Designing cells to fight cancer

How can new designs of T cells improve cell therapy for cancer patients?

Hakan Köksal defended his PhD digitally from Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Hakan Köksal defended his PhD digitally from Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

This was the question Hakan Köksal attempted to answer in his PhD thesis, which he defended from the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator via a digital platform on Thursday 28 May 2020.

Köksal first arrived at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator to begin his PhD in October 2016 for the Department of Cellular Therapy, belonging to Oslo University Hospital. Three and a half years later, he is finally finished and has made a discovery that could potentially help cancer patients that are not responding to standard cell therapies.

“Essentially, what we are doing is called adoptive T cell therapy. We try to manufacture designs of chimeric antigen receptors to redirect T cells against cancer cells,” Köksal explained.

Cell therapy is an exciting, new area in cancer research and is a type of immunotherapy. This means that the patient’s immune system is changed in order to recognise and destroy the cancer cells in the body. CAR T cell therapy (CAR is short for chimeric antigen receptor) specifically involves collecting cells from the patient’s blood and changing them in the laboratory.

“We collect T cells, or lymphocytes, from the patients and engineer them so they can detect cancerous cells. Afterwards, they can be reinfused in the patient to destroy the cancer cells.” Hakan Köksal

Novel designs and new approaches

Current CAR T cell therapies have proved successful against several haematological cancers (blood cancers). However, the long-term clinical effects are quite limited and several barriers remain to cure all cancers with cell therapy. One problem Köksal looked at is when lymphoma patients treated with CD19 CAR T therapy relapse with CD19 negative lymphoma.

“We come up with alternative designs and approaches that may have an improved therapeutic effect, a lowered toxicity and improved survival in the body,” Köksal said. “The study we conducted can potentially be used as a standalone therapy or it can be complementary to reduce relapse.”

Standard CAR T therapies use antibody fragments as recognition units to detect cancer cells. In his thesis, Köksal has used a T cell receptor part, which is a different recognition domain, to increase the number of the targetable markers on cancer cells.

“Usually CAR T therapies can only detect proteins on the surface of the cell, but this new design can technically also recognise proteins inside the cell.” Hakan Köksal

Köksal stresses that we cannot know the clinical efficacy of the study before testing it in humans. The furthest they have tested is in mice, which is still a completely different organism from humans.

Read more about the research in this article: “The first Norwegian CAR”

Presenting during corona

Köksal finished his thesis in August 2019 but has not had the opportunity to defend it until now. Due to the ongoing corona situation, he could not present the trial lecture and defence in a filled auditorium but had to make do with an empty room and a laptop.

“It’s completely different. Normally, I would be standing on a stage and looking the audience in the eyes to see if I do well or bad. Now, I couldn’t see the audience, because they couldn’t share their video screens. I could only see my opponents,” Köksal explained.

In March, the corona pandemic affected the researchers in the Incubator too, because there were difficulties getting the necessary deliveries as companies worldwide had limited personnel. The laboratory had to restrict the number of people coming in and meeting rooms were temporarily converted to offices to avoid shared office space. The Incubator never closed completely and stayed open with extra sanitation procedures in place, so that the important research could go on.

Dr. Pierre Dillard and Hakan Köksal are part of the team behind the new study on CD37CAR T-cell therapy for treatment of B-cell lymphoma.

A collaborative effort

Köksal emphasised that the research behind his PhD thesis has been a team effort. He is thankful to his supervisors at Oslo University Hospital, Else Marit Inderberg, Sebastien Wälchli and June Helene Myklebust, for helping him and giving important guidance during his projects.

It has also meant a lot for him to be a part of the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, Innovation Park and the Oslo Cancer Cluster ecosystem.

“It is good to be in such a translational building. You have one part that has an arm in the clinic and at the same time you have pre-clinical research going on side-by-side with the private companies. You have different niches and you can meet a lot of people with different backgrounds and interests. It gives you new perspectives,” Köksal said.

Köksal thinks the Incubator is a calm, relaxing work environment and not super busy like many other research buildings, where there is a lot of competition going on. In the Incubator, the researchers are united by the common goal to accelerate cancer treatments.

“I feel happy when I see an announcement that a company has reached a new milestone, because it means someone is making an impact and a difference out there.” Hakan Köksal

Köksal will now begin a postdoctoral position and continue his ongoing research projects. He aims to work on the development of cell therapies and hopes to make new breakthroughs on the treatment of solid cancers in the future.

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Björn Klem and Janne Nestvold celebrate that the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has been nominated among Europe's 20 best incubators.

Accelerating cell therapies against cancer

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has received a grant from the City of Oslo, which will be used to develop the infrastructure for cancer cell therapies.

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has received NOK 300 000 in 2020 from the City of Oslo for a project that will support the development of a type of cancer treatment, known as cell therapies (scroll down to the bottom of this page to read a definition for cell therapy). Different forms of cancer cellular therapies are being explored in the Incubator, including genetically modified immune cells.

Cell therapies have the potential to cure cancer and turn it into a chronic disease. More research is however needed to document the full potential of cell therapies.

Specialised cell laboratory facility

The project involves setting up a specialised facility, which will be used for pre-clinical research and development of cell-based medicinal products.

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator’s laboratories are currently used for the design of therapeutic cells and to assess the effectiveness and safety of these cells in pre-clinical testing.

The funding from the City of Oslo will enable Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator to expand the laboratories with the appropriate infrastructure and equipment. The laboratories will support researchers and companies in their development of new cell-based therapies. The initiative is hopefully a first step to establish production of T cell therapies in Norway as part of building a viable health industry.

Janne Nestvold, laboratory manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, will coordinate the project.

“The specialised facility enables the Incubator to contribute in the development of cancer cell-based therapies in a preclinical setting,” said Janne Nestvold.

Several research groups in the Incubator already focus on the development of cell therapies. Now, they will have access to dedicated spaces with much needed equipment.

Supporting public-private research collaboration

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator is located next to the Norwegian Radium Hospital, one of Europe’s leading cancer hospitals and a part of Oslo University Hospital.

The Incubator’s partnership with Oslo University Hospital is one-of-a-kind in Norway. Hospital research staff work side-by-side with researchers from private companies and exchange experiences in a collaborative setting. They are also connected, through Oslo Cancer Cluster, to a global network of key players in the cancer research field.

Bjørn Klem, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, hopes the Incubator can further assist both hospital research staff and researchers from private companies to bring forward new treatments.

“The support from City of Oslo is much appreciated as it enables us to take this important field of cell therapy forward, by supporting commercialisation of the growing number of start-ups in this area. This will allow companies to grow in Norway and create jobs, supporting the vision of the Oslo Science City initiative,” said Bjørn Klem.

About the RIP funding

The regional innovation programme (RIP) for the Oslo region has funded a total of NOK 25 million for business development and innovation in 2020.

The goal of RIP is to strengthen the Oslo region’s international competitiveness in cluster- and network development, entrepreneurship, supplier development and commercialisation.

This year’s award had a special emphasis on the health sector, marked by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. More than ever, it has become important to support the local innovation clusters and the Norwegian health start-up companies.

 

DEFINITION

CAR T-cell therapy is a type of treatment in which a patient’s T cells (a type of immune system cell) are changed in the laboratory so they more effectively will attack cancer cells. T cells are a specific type of white blood cells taken from a patient’s blood. Then the gene coding for a receptor that binds to a protein on the patient’s cancer cells, is added to the T cell in the laboratory. The receptor is called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and enable the patient immune system to better recognise and fight cancer cells. Large numbers of the CAR T cells are then grown in the laboratory and given to the patient by infusion. CAR T-cell therapy is approved for treatment of some cancer patients (leukaemia or lymfoma) and is studied in the treatment of many other types of cancer with promising effects.
Source: National Cancer Institute

 

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Bjørn Klem, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, Arild Kristensen, general manager of Smart Care Cluster, and Kathrine Myhre, CEO of Norway Health Tech, look forward to developing the first Norwegian Health Catapult Centre.

Preparing for the first Health Catapult Centre

Three leading Norwegian health innovation clusters will collaborate on forming a concept for the first Norwegian Health Catapult Centre.

