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Norwegian life science on exhibition

The strong life science actors in Norway joined forces during the conference Nordic Life Science Days 2018.

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. We used the conference Nordic Life Science Days 2018 in Stockholm this September week to show the growing Norwegian life science environment.

The Norwegian stand
From 2015 onward, we have had a Norwegian stand promoting Norwegian healthcare and life science industry together with other life science actors in Norway. Our partners this year were Norway Health TechAleapUniversity of Oslo: Life ScienceThe Life Science ClusterInvent2NORINNansen Neuroscience NetworkLMI, Centre for Digital Life NorwayInnovation Norway and The Norwegian Research Council. Together we represent the essence of Norwegian Life Science.

 

The Norwegian delegation with Ambassador Christian Syse visited the stand in 2018. From the left: Jutta Heix, International Advisor at Oslo Cancer Cluster, Christian Syse, the Norwegian Ambassador to Sweden, Tina Norlander, Senior Advisor in Innovation Norway and Jeppe Bucher, Intern at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Stockholm.

 

A European meeting place
There are several important meeting places for life science actors in Europe, such as 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.

Are you interested in what the big oncology session during the Nordic Life Science Days 2018 was all about? The topic was cancer immunotherapy, also known as immuno-oncology.

This article gives you the highlights of the session.

More Nordic collaboration
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.

Read more about our international work

The next wave in cancer immunotherapy

What is driving the next wave of innovation in cancer immunotherapy?

This was the question the experts tried to answer in the oncology session of the conference Nordic Life Science Days in Stockholm 12 September.

International experts from pharma, biotech, academia and the investment community discussed how different approaches to innovative cancer treatments could address challenges and shape the next wave of innovation in cancer immunotherapy, also known as immuno-oncology.

They touched upon approaches such as big data, personalized medicine, new targets and lessons from neuroscience.

Over the past few years, the rapid development of novel cancer immunotherapy approaches has fundamentally disrupted the oncology space. Cancer immunotherapy has not only become a key component of cancer therapy, but it has also reshaped priorities in oncology research and development (R&D) across the industry, with unprecedented clinical success in certain cancer types continuing to fuel record investment and partnering activity.

As of today, more than 2.000 immuno-oncology agents, including checkpoint-inhibitors, vaccines, oncolytic viruses and cellular therapies are in preclinical or clinical development.

Read more about the cellular therapy research of Oslo Cancer Cluster members Oslo University Hospital and Zelluna.

Why so little effect? 
Despite all of this promising research, only a minority of patients benefits from effective and durable immuno-oncology treatments. Why is this happening?

Part of the answer is found in resistance or unexplained lack of response. This could be addressed through a better understanding of optimal timing of therapy, better combination therapy design, or improved patient selection. Another part of the answer lies in a lack of novel targets and of an overall better understanding of specific immune mechanisms. This lack of understanding is becoming a roadblock to further advance in this research space.

What can the experts do about this? It turns out they have several approaches. Two of the main ones include big data and turning so-called cold tumours hot.

Big data will expand
“We believe that this can be changed by adding deep and broad data from multiple sources”, said Richa Wilson, Associate Director, Digital and Personalized Healthcare in Roche Partnering.

“We use the words meaningful data at scale, that means high quality data with a purpose: to answer key scientific questions”, she said at the session.

These data will continue to evolve from clinical trials and aggregated trials and registries and in the future from real time and linked data. There was about 150 exabytes health data in 2015 and in 2020 it is expected to grow into 2300 exabytes, mainly from digital health apps and scans from the hospitals, Oslo Cancer Cluster member Roche presented.

Hot and cold tumours 
Emilio Erazo-Fischer, Associate Director of Global Oncology Business Development at Boehringer Ingelheim explained the cold and hot tumours and how the cold tumours can be turned hot and thus open for cancer immunology treatment. It is well explained in this short film by Oslo Cancer Cluster member Boehringer Ingelheim

Martin Bonde, CEO of Oslo Cancer Cluster member Vaccibody also presented how they try to turn the cold tumours hot.

The Norwegian company Vaccibody is a leader in the field of cancer vaccines and they are very ambitious. They currently have a trial for melanoma, lung, bladder, renal, head and neck cancer.

The impact of stress
Erica Sloan is the group leader of the Cancer & Neural-Immune Research Laboratory in Monash University in Australia. She gave a talk on how neural signalling stops immunotherapy working. The researchers at Monash University have led mouse studies where the nervous system is stressed. They show that immunotherapies fail unless peripheral neural stresses are excluded.

The threat of a cancer diagnosis is stressful, as are most certainly cancer and cancer treatments. The tumour micro environment inside the cells can hear the stress signal, that is adrenalin.

“So what can we do about it?” Erica Sloan asked, before she answered:

“Treating with beta blockers. Blocking neural signalling prevents cancer progression. It also has an effect on immunotherapies.”

Erica Sloan is the group leader for the Cancer & Neural-Immune Research Laboratory in Monash University, Australia. She gave an introduction to the effect of neural signalling on tumour cells during the NLSDays in Stockholm 2018.

“Could stress be responsible for non responders?”, the moderator Gaspar Taroncher-Oldenburg from Nature Publishing Group asked her in the panel. 

“Absolutely, neural signalling can be responsible for this. And the exciting thing with data sharing here is that it can allow us to see and understand the rest of the patients’ biology. We need to look more at the patients’ physiology and not just the tumour biology” she said. 

Our International Work

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.

Jutta Heix is Oslo Cancer Cluster’s international advisor.


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.


Hot topics

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.