The new and the old

Ersilia is joining the Barcelona Health Hub, a digital health center located in the architectural ensemble of Hospital de Sant Pau

Miquel Duran-Frigola
ersiliaio
Published in
3 min readJan 29, 2023

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Aerial picture of the Sant Pau Art Nouveau site. Source: Sant Pau Recinte Modernista.

I’ve seen the following verse by the Catalan poet J.V. Foix being overused, overemphasized and even butchered multiple times: M’exalta el nou i m’enamora el vell. I should probably be ashamed of using it once again — it is the type of cultural excerpt you learn at high school, so it doesn’t say much about my archive of poetry. It is, nonetheless, a spectacularly precise verse (I’m exalted by the new, enamoured of the old), an appreciation of a certain sensibility you will find in Barcelona and, I must defend, in all of Catalunya. On the one hand, a comfort and connection with everything that is aged and rooted. On the other hand, a quasi-childish admiration for novelty, technology and experimentation.

I’ve struggled with J.V. Foix’s verse since we launched the Ersilia Open Source Initiative. We’ve been either remote or itinerant, we’ve been growing a virtual community of contributors, and we work on artificial intelligence applied to drug discovery for neglected diseases. So we’ve pushed the ‘exalted by the new’ side of the verse quite far. It is probably the only side that is applauded (funded) in this world but, as it happens, I don’t think an average Catalan can reach fulfilment without the other one.

This may explain why, while working on/at Ersilia, my living habits have become somewhat perplexing. For example, during my non-traveling periods, I’ve moved back to my parent’s house in rural Catalunya, in a 13th Century house in Pujarnol (near Banyoles), which is obviously the most beautiful place, but also a self-contained universe, historically uneventful and with softly assumed Christian values. So deep into tradition that it is even unaware of it. Not the kind of place you go and reflect about Global Health, decentralised communities or decolonisation in science.

Can Sotirà, my parent’s house in Pujarnol. Picture by Josep Duran.

I hope this brings context to my excitement about a new development at Ersilia. We are settling our organisation in the Hospital de Sant Pau, a historical landmark—not the oldest, but no doubt the most characteristic healthcare building in Barcelona. No need to talk about modernist (Art Nouveau) architecture here, I wouldn’t do a good job: Sant Pau’s touristic website is good enough, with some text and hyperlinks. More specifically, Ersilia is joining the Barcelona Health Hub (BHH), an assemblage of biotech and health companies. There is an emphasis on digital health, on promoting collaboration, disseminating progress and becoming a meeting place, all of which we care about. We are grateful that our small non-profit has been welcomed as a member of the BHH Association — we have a lot to learn from the start-up culture, and from all actors at the interface between the public and private healthcare sectors. Our office space will be in the Sant Manuel Pavilion within the Art Nouveau Site, an unthinkably unique place:

Architectural ensemble designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner in Catalan modernist style.

I have a very positive gut feeling about this next step. It feels natural and necessary after so many months of digital life. We have plans to grow our team— I am glad we can now offer ‘enamourment’, and not only ‘exaltation’, to interns, volunteers, collaborators and supporters.

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Miquel Duran-Frigola
ersiliaio

Computational pharmacologist with an interest in global health. Lead Scientist and Founder at Ersilia Open Source Initiative. Occasional fiction writer.