Siva has selected Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, Norway Health Tech and Norwegian Smart Care Cluster to proceed to the next round of the Norwegian Catapult call. The three health clusters are now joining forces to apply for a Health Catapult Centre focusing on precision medicine, patient-centric innovation and health services, medical technology and digital health.

The purpose of a Catapult Centre is to support innovative small to medium-sized companies in Norway on their journey to reach the market. A Catapult Centre helps companies to develop prototypes, test, verify, visualise and simulate – so that ideas can be developed faster, better and with less risk.

By inviting the three health clusters to apply together for a Health Catapult Centre, Siva has shown that health innovation and industrialisation is a crucial part of Norwegian industry and trade. This supports the government’s White Paper on the Health Industry , which calls for the building of a strong Norwegian health industry. The current corona pandemic has also highlighted the importance of local health innovation providers and supporting Norwegian early-stage health companies that can quickly deliver solutions to big societal challenges.

The initial application was submitted last December and deemed successful in February. The main topics of precision medicine, patient-centric innovation and health services, medical technology and digital health will now be discussed further over the next six months in the planning of the final Catapult application. The managers of the three clusters look forward to the opportunity of developing a Health Catapult Centre together.

“By joining forces with two strong complementary Norwegian health clusters, we will strengthen the Catapult application by covering a broader range of services to Norwegian health start-ups and scale-ups. A successful application will enable Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator to support the growth of Norwegian healthcare start-ups together with public healthcare institutions and international industry,” said Bjørn Klem, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

“One of the future key factors for the health industry in Norway to scale in the Norwegian and global market, will be to get access to tools, solutions, data and competence to develop, simulate, test, verify and produce their health products and solutions. The aim of the Health Catapult Centre will be to provide the health industry with these services and collaborative partners for the industry to scale. With the Health Catapult Centre up and running, Norway will also be an attractive partner to international health industry, that needs testing and clinical trials for them to launch new health products and solutions on the global market,” said Kathrine Myhre, CEO of Norway Health Tech.

“Together we stand, divided we fall. The three clusters now have an unique opportunity to provide the booming health industry in Norway with tools and services that will speed their development with higher quality, thus enabling world class solutions faster,” said Arild Kristensen, general manager of Norwegian Smart Care Cluster.

The final application for the Health Catapult Centre will be submitted this autumn. If successful, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, Norway Health Tech and Norwegian Smart Care Cluster will jointly become the first Norwegian Health Catapult Centre.

logos

Nordplus collaboration work group at kick-off in OCC Incubator

Accelerating learning in Nordic life science milieus

A new collaborative project will make life science learning more accessible in the Nordics and give a boost to innovation and medical development.

The Nordic life science industry is booming and medical developments have never been this rapid. Nonetheless, in small countries like the Nordics, educational resources may not always be easy for the life science community to access. Now, five Nordic life science organisations from Sweden, Finland and Norway have joined forces to improve learning across borders.

“Each of us are small countries, through this collaboration we can provide more high-quality learning opportunities for Life Science professionals and for a broader Nordic-Baltic target group, instead of reinventing the wheel,” says Hanna Rickberg, Head of Education at the Swedish Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

As part of the Nordplus Horizontal programme, educational events, training workshops and practical courses directed towards the life science industry will be made available online. The life science professionals can participate via a live video stream or pre-recorded material, making learning accessible to those on-site or on remote locations and in other countries.

The five partners in the project are:

“Life science is a global business and cross-border collaboration is important, in particular for small countries in the Nordics,” says Bjørn Klem, General Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

The project has received support from Nordplus to facilitate the sharing of educational resources across national borders in the Nordics. This will act as an innovation boost to Nordic life science environments.

“We are intrigued by the opportunity to explore how we can establish synergies across the Nordic markets when it comes to meeting educational needs within the Life Science sector. The underlying assumption is that the needs are similar. Networking for future collaboration may present as a secondary benefit,” says Dag Larsson, Senior Policy Manager, LIF – the Research Based Pharma Industry in Sweden.

Nordic cooperation will be paramount to make the most of medical advances and to make personalized medicine a reality.

“We see Nordic cooperation as an essential value to the medical development that is now taking place with both personalised medicine and building a life science industry across the Nordic countries,” says Marie Svendsen Aase, Communications Adviser, Legemiddelindustrien (LMI).

The project will run until 30 April 2021 and the five partners will share their courses via their websites and social media channels.

“Nordplus collaboration provides us with an excellent opportunity to expand our training services to the Nordic market and to share knowledge with the other partners,“ says Anja Isoaho, Training Manager at Pharmaceutical Information Centre (Finland).

 

Next upcoming activity in the Nordplus course plan 2020-2021:

The 4th Nordic RWE Conference 2020, 11 February 2020, 09:00-17:00, arranged by LMI in Kaare Norum Auditorium, Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, Ullernchausseen 64, 0379 Oslo. This event will be streamed.

 

Nordic Life Science Learning logo

 

Partner logos:

Lääketietokeskus logo

LIF logo

 

Läkemedelsakademin logo

 

LMI logo

 

OCC Incubator logo

Thomas Andersson, Senior Adviser, Business Development, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator

Find your health mentor

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has joined a new national health mentor program to help Norwegian startups connect with the right experts.

Are you a health startup? Do you need help to get going? Eight health clusters and incubators have joined forces to provide mentors and specialist knowledge to Norwegian health startups, through the new health mentor program from Innovation Norway. One of them is Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Bjørn Klem, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, commented:

“Innovation Norway’s new health mentor program is a good scheme for startups that need help to establish their company. Access to a network of health mentors give the companies the opportunity to get tailor-made guidance in a very challenging development phase.”

This is the first time Innovation Norway offers a mentor program for a specific industry. The scheme is a pilot project for year 2020. Bård Stranheim, responsible for the mentor program in Innovation Norway, said:

“Good mentors are an important key to growth. This scheme will give high-quality mentors. Maybe this pilot project will be the basis of a new model to connect world-class mentors with Norwegian startups to prepare them for international growth.”

 

The health mentor program consists of:

 

Apply on Innovation Norway’s website for a health mentor

 

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Björn Klem and Janne Nestvold celebrate that the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has been nominated among Europe's 20 best incubators.

Among Europe’s finest 

OCC Incubator was recently rated among the top 20 European biotech incubators. Here’s why!

Every year, the biotech website Labiotech makes a top 20 list of the best biotech incubators in Europe. Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) Incubator is the only Norwegian incubator on the list this year, together with well established incubators in Belgium, Switzerland, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and other European countries.

Labiotech.eu is the leading digital media covering the European biotech industry, with over 150,000 visitors every month.

Size and relevance matters

We asked Clara Rodríguez Fernández, Senior Reporter in Labiotech, about the selection criteria. She replied:

“We aim to include the most relevant incubators across different European countries. We selected those based on their size and relevance within their country’s biotech ecosystem and also based on feedback from the industry contacts we sent our preliminary list to.”

See the full top 20 list on labiotech.eu.  

Means a lot in Norway

In Norway, the list has attracted attention.

“This means a lot. We have a strong and attractive ecosystem around Oslo Cancer Cluster on research and commercialization of pharmaceuticals. The latest success story is the tech company OncoImmunity that was bought by the tech giant NEC this summer.” Håkon Haugli, CEO Innovation Norway

Read more about NEC OncoImmunity in this news story.

Håkon Haugli continues:

“We also recognize that Norway, through Oslo Cancer Cluster, is positioned very well for the European Union’s next big endeavour, ‘Missions’, which will be launched next year. Cancer is one of five focus areas, which the European Union will channel considerable project resources into, to resolve one of our time’s big societal problems.”

The European Union has defined five research and innovation mission areas, inspired by the Apollo 11 mission to put a man on the moon. The missions aim to deliver solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our world, such as cancer, climate change, healthy oceans, climate-neutral cities and healthy soil and food.

You can read more about the European research and innovation missions on this official website.

A boost of motivation

For OCC Incubator, being on the top 20 list is a nice boost of motivation. Bjørn Klem, General Manager OCC Incubator, puts it this way: 

“We are excited about being rated among the best biotech incubators in Europe. It motivates us to become the most attractive space for innovations in the field of cancer!” 

 

Want to read more about biotech incubators and start-up opportunities? 

 

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Two women working on two laptops and smiling.

