Linking with the community

In the first of a new article series, we talk with Ola Gudmundsen, CEO LINK Medical, about being part of Oslo Cancer Cluster during the past 13 years.

LINK Medical is a full-service contract research organization (CRO) – but like most other companies, it did not start that way. When the company joined Oslo Cancer Cluster in 2008, it was a medium-sized CRO.

During the past 13 years as a member, LINK has developed many collaborations with other member companies and participated in a variety of events.

An incredible journey

“It has been an incredible journey. We have developed as a company through conferences and lectures, as well as through the work we have done for other companies. Supporting Oslo Cancer Cluster’s work and being part of the cluster community enables us to contribute to the fight against cancer,” said Ola Gudmundsen, CEO LINK Medical.

The company provides product development services for the pharmaceutical and medical device industries across Northern Europe. According to the home page, the company regards itself “a pragmatic problem-solver” all the way from early drug development to European and American clinical studies within cancer.

“We are now working with advanced therapies and can therefore contribute in important areas where future cancer treatments are being developed,” said Gudmundsen.

Three aspects of value

“The value of the membership lies in three aspects: the events, the collaborations, and the community,” said Gudmundsen, and continued:

“The events are arenas for learning and understanding what is happening in the field of cancer research. Also, the events help us to know the Norwegian cancer research environment through presentations from other members. The collaborations and conversations within the cluster are important because they often are about ideas that can be developed into cancer treatments. The community has a common goal to fight cancer.”

The company has collaborated with many of the other cluster members throughout the years, and lately, they have also developed collaborations with foreign companies.

“Companies we work with can benefit from our expertise, to supplement their own experts and have good discussions about developmental strategies,” said Gudmundsen.

LINK Medical specialises in a whole range of areas within cancer as well as over 20 other therapeutic areas. Read more about these areas on the LINK Medical web page: https://linkmedical.eu/

Cluster Collaborations

In a new article series, called Cluster Collaborations, we present members who have a cluster story to tell. We want to highlight the fruitful collaborations in the cluster, underlining the very essence of what Oslo Cancer Cluster is all about, from cancer research to cure.

 

 

Novartis enters IMPRESS

One of the largest pharmaceutical companies enters the precision cancer study IMPRESS in Norway.

Access to a broad portfolio of different medicines that can match molecular findings in a patient is important to succeed with the precision medicine approach of IMPRESS, Norway’s largest cancer study.

“We are very happy that Novartis is now contributing several of their medicines in the IMPRESS-Norway study. This means that Norwegian cancer patients can have more treatment opportunities in the study and that we can treat more patients based on molecular diagnostics. Novartis has many very interesting medicines. We count on more companies joining the study with their medicines soon,” said Åslaug Helland, National coordinator for IMPRESS-Norway and Head of Research at Oslo University Hospital.

 

Åslaug Helland is looking into the camera with a content smile, wearing a blue jacket and glasses.

Åslaug Helland is National coordinator for IMPRESS-Norway and Head of Research at Oslo University Hospital.

 

Six new medicines

Novartis is happy to support the IMPRESS study with six of its cancer medicines to treat up to one hundred patients. The first two Novartis medicines are ready for use this summer and the last four will probably be introduced during the autumn.

A broad collaboration with pharma partners for IMPRESS is important, both to Norwegian cancer patients who have run out of other treatment options, and to build stronger collaborations between public and private actors in the healthcare sector.

“Novartis is proud to contribute to the solutions of the challenges we are facing in the health ecosystem, including the implementation of personalized medicine. Through IMPRESS-Norway and the public-private collaboration in CONNECT, we wish to contribute to a culture for innovative and trusting partnerships with the health service – partnerships that are greater than the capacity and resources of each side alone. We are stronger together,” said Tarje Bergdahl, Nordic Medical Director Oncology Novartis.

Testing off-label treatments

IMPRESS-Norway is a national clinical study in precision cancer medicine, which is testing off-label treatments on cancer patients based on molecular changes in the patient’s tumour. Patients with advanced cancer disease can receive molecular diagnostics through InPreD (Infrastructure for Precision Diagnostics) and are discussed in a national molecular tumour board to provide optimal treatment for the individual patient. Patients who are eligible for the treatments available in IMPRESS are then offered to participate in the clinical study.

