about 30 courses open to all, but the research park also has its own orchestra and organises a popular beach volleyball tournament every year.

The focus is entirely on academic research. There are no incubators, commercial spin-offs or start-ups.

– There are others who do that better. That is also one of my key messages: focus on what you do best. In our case, it is academic research, where we can attract top skills from around the world.

And the research centre has generated a ripple effect for the region.

– We attract talent to Barcelona and have created many attractive jobs in biotech. We see a knowledge transfer between our biomedical research and the clinical practice at the hospital and it works in both directions.

Reimund Fickert is one of the participants at the UniverCITY Partnerships Conference in Stockholm and Uppsala, 12 to 14 October and he sees the knowledge transfer between different regions and cities as an important part of the conference.

– We can never copy the success stories of others. There is no recipe for success. However, we can learn from, and be inspired by, how others have faced different challenges, he says.