Cross-border courses in the Nordics

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator collaborates with partners in Sweden, Norway and Finland to help life science professionals learn from their neighbours.

“Life science is a global business and cross-border collaboration is important, in particular for small countries in the Nordics” says Bjørn Klem, manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Bjørn Klem, manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Bjørn Klem, manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Together with partners from three different professional sectors in three countries, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator recently received €75,000 in project funding over two years from the Nordplus Programme.

Digital competences

Nordplus is the Nordic Council of Ministers’ most important programme in the area of lifelong learning. On its webpage, Nordplus writes that more than 10,000 people in the Nordic and Baltic region benefit from the programme every year.

In 2019 and 2020, Nordplus welcomes applications on digital competences and computational thinking.

Innovation and competition

Bjørn Klem hopes that the project will benefit both Nordic innovation and competition.

“The outcome of this project should be to share educational resources to increase competence in the Nordic innovation environments. This will make innovation in life science more competitive in the global market.” Bjørn Klem

The Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry in Norway (LMI), one of the five partners in the project, also stresses the importance of Nordic collaboration for the life science industry. Marie Svendsen Aase, project coordinator LMI, puts it this way: 

“We see Nordic cooperation as an essential value to the medical development that is now taking place with both personalised medicine and building a life science industry across the Nordic countries.”

Learning across the region

The project will make continuous learning for life science professionals, specifically in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, easier by facilitating courses and material digitally. At the same time, the project aims to adapt national courses to a Nordic and Baltic audience.  

A course plan will be made in 2019.

The five partners in the project are:

  • Swedish Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Swedish Pharmaceutical Industry Association
  • Pharmaceutical Information Centre in Finland
  • The Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry in Norway (LMI)
  • Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator

Dr. Pierre Dillard and Hakan Köksal are part of the team behind the new study on CD37CAR T-cell therapy for treatment of B-cell lymphoma.

The first Norwegian CAR

Made in Oslo by a team of researchers from Oslo University Hospital, the first ever Norwegian CAR T cell is now a fact. A potential treatment based on this result depends on a clinical study.

A new Norwegian study shows a genetically modified cell-line with great potential as treatment for patients that are not responding to established CAR T cell therapies. This form of immuno-therapy for cancer patients has recently been approved in many countries, including Norway.

“We hope that the Norwegian authorities will be interested in transforming this research into benefits for Norwegian patients.” Hakan Köksal

 

 

What is a CAR?

Before we go into the research, let us clarify an essential question. What is a CAR? Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells are T cells that have been genetically engineered to produce an artificialreceptorwhich binds a protein on cancer cells.

How does this work? T cells naturally recognize threats to the body using their T cell receptors, but cancer cells can lock onto those receptors and deactivate them. The new CAR T cell therapies are in fact genetic manipulations used to lure a T cell to make it kill cancer cells. This is what a CAR is doing, indeed CARs replace the natural T-cell receptors in any T cells and give them the power to recognize the defined target – the cancer cell.

CAR-T cell therapy is used as cancer therapy for patients with B-cell malignancies that do not respond to other treatments.

 A severe consequence of using CAR T cell therapy is that it effectively wipes out all the B cells in the patient’s body — not only the cancerous leukemia cells or the lymphoma, but the healthy B cells as well. Since B-cells are an important part of the immune system, it goes without saying that the treatment comes with risks.

Micrograph of actin cytoskeleton of T-cells. The cell is about 10µm in diameter. Photo: Pierre Dillard

Micrograph of actin cytoskeleton of T-cells. The cell is about 10µm in diameter. Photo: Pierre Dillard

T cells: T lymphocytes (T cells) have the capacity to kill cancer cells. These T cells are a subtype of white blood cells and play a central role in cell-mediated immunity.

 

Made in Norway  

Now let us move on to the new research. This particular construct was designed from an antibody that was isolated in the 1980’s at the Radium Hospital in Oslo.

The CAR construct was designed, manufactured and validated in two laboratories in the Radium Hospital campus. One is the laboratory of Immunomonitoring and Translational Research of the Department of Cellular Therapy, OUH, located at the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. This laboratory is led by Else Marit Inderberg and Sébastien Wälchli. The other is the laboratory of the Lymphoma biology group of the Department of Cancer Immunology, Institute for Cancer Research, OUH. This laboratory is led by June Helen Myklebust and Erlend B. Smeland.

“Even the mouse was Norwegian.” Hakan Köksal

The pre-clinical work that made the Norwegian CAR was completed in March 2019.

In the research paper “Preclinical development of CD37CAR T-cell therapy for treatment of B-cell lymphoma”, published in the journal Blood Advances, the research team tests an artificially produced construct calledCD37CAR and finds that it is especially promising for patients suffering from multiple types of B-cell lymphoma. This may be treated successfully with novel cell-based therapy.

It now needs to be approved by the authorities and gain financial support to be further tested in a clinical study in order to benefit Norwegian patients.

 

The first CAR-therapy

CAR-based therapy gained full attention when the common B-cell marker CD19 was targeted and made the basis for the CAR T cell therapy known as Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) from Novartis.

It quickly became known as the first gene therapy allowed in the US when it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just last year, in 2018, to treat certain children and young adults with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Shortly after, the European Commission also approved this CAR T cell therapy for young European patients. The Norwegian Medicines Agency soon followed and approved the treatment in Norway.

“CD19CAR was the first CAR construct ever developed, but nowadays more and more limitations to this treatment have emerged. The development of new CAR strategies targeting different antigens has become a growing need.” Dr. Pierre Dillard

 

Not effective for all

Although the CD19CAR T cell therapy has shown impressive clinical responses in B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, not all patients respond to this CAR T treatment.

In fact, patients can become resistant to CD19CAR. Such relapse has been observed in roughly 30% of the studies of this treatment. Thus, alternative B-cell targets need to be discovered and evaluated. CD37 is one of them.

“You could target any antigen to get a new CAR, but it is always a matter of safety and specificity.” Hakan Köksal said.

Dr. Pierre Dillard and Hakan Köksal are part of the team behind the new study on CD37CAR T-cell therapy for treatment of B-cell lymphoma.

Dr. Pierre Dillard and Hakan Köksal are part of the team behind the new study on CD37CAR T-cell therapy for treatment of B-cell lymphoma.

 

The Norwegian plan B

The novel Norwegian CAR T is the perfect option B to the CD19CAR.

 “The more ammunition we have against the tumours, the more likely we are to get better response rates in the patients.” Hakan Köksal

The CD37CAR T cells tested in mouse models in this Norwegian study, show great potential as treatment for patients that are not responding to the established CD19CAR-treatment.

“More and more labs are studying the possibility of using CAR therapy as combination, i.e. CAR treatments targeting different antigens. Such a strategy will significantly lower the probability of patients relapsing.” Dr. Pierre Dillard said.

The CD37CAR still needs to be tested clinically. The scientists at OUS underline the importance of keeping the developed CD37CAR in Norway and having it tested in a clinical trial.

It is a point to keep it here and potentially save patients here. We would like to see the first CD37CAR clinical study here in Norway.” Hakan Köksal

 

More from the Translational Research Lab of the Department of Cellular Therapy, OUH: 

 

Oslo, Norway, 26.04.2017. Photographs from Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC), an oncology research and industry cluster dedicated to improving the lives of cancer patients by accelerating the development of new cancer diagnostics and medicines. Photographs by Christopher Olssøn

Natural killer cells dressed to kill cancer cells

New research: A new study may potentially enable scientists to provide cancer immunotherapy that is cheaper, faster and more manageable.

New work by researchers with laboratories at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator may help to dramatically improve a T cell-based immunotherapy approach so that it can benefit many more patients.

 

T cell assassins

T cells are the professional killers of the immune system – they have a unique capability to specifically recognize ‘foreign’ material, such as infected cells or cancer cells. This highly specific recognition is achieved through receptors on the surface of T cells, named T cell receptors (TCRs). Once its receptor recognizes foreign material, a T cell becomes activated and triggers the killing of the infected or cancerous cell.

T cell receptors (TCRs): receptors on the surface of T cells, that recognize foreign material and activate the T cell. This triggers the killing of the infected or cancerous cell by the T cell.