All the Norwegian hospitals that are treating cancer patients are part of IMPRESS, in total 17 hospitals, including the university hospitals. Of these sites, 8 are currently open for the study, the rest are opening in August and September. As of 1 July, 40 patients were included in the molecular profiling with a 500 gene panel, 18 patients were discussed in the national molecular tumour board and 7 patients were included with different treatments in the IMPRESS study.

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  • The consortium CONNECT is linked to the clinical study IMPRESS and the Infrastructure for Precision Diagnostics InPreD. CONNECT has facilitated dialogue meetings between industry representatives and the two mentioned national initiatives IMPRESS and InPreD. CONNECT is coordinated by Oslo Cancer Cluster. Read more about CONNECT, the partners and recent activities here: The CONNECT website
  • Dagens Medisin has written about Novartis entering IMPRESS (in Norwegian) here: Flere legemidler tilgjengelig i IMPRESS-studien

 

New partners join precision medicine consortium

Five new partners have joined CONNECT, a public-private consortium driving the implementation of precision cancer medicine in Norway, coordinated by Oslo Cancer Cluster.

The five latest additions to the public-private consortium CONNECT include the Norwegian Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet), the Norwegian Medicines Agency (Statens Legemiddelverk), and pharmaceutical companies Lilly, MSD and Janssen.

The Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Medicines Agency are the most recent public partners to join this unique national public-private partnership.

“The Norwegian Medicines Agency is happy to have joined CONNECT as an observer. Personalised medicine is currently high on the agenda, and we look forward to the extended opportunity for dialogue with national and international stakeholders, provided by CONNECT,” said Karen Marie Ulshagen, Strategic Director, Timely Access, Norwegian Medicines Agency.

The ten pharma companies who co-founded CONNECT in December 2020 are now accompanied by Lilly, MSD and Janssen, all sharing the same vision to drive the implementation of precision cancer medicine in Norway.

“CONNECT represents a collective effort between partners in the healthcare industry (private, public and voluntary sectors) and has the potential to build a culture which fosters innovation, collaboration and development of competency with the increased benefit for the individual patient as the core priority,” said Hilde Enserink, interim Medical Director and Oncology Lead, MSD Norway.

“With our focus on precision cancer medicine in our pipeline and our belief that dialogue and co-operation between all stakeholders is the right way forward, CONNECT fits very well with our purpose in Janssen. In the end though, it is the patients that matter the most and we hope CONNECT will eventually lead to a wider and earlier access to new precision cancer medicines for cancer patients in Norway,” said Sverrir Valgardsson, Medical Affairs Lead, Janssen Norway.

Ravinder Singh, Senior Clinical Research Scientist, Nordic Medical Lead, Lilly, complemented: “The implementation of precision medicine in Norway is a very important measure for Norwegian cancer patients, but at the same time very challenging considering the technological, medical, and regulatory aspects. A united front to facilitate precision medicine, where the pharmaceutical industry is seen as a partner rather than a financial contributor, will be of use for the academic milieu, the industry itself and for Norwegian cancer patients.”

Other CONNECT partners are the Norwegian Pharmaceutical Industry Association (Legemiddelindustrien – LMI), the Norwegian Cancer Society (Kreftforeningen), the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet) and the tech companies NEC and PubGene. The unique blend of participants enables CONNECT to address current obstacles facing precision cancer medicine in Norway.

Gathering experts to find new solutions

CONNECT was initiated by 22 founding partners in December 2020 and is coordinated by Oslo Cancer Cluster.

Since its establishment, CONNECT has carried out its activities through four working groups gathering experts from the different university hospitals, authorities, industry and the Norwegian Cancer Society. The working groups had regular digital meetings since February 2021, where they created a joint understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with the introduction of cancer precision medicine in a public healthcare setting and started the first initiatives.

CONNECT has also offered open, educational meetings and some are still available to be viewed via the CONNECT webpage Recordings of past events.

The next public meeting will take place during Arendalsuka and be held in Norwegian. The topic is How to succeed with precision cancer medicine – Research and collaboration that brings us further. The event will include conversations about emerging research and treatment opportunities for cancer patients in Norway.

