Oslo Cancer Cluster aims to enhance the visibility of oncology innovation made in Norway by being a significant partner for international clusters, global biopharma companies and academic centres.
– Our goal is to support our members in their effort to attract international partners, investments and successful academia-industry collaborations, says International Advisor Jutta Heix.
Heix is responsible for the cluster’s international initiatives, cluster network and partnering activities.
– Back in 2008, Oslo Cancer Cluster was not visible internationally, and few people knew about oncology innovation in Norway. We began to seek out partners and actively approach international pharma companies and other clusters offering relevant synergies, says Heix.
Building relationships abroad
The relationships thrive on joint initiatives. These include invitations to Norway with tailored programmes, where potential collaboration partners can meet academic teams, start-ups and biotechs. Oslo Cancer Cluster has also joined forces with other hubs and clusters internationally.
One such collaboration is the International Cancer Cluster Showcase (ICCS)  at the global biotechnology gathering BIO International Convention in the US. In 2017, it is arranged for the 6th time, with European and North American partners, including the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, The Oncopole in Québec, The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Medicen in Paris and BioCat in Catalonia.
– This year the ICCS will showcase 24 innovative oncology companies from nine international innovation hubs and clusters. Three of our member companies in Oslo Cancer Cluster will use the opportunity to pitch their products and ideas to a global oncology audience, says Heix.
European and Nordic arenas
Meeting places are important in Europe too, with BIO-Europe, BIO-Europe Spring and Nordic Life Science Days at the top of the list. Oslo Cancer Cluster is the oncology partner at the Nordic Life Science Days. As a region, the Nordic countries are of international importance in the field of cancer research and innovation, especially in precision medicine, and Oslo Cancer Cluster participates in advancing Nordic collaboration.
Oslo Cancer Cluster also engages in more cancer specific European events. One example is the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy Meeting (CIMT), which is the largest European meeting in the field of cancer immunotherapy, also known as immuno-oncology.
– Many of our members are active in the field of immuno-oncology, so for a couple of years we have organized an event called CIMT Endeavour with German partners. The aim here is to discuss and promote translational research and innovation in immuno-oncology, says Heix.
Cancer immunotherapy has had a major impact on cancer treatment and global research and development in the cancer field. The concept took off with the approval of the first immune-checkpoint inhibitor, called Ipilimumab, in 2011. It offered a ground breaking new treatment for melanoma. In 2013, Science Magazine defined cancer immunotherapy as the breakthrough of the year. Since then, immunotherapy has been dominating the agenda of oncology meetings.
Other hot research and development topics are precision medicine and the increased digitization of the health sector. Oslo Cancer Cluster incorporates these topics in the international work, and aims to expand the services it provides for its members. The cluster recently got funding from Innovation Norway to do this, by adding an EU-advisor to the team.
– We want to increase our members’ involvement in EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. The new EU-advisor will help our members identify relevant funding schemes, find partners and prepare the applications, says Heix.
This initiative has already started to show some results. In the spring of 2017, Oslo Cancer Cluster member OncoImmunity AS won a prestigious Horizon 2020 SME Instrument grant , tailored for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). This grant targets innovative businesses with international ambitions — such as the bioinformatics company OncoImmunity.
New meeting places
– Member needs are important for us, as it is for clusters in general. Our network is for the benefit of our members. A good way of leveraging the network, is by creating relevant initiatives and new meeting places – to keep things moving forward, says Heix.
Oslo Cancer Cluster has new international initiatives coming up. One is in immuno-oncology, bringing Norwegian biotechs to the well-established research communities on the US East coast. The biotechs will get training and support, and will meet academic medical centres and biopharma companies in Boston and other cities. This initiative is supported by Innovation Norway’s Global Growth programme.
Another new initiative takes on academic innovation. More good ideas from academia should make it into patents, start-ups and investment opportunities for industry partners.
– Stanford University has a programme called SPARK. We are working with Norwegian partners, including The University of Oslo Life Science and The Norwegian Inflammation Network (NORIN), on implementing a Norwegian SPARK-programme. This will be part of the global SPARK-network, and we are already building a European node together with Berlin and Finland, Jutta Heix says.