 

Adoptive cell therapy 

Unfortunately, many cancers have adapted fiendish ways to avoid recognition and killing by T cells. To combat this issue, an immunotherapy approach known as adoptive cell therapy (ACT) has been developed in recent years. One such ACT approach is based on the injection of modified (or ‘re-directed’) T cells into patients. The approach is further explained in the illustration below.

 

Illustration from the research paper 'NK cells specifically TCR-dressed to kill cancer cells'.

Illustration from the research paper ‘NK cells specifically TCR-dressed to kill cancer cells’.

 

The left side of the illustration shows how redirected T-cell therapy involves:

1) Harvesting T cells from a cancer patient

2) Genetic manipulation of T cells to make them express an ideal receptor for recognizing the patient’s cancer cells

3) Growing T cells in culture to produce high cell numbers

4) Treating patients with large quantities of redirected T cells, which will now recognize and kill cancer cells more effectively

 

An alternative approach 

Adoptive T cell therapy has delivered very encouraging results for some cancer patients, but its application on a larger scale has been limited by the time consuming and costly nature of this approach. In addition, the quality of T cells isolated from patients who have already been through multiple rounds of therapy can sometimes be poor.

Researchers have long searched for a more automated form of adoptive cell therapy that would facilitate faster and more cost-effective T cell-based cancer immunotherapy.

One approach that has seen some success involves the use of different immune cells called Natural Killer cells – NK cells in brief.

Despite their great potential, NK cells have unfortunately not yet been proven to provide a successful alternative to standard T cell-based cancer immunotherapy. One major reason for this may be that, because NK cells do not possess T cell receptors, they are not very effective at specifically detecting and killing cancer cells.

NK cell lines: Natural Killer cells (NK cells) have the ability to recognise and kill infected or cancerous cells. Scientists have been able to manipulate human NK cells so that they grow without restriction in the lab. This is called a cell line. It enables a continuous and unlimited source of NK cells that could be used to treat cancer patients.

 

Cells dressed to kill

The group led by Dr. Sébastien Wälchli and Dr. Else Marit Inderberg at the Department of Cellular Therapy aimed to address this issue and improve NK cell-based therapies.

They reasoned that by editing NK cells to display anti-cancer TCRs on their cell surface they could combine the practical benefits of NK cells with the potent cancer killing capabilities of T cells. This is shown in the right hand side of the illustration above.

The researchers found that by simply switching on the production of a protein complex called CD3, which associates with the TCR and is required for T cell activation, they could indeed induce NK cells to display active TCRs. These ‘TCR-NK cells’ acted just like normal T cells, including their ability to form functional connections to cancer cells and subsequently mount an appropriate T cell-like response to kill cancer cells.

This was a surprising and important finding, as it was not previously known that NK cells could accommodate TCR signaling.

This video shows TCR-NK cell-mediated killing of cancer cells in culture. The tumour cells are marked in green. Tumour cells that start dying become blue. The overlapping colours show dead tumour cells.

 

The researchers went on to show that TCR-NK cells not only targeted isolated cancer cells, but also whole tumours.

The method was proven to be effective in preclinical studies of human colorectal cancer cells in the lab and in an animal model.  This demonstrates its potential as an effective new form of cancer immunotherapy.

 

Paving the way

Lead researcher Dr. Nadia Mensali said:

“These findings pave the way to the development of a less expensive, ready-to-use universal TCR-based cell therapy. By producing an expansive ‘biobank’ of TCR-NK cells that detect common mutations found in human cancers, doctors could select suitable TCR-NK cells for each patient and apply them rapidly to treatment regimens”.

Whilst further studies are needed to confirm the suitability of TCR-NK cells for widespread treatment of cancer patients, the researchers hope that these findings will be the first step on the road towards off-the-shelf immunotherapy drugs.

 

  • Read the whole research paper at Science Direct. The paper is called “NK cells specifically TCR-dressed to kill cancer cells”.
  • The researchers behind the publication consists of Nadia Mensali, Pierre Dillard, Michael Hebeisen, Susanne Lorenz, Theodossis Theodossiou, Marit Renée Myhre, Anne Fåne, Gustav Gaudernack, Gunnar Kvalheim, June Helen Myklebust, Else Marit Inderberg, Sébastien Wälchli.
  • Read more about research from this research group in this article from January.
  • Read more about Natural Killer cells in this Wikipedia article.

 

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One of the tenants in the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

The Incubator Labs are expanding

The laboratories at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator are expanding to meet increasing demand from members.

 

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has recently converted three offices into new laboratories to accommodate the rising demand from their members.

From the opening in 2015, the laboratories in the Incubator have been a great success. Several of the start-ups have expanded their work force and require more offices and lab space.

The new laboratory is jointly occupied by Zelluna Immunotherapy and the Department of Cellular Therapy (Oslo University Hospital). The Institute for Energy Technology and Arctic Pharma have also expanded their laboratories with an extra room each.

The laboratories are now running at full capacity, but there is some space available in the shared labs. Some of the members of the Incubator offer their services to outside companies who are in need of getting lab work done.

“Our ambition is to grow the Incubator Labs further into the new Innovation Park next door.” Bjørn Klem, General Manager

 

Office plan of the OCC Incubator

The Incubator occupies over 550 square meters. Offices have been converted into labs to meet the growing interest from the members.

 

A unique model

The Incubator Labs follow a unique model, which offers both private laboratories and fully equipped shared laboratories. The private laboratories are leased with furniture, water supply, electricity and ventilation. The companies bring their own equipment depending on their needs.

Shared laboratories, including a bacteria lab, a cell lab and wet lab, are leased including basic equipment with the opportunity for companies to bring their own if shared by all tenants. All laboratories share the common support facilities including a cold room for storage, a laundry room, and storage room including cell tanks and nitrogen gas.

“This model of a shared laboratory is very unusual,” said Janne Nestvold, Laboratory Manager at the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

The advantage of working in a shared lab is that companies can avoid the costs and limitations associated with setting up and managing a laboratory. A broad range of general equipment, including more advanced, analytical instruments, are provided by the Incubator.

”It would be too expensive for a small company to buy all this equipment themselves.” Janne Nestvold, Laboratory Manager

 

The Department of Cellular Therapy (Oslo University Hospital) are one of the members using the shared lab. Photograph by Christopher Olssøn

The Department of Cellular Therapy (Oslo University Hospital) are one of the members using the shared lab. Photograph by Christopher Olssøn

 

 

Open atmosphere

The laboratories have an open and light atmosphere. Large windows provide ample lighting and all spaces are kept clean and tidy. The halls are neatly lined with closets and plastic containers for extra storage.

The general mood is calm and friendly. Nestvold communicates daily with the users about changes, updates and improvements, which sets an informal tone. Thanks to monthly lab meetings, the users are also involved in the decision-making process. The companies often work side-by-side or in teams, fostering collaboration rather than competition. There is therefore a strong workplace culture based upon flexibility and mutual respect.

The companies often work side-by-side or in teams, fostering collaboration rather than competition.

Nestvold also ensures that the high demands on the infrastructure of the laboratory are met. She has put agreements in place to facilitate the members’ needs, such as the washing of lab coats, pipette service and shipping packages on dry ice. With all these services included, the Incubator Labs are attractive for researchers and companies to carry out their cancer research.

 

Over the years, Nordic Nanovector, OncoInvent, Targovax, Intersint, OncoImmunity have conducted research in the laboratories. Now, Arctic Pharma, the Department of Cellular Therapy (Oslo University Hospital), GE Healthcare, the Institute for Energy Technology, Lytix BioPharma, NorGenotech, Ultimovacs and Zelluna Immunotherapy are using the Incubator Labs to develop their cancer treatments.

 

  • For more information about the Incubator Lab, get in touch with Janne Nestvold.

 

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Participants discussing at NOME mentor network.

Why a Nordic mentor network is a good idea 

The Nordic Mentor Network of Entrepreneurship (NOME) is the first pan-Nordic mentor network for lifescience start-ups. Why is it a good idea for start-ups working in cancer?

 

Bjørn Klem has an answer. He is the General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and point of contact for start-ups within the cancer field in Norway.