Collaborating with national clinical study

CONNECT has facilitated dialogue meetings between industry representatives and the national initiatives IMPRESS-Norway and InPreD.

IMPRESS-Norway is a national clinical study in precision cancer medicine, which is testing off-label treatments on cancer patients based on molecular changes in the patient’s tumour. Patients with advanced cancer disease can receive molecular diagnostics through InPreD (Infrastructure for Precision Diagnostics) and are discussed in a national molecular tumour board. Patients who are eligible for the treatments available in IMPRESS are then offered to participate in the clinical study.

The pharmaceutical company Novartis agreed this week to contribute six new medicines to IMPRESS-Norway to treat up to one hundred patients. More information about this will be published in English next week.

 

Picture of Eva S. Dugstad in a black jacket and white blouse, smiling.

Meet our new competence broker

Eva S. Dugstad is our new research and industry facilitator aka competence broker for Oslo-based companies.

A competence broker (from the Norwegian word kompetansemegler) is an agent for connecting research and industry, as well as a conveyor of expertise. Her goal is to strengthen the research-based business development in Oslo and to mobilise more research-based innovation in the innovation districts of Oslo.

The service is funded by the City of Oslo and is free of charge.

Experienced advisor

Eva S. Dugstad is a special advisor in Oslo Cancer Cluster and director for business development in Radforsk, as well as the general manager in Nucligen – a company that develops radiopharmaceuticals. For many years, Dugstad was the CEO of the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology (IFE), in charge of Norway’s only nuclear reactors.

“My focus as a competence broker in Oslo is to establish projects that can face long-term challenges in industry development, make the green transformation and take advantage of the specific benefits of the Oslo region. My field of expertise is within health and life sciences, with focus on digitalisation and digital transformation,” said Eva S. Dugstad.

The service

Dugstad knows what it takes to build bridges between research and industry. Her keen eye spots opportunities for businesses and she knows what Norwegian academia looks for in industry partners.

“As a competence broker, I help businesses that want to apply for funding find the correct schemes. I can then make sure they cover the necessary requirements in the application,” Dugstad explained.

However, there is more to the service than purely application support.

“If a business has a good, innovative idea, they can run it by me, and I will quickly see if it is indeed research or development. Ideas that are purely about development, without the research component, will not receive funding. I can also connect businesses to the right partners, when there is a need for collaboration”, said Dugstad.

Companies in Oslo with research-based ideas are welcome to reach out to Dugstad, or one of her four colleagues in Oslo.

20 million by 20 October

The Regional Research Funds’ main projects are called regional innovation projects. Currently, there are NOK 20 million on the table and the application deadline is 20 October 2021. Each project can apply for NOK 1-3 million.

The most important ingredient in a successful application is good research. A research partner is not required, but many of the applicants will benefit from a partner, according to the Regional Research Funds.

Eva S. Dugstad explained how the scheme works:

“Companies in both the private and public sector can apply to this scheme. One goal is to strengthen the ties between research and development organisations and private businesses – and ensure qualified participation in research and innovation both nationally and in the EU.”

Innovation districts

Three innovation districts in Oslo are also involved in the competence broker service. They are called Innovasjonsdistrikt Hovinbyen, Innovasjonsdistrikt Sentrum and Oslo Science City. The competence brokers look to the innovation districts to find partners and funding schemes.

Oslo Science City is the first innovation district in Norway, including members such as the University of Oslo, Oslo University Hospital, South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority (Helse Sør-Øst RHF), Sintef, and Oslo Cancer Cluster. The district mobilises 7 500 researchers in developing ecosystems for innovation and green transformation, bringing together educational institutions, researchers, the business community, and the public sector.

An innovation district supports the work of the competence brokers by laying the groundwork for effective partnerships between researchers and businesses”, said Christine Wergeland Sørbye, CEO Oslo Science City.

Within health and life science, she sees the need for stronger collaborations instead of funding competitions.

In Norway, we find that leading experts must often compete with one another for research funding or support to commercialize their ideas. Instead, there should be a greater focus on incentives that stimulate interdisciplinary cooperation. If research institutes, the hospital, and other healthcare providers, startups, established businesses, and the health authorities all work together, we will be better positioned to develop leading solutions that can compete on a global scale”, said Wergeland Sørbye.

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