“Start-ups working in cancer need to access commercialisation expertise and investor networks. When looking for this, it is an advantage to seek in other Nordic countries where investors are experienced with cancer and biotech in general. Participating in NOME will also take you into their global network.” Bjørn Klem

 

Connecting with a mentor team

NOME is based on the mentoring principals of MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service. The fundamental principle is to connect first time entrepreneurs with a team of three to four experienced and skilled mentors to help them reach their goals and technology milestones. 

From Boston to the Nordics, this is the first mentor network within life sciences that spans across all the Nordic countries. 

In Norway, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator og the health incubator Aleap are coordinating start-ups with suitable mentors.

“Team mentorship, where mentees have a group of mentors, rather than single one-on-one mentorship, encourages more diverse thinking, cross-disciplinary approaches to ideas and problem solving, and it allows the access to professionals from different fields.”  NOME Magazine Issue 1 2018

 

Norwegian mentors and start-ups

One of the Norwegian NOME mentors is Kari Grønås. She has extensive experience in drug development and commercialisation within the pharmaceutical industry.

You can listen to her (in Norwegian) in this video that was made by Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator as the programme was just starting in Norway in 2017.

One of the Oslo Cancer Cluster members that have taken advantage of the NOME opportunity and mentors, is Nacamed.

Nacamed is a Norwegian spin-off company of Dynatec AS. The Nacamed technology is based on 10 years of research on silicon done by Dynatec engineering. According to the company webpage, this enables a production that can tailor particles with the desired physical attributes. With this, Nacamed aims to create a new generation of treatment methods.

 

Best in class-network

This video, made by Accelerate, explains the concept of NOME and the value it adds to the Nordic startup ecosystem.

The mentors are volunteering to share their knowledge and experience with new entrepreneurs within fields such as digital health, immuno-oncology and AI in healthcare. NOME mentors can give unbiased advice, provide strategic guidance, open their network and possible collaboration partners, as well as assisting in reaching key milestones.

The start-ups have to be best in class too. The local NOME partners evaluate the companies on the novelty of the science or technology, their high commercial potential as well as the strength and commitment of the founding team. Furthermore, strong IP or alternative protection strategies, market differentiation, and the impact NOME potentially can have on the company’s development are also taken into consideration.

Participation is free of charge and funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Infographic from NOME magazine.

Source: The NOME Magazine, Issue 01, 2018

 

20 start-ups since 2016

Since 2016, 20 start-ups have joined NOME and of these two have graduated from the program. Graduation usually means the start-up has successfully raised funds for the coming few years and has engaged a formal board and therefore has less need for the NOME mentors.

The mentors either move on to work with other emerging companies or have been so excited about the potential of the company they have been working with that they have taken a seat on the board.

By the end of 2018, NOME had 50 mentors and 18 enrolled start-ups.

 

Mentors in immuno-oncology

In the NOME Magazine first edition, released in October, Carl Borrebaeck, professor at Department of Immuno-technology at Lund University in Sweden, is interviewed about his field of expertise, immuno-oncology and creating companies from his research. Borrebaeck is a founding mentor in NOME and has been part of the network for the past two years. 

“People tend to think, that innovation just happens and that it will reach patients without any commercial drive. That is simply untrue.” Prof. Carl Borrebaeck 

He continues to explain what is really needed to make health innovations happen:

“A combination of companies and academia is needed. Big pharma is always looking for the newest discoveries and ways they can collaborate in order to stay at the forefront of innovative research. The Nordics are highly innovative and they have a strong reputation globally. However, there are too few big pharma companies commercializing the science at the very early stages. This is often a major challenge for emerging companies who then have to seek funding not only in the Nordics but across Europe and the US to cover this funding gap.”

 

Mentors in artificial intelligence

NOME has mentors in several interesting life science fields. Lars Staal Wegner, the CEO of Evaxion Biotech, is another mentor. He started a company dedicated to using artificial intelligence, supercomputers, and big data to fight cancer and infectious diseases. In the NOME Magazine Wegner says: 

“It is no longer the pharma industry or the companies producing the off-the-shelf drugs. It is the ones who own the data and know how to convert it to effect, the cloud-based giants that are half life science half tech. This is maybe 30-40 years into the future, but it is important already now to know that the tech evolution is not linear. It is exponential. We have reached an inflection point in tech. The industry doesn’t have five or ten years to toe the line. It is exploding.” 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are expected to have an unprecedented impact on how drugs are developed, their cost, and time to market, according to Wegner. 

 

Nordic partnership

NOME is operated by Accelerace and funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The initiative is represented in the Nordic region through partnerships in Sweden, Norway and Finland. In Norway, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator og the health incubator Aleap are coordinating start-ups with suitable mentors.

In the US, the California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) is a new partner for NOME. In fact it is too new to have entered the overview below. CLSI is a non-profit organization which supports entrepreneurship, STEM education and workforce development for the life science industry in California. It is located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Infographic from NOME magazine.

Source: The NOME Magazine, Issue 01, 2018

The start-up company Kongsberg Beam Technology wants to direct the precision technology from smart missiles to hit tumours in the human body. — We want to use Norwegian spearhead technology to combat cancer, Per Håvard Kleven said during his pitch at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 11 December 2018. 

Industrial precision against cancer 

Kongsberg Beam Technology wants to direct the precision technology from advanced industrial control systems to hit tumors in the human body.

— We want to use Norwegian spearhead technology to combat cancer, Per Håvard Kleven said from the stage as he pitched the idea of his start-up at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2018.

He is the founder of the start-up company Kongsberg Beam Technology AS. As he wrote the patent application for the technology behind this start-up, he was far from the only one to explore this field. Nevertheless, the patent was granted earlier this year (2018). He was ahead of companies like Siemens and other giants.

— There is a lot of research going into radiation and all of it is focusing on increased precision, but no one is attacking the problem as fundamentally as we are.

 

Precision proton radiation

The method in question is proton radiation. This kind of radiation is directed towards a tumour and radiates far more precisely than x-ray radiation, the standard radiotherapy that hospitals currently use to treat cancer.

Proton radiation requires special machines. There are currently only 85 of these machines, known as proton  therapy synchrocyclotrones, in the world. Norway awaits its first proton synchrocyclotron in a couple of years. The existence of such a machine in Norway is a precondition for the business plan of Kongsberg Beam Technology.

This is one of the few proton therapy machines in use in the world today. It is the proton therapy synchrocyclotron in the Jacobson Building at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. Photo: Jonathunder/ Wikimedia Commons

The ambition of Kleven and his new board of directors is to let proton radiation follow the movements of the tumour, meaning the smallest movements of the patient as she breathes. This does not seem like much, but there is actually a lot of movement in for instance the lungs. And with vital organs closely linked to the lungs, such as the heart and the spine, it is extremely important to have a precise beam.

There is in deed a need for more precision in radiation therapy.

— The radiation that the hospitals use to treat cancer today is not precise. Healthy tissue is always damaged with radiation and this is a problem which we are attacking.

 

Norwegian spearhead technology

The system in question is to figure out exactly where the tumour is situated in the body, how it moves and how much radioactive energy it takes to radiate it properly.

He wants to take the principals and methods currently used in precision industries such as defence, space and oil- and gas, and apply these to radiation in cancer treatments. The aim is to obtain industrial precision to avoid damaging any healthy tissue.

 

Aims to develop a solution

The mechanical part of the system makes it possible to do online tracking of the cancer and synchronise the beam so that it always hits exactly on the cancer. This might not sound like it should be too difficult, but indeed it is.

— We cannot control a beam of particles with the agility and precision that is required today, but these functions will develop. We aim to develop them!

– In five years, when our project makes proton radiation reach its potential for industrial precision, my assumption is that proton radiation will take a much higher share of radio therapy in cancer treatment and that the number of proton centres will increase steeply.

According to Kleven, the testing will start soon, followed by prototyping and further testing and qualification. The goal is to have a working system by mid 2024. Kleven assumes that the future product can be installed as an add-on to exciting proton therapy synchrocyclotrones.

— Testing and remaining R&D will start as soon as the needed capital is in place, he said.

 

Needs more funding

The financing for the start-up so far is covered by Buskerud county, Innovation Norway, Oslofjordfondet and the Research Council of Norway. Kongsberg Beam Technology needs 93 million NOK initially, to test, develop and qualify the technology. 60 million of this sum should come from investors.

Kleven shows an estimate of a one billion NOK turn-over after a few years, in a profitable company with growth possibilities.

The new business is going to be established in Kongsberg in Norway, a town that is already well established as a hub for spin offs of the Norwegian defence industry. Kleven himself has a lifetime of experience from this sector, since he started to work in Kongsberg Weapons Factory (Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk) in 1975.

Thomas Andersson, Senior Adviser, Business Development, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator

– An idea needs to attract investors

Meet Thomas Andersson, our new Senior Advisor Business Development. How could he be of help to your startup company? 

— The most important thing I do is to get the startup companies rolling.

Thomas Andersson, the new Senior Advisor for Business Development at Oslo Cancer Cluster and Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, looks dead serious as he makes this statement, but immediately after he lets out a smile and elaborates:

— A company needs to be investible. An idea needs to attract investors.

A lifetime of experience
Thomas holds a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Lund University in Sweden and has more than 30 years of experience from establishing, operating and funding start-ups in the life science field. He has a long background in business development in health tech startups, all the way back to the early 1980s.

— I’m that old! I went straight from my Ph.D. in biophysics into the problem-solving of business development.

In his career he has also taken on issues with patents and sales and he even bought a company that produced monoclonal antibodies with some friends and remodelled and sold it. 

— What did you learn from this journey? 

— I learned quite a lot, including the production business and the cell cultivation biotech business from the floor. I also learned how to lay out the production manufacturing facility.

See it like an investor
Thomas Andersson knows the biotech startup-scene from the investors’ point of view. He started to work at the tech transfer office of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. It was called Karolinska Innovations back then, now it is known as KI Innovations.

— We raised a lot of money there, formed 45 companies as a group and we had a fantastic time! 

After 8 years he was recruited to Lund and worked in Lund University Bio Science and tried to vacuum clean the whole university for life science innovation.

— And we did find a lot! In the end there were about 20 investment proposals and those ended up in 9 investments, of which we turned down 5 or 6. Two of them are now at the stock market. 

In total, Thomas Andersson has been involved in starting about 20 companies, of which 5 survived and are now on the stock market.

Normally, it is said that only 1 in 30 biotech startups make it. 

 

Thomas Andersson, Senior Advisor Business Development. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

Here for you
— How did you end up here at Oslo Cancer Cluster?  

— I have had my eyes on Oslo Cancer Cluster for a while. I have liked the ideas that the cluster stands for. And I wanted to do something new in the end of my career. That is why I am here as a senior advisor now. I like it here! I am working on very interesting projects and ideas.

Our new Senior Advisor Business Development is present in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator nearly every week although he still lives in Lund, Sweden, on a farm in the woods where he can be practical and hands-on with hardwood and fly fishing.

— My door is open to people in the cluster and incubator with projects and ideas. I have a network that can help them and I have the experience of how investors, scientists and other actors can value a company. And being a Swede in the Norwegian system; I am basically here also to encourage you to think differently.

 

Interested in more funding opportunities for your company?

Check out our Access to Capital-page. 

 

T-cells and the Nobel Price

What does the Nobel Prize have to do with cancer research in Oslo Cancer Cluster?

This year the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer. This was a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options.

A statement from the Nobel committee hailed the accomplishments of Allison and Honjo as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.”

This principle, the idea behind much of the immunotherapy we see developing today, is shared by several of our Oslo Cancer Cluster members, including Oslo University Hospital and the biotech start-up Zelluna.

– This year’s Nobel Price winners have contributed to giving new forms of immunotherapy treatments to patients, resulting in improved treatments to cancer types that previously had poor treatment alternatives, especially in combination with other cancer therapies, said doctor Else Marit Inderberg as a comment to the price.

She leads the immunomonitoring unit of the Department of Cellular Therapy at Oslo University Hospital. The unit is present in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator with a translational research lab.

Inderberg has been studying and working with T-cells since 1999, first within allergies and astma, before she was drawn to cancer research and new cancer therapies in 2001.

So, what is a T-cell?
T-cells have the capacity to kill cancer cells. These T-cells are a subtype of white blood cells and play a central role in cell-mediated immunity. They are deployed to fight infections and cancer, but malignant cells can elude them by taking advantage of a switch – a molecule – on the T-cell called an immune checkpoint. Cancer cells can lock onto those checkpoints, crippling the T-cells and preventing them from fighting the disease.

The drugs based on the work of Nobel Prize winners Allison and Honjo belong to a class called checkpoint inhibitors – the same immune checkpoint that we find on T-cells. Drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors can physically block the checkpoint, which frees the immune system to attack the cancer.

Group leaders Else Marit Inderberg and Sébastien Wälchli often work in one of the cell labs in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. Photo: Christopher Olssøn

 

– We work on other ways of activating the immune system, but in several clinical trials we combine cancer vaccines or other therapies with the immune-modulating antibody, the checkpoint inhibitors, which the Nobel Price winners developed, Inderberg explained.

Inderberg and her team of researchers in the translational research lab in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator use the results from the Nobel Price winners’ research in their own research in order to develop their own therapy and learn more about the mechanisms behind the immune cells’ attack on the cancer cells and the cancer cells’ defence against the immune system.

– This Nobel Prize is very inspiring for the entire field and it contributes to making this kind of research more visible, Else Marit Inderberg added.

– Our challenge now is to make new forms of cancer therapies available for a large number of patients and find ways to identify patient groups who can truly benefit from new therapies – and not patients who will not benefit. Immunotherapy also has some side effects, and it is important that we keep working on these aspects of the therapy as well.

From research to company
Most of the activity of the translational research lab in Oslo relies on the use of a database of patient samples called the biobank. This specific biobank represents an inestimable source of information about the patients’ response to immunological treatments over the years. Furthermore, the patient material can be reanalysed and therapeutic molecules isolated. This is the basis of the Oslo Cancer Cluster member start-up company Zelluna.

 

Want to know more about Zelluna and the research they are spun out of?

This is a story about their beginning.

Curious about new research from the Department of Cellular Therapy in Oslo?

More on their webpage.

 

Cancer Innovation Pitched to Investors

A full house presented itself when Inven2 pitched 8 of their most promising cancer research projects at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator June 12th.

In total approximately 60 people gathered inside Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, and among the participants several experienced investors from other cancer projects.

— I’m positively surprised that so many potential and experienced investors found their way here today, commented Ole Kristian Hjelstuen, CEO at Inven2.

The event was the second in line of Inven2’s new pitching strategy, were they open up their projects at an early stage for potential investors and entrepreneurs with the will to transform the research into working companies.

— This shows that pitching is a good way to spread the word on the potential of our portfolio. The event today strengthens my belief that financing for our projects will be easier in the future, said Hjelstuen.

Eight Potential Treatments and Companies
Norway is among the very best when it comes to cancer research. Norwegian research has created top notch companies like Algeta, Nordic Nanovector, Ultimovacs and Zelluna Immunotherapy. Tuesdays  pitch proves that many more are on the horizon.

The eight-project presented at OCC Incubator are all exciting innovations that need financial backing and entrepreneurship to commercialize. The common denominator is a focus on modern treatments like immunology or precision medicine that are emerging as a result of what has been labelled “a breakthrough in cancer treatment” in later years.

Presentations of all eight projects available here.

The projects presented:

  • Tankyrase inhibition in cancer therapy
  • A new drug against Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)
  • Autologous anti-CD20 TCR-engineered T-cell therapy for recurrent Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Lymphocyte Booster – Lymphocyte boosting growth medium for Adoptive Cell Therapy
  • CD37 CAR for cancer immunotherapy
  • IL-15 Immunotherapy – Fusion protein for immunotherapy of solid tumors
  • Backscatter: A communication technology enabling colon-cancer screening
Event invitation for INVEN2Pitch

Inven2-Pitch: Morgendagens kreftselskaper

Er du investor eller gründerspire? Vi trenger deg!

Norge har en sterk tradisjon innen kreftforskning i verdensklasse. Basert på denne fremragende forskningen har selskaper som Algeta, Nordic Nanovector, Ultimovacs og Zelluna Immunotherapy blitt spunnet ut. Og det kommer mer.

Inven2 inviterer investorer, gründerspirer og andre interesserte til en presentasjon av de mest lovende nye prosjektene innen kreft i Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovasjonspark den 12. juni kl. 14.

Dette er alle spennende innovasjonsprosjekter som når de går over i kommersiell fase om kort tid vil trenge finansiering og gründere. Er du gründer, investor eller helseinteressert, er dette en unik sjanse.

Bli med å skape morgendagens helsenæring!

12. juni kl. 14-16 | Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator (OCCI)

Meld deg på her!

Prosjektene som skal pitches:
  1. Tankyrase inhibition in cancer therapy
  2. A new drug against Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)
  3. Autologous anti-CD20 TCR-engineered T-cell therapy for recurrent Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  4. Lymphocyte Booster – Lymphocyte boosting growth medium for Adoptive Cell Therapy
  5. CD37 CAR for cancer immunotherapy
  6. IL-15 Immunotherapy – Fusion protein for immunotherapy of solid tumors
  7. Backscatter: A communication technology enabling colon-cancer screening.

Need Money For Your Life Science Start-up?

Inven2 are distributing start-up funds in Life Science! Very good news for Biotechs and cancer research companies in their early stages of development.

 

Attention all Oslo Cancer Cluster and Incubator members.  Inven2 received in late December 5 million NOK from Innovation Norway. They are now, subsequently, handing them out to Life science start-ups. Inven2 call them “presåkornkapital” meaning that the money is to serve as capital that stimulates the first stage of establishing a life science company. However, some criteria’s must be met to be eligible to apply. The application deadline is the 20th of February 2018.

Follow these criteria:

  • Investment can constitute 3 million NOK per company
  • Private investors must contribute with capital that at a minimum is equivalent with the Inven2-money “pre-såkornmidlene”.
  • At least 50 percent of private capital must be from independent investors, investors that are not a founder or an employee of the company.
  • The investment with “pre-såkorn” capital must be on equal terms with the private investments.
  • Companies receiving the investment must at the time of investment be Norwegian and younger than five years counted from the registry date at The Brønnøysund Register Center
  • Companies invested in must not be stock marked listed or large companies as defined in the EØS agreement state subsidy rules.
  • Companies invested in must be innovative as defined by the EØS Agreement state subsidy rules.
  • Investments can amount to 3 million NOK.

Be sure that your application contains the following:

  • A short introduction of your company
  • Business plan
  • How the money will be used
  • Explain how the matching money will be gathered
  • A plan for the execution of the new equity

Application deadline: 20th of February.

Send the application to: olav.steinnes@inven2.com

Giving Tuesday Crowdfunds for Cancer

You have probably heard of Black Friday. Now introducing Giving Tuesday: A day all about giving rather than buying. Eight Norwegian YouTubers have chosen to crowdfund on behalf of The Norwegian Cancer Society as part of Giving Tuesday. Raising money for cancer research and cancer patient care. A week before the big day five of them visited Oslo Cancer Cluster.

 

Tuesday the 28th of November, conveniently a couple of days after the shopping bonanza of Black Friday, is Giving Tuesday. It’s an international event. Started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation as a response to Black Friday and commercialization and consumerism in the post-Thanksgiving season.

Live Social Media Broadcast
On the day the Norwegian youTubers are staging a broadcast marathon on social media. At DnB Headquarters (Bjørvika) they all come together for a live broadcast so everybody can follow the crowdfunding and view their videos during Giving Tuesday.  And there are a lot of them. 10 other charities are being crowdfunded on the day with youTubers raising money on their behalf.

Learn more about what’s happening here.

Youtubers crowdfunding for cancer

Learning About Cancer Research
The last couple of weeks the youtubers funding for The Norwegian Cancer Society have learned about cancer research and the fight against cancer. They have visited the Society’s new Science Center learning about the history of the disease and afterwards they spent a day getting updated on current cancer research at Oslo Cancer Cluster.

At Ullern Innovation Park, the home of Oslo Cancer Cluster, they got to see researchers in action and learned about the recent advances in cancer research. How researchers now are trying to trigger the immune system in the fight against cancer and how we are getting better at producing medicines that target cancer tumors directly. They also got see how research and innovation merges together with education at the Innovation Park. Here researchers, Bio Businesses and Ullern Upper Secondary School share the same building and cooperate.  Learn more about this unique cooperation.

With this new knowledge on cancer they are well prepared to crowdfund a lot of money for The Norwegian Cancer Society and cancer research!

About the YouTubers
Christoffer Ødegård (17) Specializes in FIFA. Playing live games on youTube.

Emil Saglien (15) Also into football. Actually, about his life, but his life seems to be football.

Sara Høydahl (19) Vlogs about many things, but has had special success with a Friday special on murder mysteries!

Truls Valsgård (23), Truls is a full time youtuber. Produces videos daily about his own life.

Tuva Robsrud (16) From Bærum and vlogs about fashion and make up.

 

NOME Important to BioIndustry Growth

Nordic Mentor Network for Entrepreneurship (NOME) will be an important piece of the puzzle if Norway is going to fulfill their ambitions set by the coming White Paper on the Healthcare Industry.

If we are to make our bioindustry more competitive and take a leading European role within eHealth, we need to learn from the best in the business. NOME is a program that aims to lift Nordic life sciences to the very top by using mentors.

The Norwegian Parliament’s Health Committee has asked for a report on the Healthcare industry in Norway, a so called White Paper. The objective is to examine the challenges we face because of climate change, new technology, robotics and digitalization.

Innovation needs to meet industrial targets
Additionally, the committee has stressed the importance of a purposeful dedication to health innovation. There should be a focused investment In fields where we have special preconditions to succeed. A better facilitation of clinical studies and use of health data is especially emphasized. Nordic countries are in a unique position with vast registries of well documented health data, a good example being the Cancer Registry of Norway. With better implementing of new technology this type of health data will be increasingly important.

The committee also emphasized the need to shorten the distance between research and patient treatment through effective commercialization. And, in continuation, easier access to risk investment capital to help the industry grow.

–The path from research to actual treatments and medication is long and hard, and rightfully so – everything must be thoroughly tested. But you can imagine! Every second we can peel off the time it takes for new research to reach patients is extremely valuable and saves lives, explains Bjørn Klem, Managing Director, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

NOME a piece of the puzzle
However, how do we fulfill these ambitions? Klem believes the answer is combining forces within the other Nordic countries.

– We have different strengths. Think about how big Bioindustry and business is in Denmark. There is so much to learn form that!

NOME is a concrete way of collaborating. It is easy to say: “we are going to learn from each other”, but how do we in a concrete fashion set about doing this. NOME is a mentoring program that sets collaboration in motion.

— To put it plainly, NOME is a program for all Nordic Bio start-ups. They can apply and if their application is successful we send experts catered to help with the company’s very specific needs, explains Klem.

NOME is a meeting place between the start-up freshman and the experts that have thread this path before. They match Nordic entrepreneurs with handpicked international professionals to help each start-up with their specific needs.

— Think about it! There is so much a new start-up don’t know, lacking network and experience. How do you make it as a commercialized company in the health industry? NOME can provide both business and research mentoring transferring knowledge from past successes to new ones, says Klem.

A Twofold Benefit to Society
The desire is to propel the Nordic countries into one of the leading life science regions to commercialize high growth life science start-ups.

— With NOME society’s return is twofold. Firstly, we give patients access to new treatment faster by giving start-ups the necessary guidance and know-how. Secondly, we give our Bio Business a chance to grow with all the positives that has to economy and employment, Klem believes.

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator coordinates the NOME-program in Norway and collaborates with the incubator Aleap to find the best match of mentors and entrepreneurs. To take part in the program you can click here for more information.

Vi vant Siva-prisen 2017!

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator stakk av med Siva-prisen for 2017 på årets Siva-konferanse i Trondheim.

Slik beskriver Siva vinneren:

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator er en pådriver til utvikling av diagnostikk og behandling av kreftpasienter ved hjelp av ny revolusjonerende teknologi. De jobber med å omsette kreftforskning til nye medisiner og behandlingsformer. Dette gir nytt håp for kreftpasienter og bidrar til en ny helsenæring i Norge. Inkubatoren får daglig besøk av bedrifter, politikere, forskere, elever, gründere og andre som ønsker å lære eller bidra til helseinnovasjon.


Helseinnovasjon
– Alle snakker nå om at helseinnovasjon er viktig. Vi i Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator er en viktig aktør i innen helseinnovasjon. Vi ønsker å bidra nasjonalt i dette, med en klar tynge på kreft, sier Bjørn Klem, leder for Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Han er fra seg av glede over at inkubatoren dro i land seieren på årets store Siva-happening, konferansen om den grenseløse industrien, som fant sted i Trondheim tirsdag 9. mai.


Penger til bedre nettverk
Verdiskapning og samarbeid jobber Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator mye med, og her vil de også bruke gevinsten, som er på 300 000 kroner.

– Vi omstiller norsk næringsliv og vil fortsette med det innenfor helsenæringen. Vi vil bruke gevinsten på å fortsette med det, og på å bedre nettverket mellom klyngene i Norge og Norden, sier Klem.

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator kom til finalen sammen med MacGregor Norway og Protomore Kunnskapspark.

– De tre finalistene er formidable nyskapingsmiljøer som i vår bok alle er vinnere. De har på hver sin måte vært pådrivere for nyskaping og bidratt til den omstillingen og utviklingen som næringslivet i Norge er så avhengig av. Når det er sagt vil jeg på vegne av Siva gratulere Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator med en velfortjent seier. Vi håper de fortsetter det gode og viktige arbeidet med å utvikle medisiner og bedre behandling for kreftpasienter, sier Ulf Hustad, som er prosjektleder for prisen, til Sivas nettside.


En viktig konferanse for inkubatorene

I år kom rekordmange deltakere på Siva-konferansen. De kom fra ulike inkubatorer og næringsklynger, og talte omkring 300 stykker. På konferansen fikk de presentert et nytt initiativ kalt Norsk katapult. Her skal 50 millioner kroner brukes på å etablere såkalte katapult-fasiliteter, testfasiliteter i overgangen mellom forskning og etablert industri.


Om Siva

Siva står for Selskapet for industrivekst SF. Det ble etablert i 1968 og er en del av det næringsrettede virkemiddelapparatet. Siva er statens virkemiddel for tilretteleggende eierskap og utvikling av bedrifter og nærings- og kunnskapsmiljø i hele landet, med et særlig ansvar for å fremme vekstkraften i distriktene. Hovedmålet er å utløse lønnsom næringsutvikling i bedrifter og regionale nærings- og kunnskapsmiljø.

Nominated as “Norway’s smartest industrial company”

Thermo Fisher Scientific is one of three finalists to win the award and title in Oslo this Tuesday.

The technology which the biotech company is nominated for, is development of faster and cheaper DNA-sequencing. More than 70 companies were candidates for this year’s price, according to the Norwegian online tech magazine Teknisk Ukeblad.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is one of Norway´s leading biotechs and among the most profitable. The company has played a vital role in Norwegian biotech with the development of «Dynabeads», used all over the world to separate, isolate and manipulate biological materials.

The smart element
On the question “why are you in the finals”, Ole Dahlberg, CEO at Thermo Fisher Scientific in Norway, is quick to answer.

“We have been capable of combining an established, older technology with another technology, creating maybe the most powerful tool for gene sequencing that we have in the world today”, says Dahlberg.

The smart element was using the beads in a completely new way on a microchip in combination with semiconductor technology. This link between biotech and electronics has created the instruments from Thermo Fisher which we now see in research institutes and diagnostic labs all over the world.

Ole Dahlberg, CEO at Thermo Fischer Scientific Norway, believes in their smart element.

Industrialising technology
What Thermo Fisher did, was to reduce the size of traditional magnetic beads to nano size. This resulted in much more efficient production methods. The number of people involved in the production of the beads, as well as the production time, could thereby be reduced.

Today, one person can produce ten times more beads in a day than 10-15 people could before, due to the new production technology, developed in-house.

Thermo Fisher’s Dynabeads are used in basic research, in billions of diagnostic tests, as well as in immunotherapy, all over the world. Innovation and further applications are being developed in close collaboration with research environments, clinics and industrial partners.

The importance of collaboration
“All the products we have developed, and those are quite a few, are developed in collaboration with academia and the clinical part of hospitals and other companies”, says Dahlberg.

His company has had a close collaboration with OUS Radiumhospitalet and SINTEF, and today it is part of Oslo Cancer Cluster and has offices in the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

“We greatly believe in this kind of collaboration. It creates trust. One of the interesting things with the cluster is that it leans over in education. We need a broader interest for biotechnology and life science among the young, and we also recruit a lot of young people”, says Dahlberg.

A smart approach
Thermo Fischer Scientific gets their smart young coworkers directly from Norwegian universities like NTNU and UiO, as well as from abroad.

“We use a smart approach. It is all about putting the team first and making sure that the people who work here are dedicated and proud of our products”, says Dahlberg.

9 May is the day the winner will be announced at the Norwegian conference Industrikonferansen in Oslo, held by the union Norsk Industri, part of NHO.

 

About Thermo Fisher Scientific
Thermo Fisher Scientific in Norway was established in 1986. The company focuses on the diagnostics market as well as the development of innovative immunotherapeutics, especially within oncology. The client portfolio features many of the world’s largest pharma and diagnostics companies. In 2014 the company had 180 employees and a turn-over of 760 MNOK. The company has production units both in Oslo and Lillestrøm. The Norwegian company is a subsidiary to Thermo Fisher Scientific.

 

 

 

Photo of Oncolmmunity's offices.

OncoImmunity AS wins the EU SME Instrument grant

The bioinformatics company OncoImmunity AS was ranked fourth out of 250 applicants for this prestigious grant.

250 companies submitted proposals to the same topic call as OncoImmunity AS. Only six projects were funded.

We applied for the SME instrument grant as it represents an ideal vehicle for funding groundbreaking and innovative projects with a strong commercial focus. The call matched our ambition to position OncoImmunity as the leading supplier of neoantigen identification software in the personalised cancer vaccine market”, says Dr. Richard Stratford, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of OncoImmunity.


Personalised cancer vaccines
Neoantigen identification software facilitates effective patient selection for cancer immunotherapy, by identifying optimal immunogenic mutations (known as neoantigens). OncoImmunity develops proprietary machine-learning software for personalised cancer immunotherapy.

This solution also guides the design of neoantigen-based personalised cancer vaccines and cell therapies, and enables bespoke products to be developed faster.

The SME Instrument gives us the opportunity to further refine and optimise our machine-learning framework to facilitate personalised cancer vaccine design. This opportunity will help us establish the requisite quality assurance systems, certifications, and clinical validation with our partners, to get our software accredited as an in vitro diagnostic device”, says Dr. Richard Stratford.

In vitro diagnostics are tests that can detect diseases, conditions, or infections.

Dr. Richard Stratford is Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of OncoImmunity, member of Oslo Cancer Cluster and part of the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.


Hard to get
Horizon 2020’s SME Instrument is tailored for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). It targets innovative businesses with international ambitions — such as OncoImmunity.

“The SME instrument is an acid test; companies that pass the test are well suited to make their business global. It also represents a vital step on the way to building a world-class health industry in Norway”, says Mona Skaret, Head of Growth Companies and Clusters in Innovation Norway.

The SME Instrument has two application phases. Phase one awards the winning company 50 000 Euros based on an innovative project idea. Phase two is the actual implementation of the main project. In this phase, the applicant may receive between 1 and 2,5 million Euros.

The support from the SME instrument is proof that small, innovative Norwegian companies are able to succeed in the EU”, says Mona Skaret.

You can read more about the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument in Norwegian at the Enterprise Europe Network in Norway.

 

Thinking of applying?
Oslo Cancer Cluster helps its member companies with this kind of applications through the EU Advisor Program and close collaboration with Innovayt and Innovation Norway.

The SME Instrument is looking for high growth and highly innovative SMEs with global ambitions. They are developing innovative technologies that have the potential to disrupt the established value networks and existing markets.

Companies applying for the SME Instrument must meet the requirements set by the programme. Please see the SME Instrument website for more information.

Join NOME – Nordic mentoring programme for life sciences companies

NOME is the first Nordic mentor network connecting prospective life science entrepreneurs with handpicked international mentors.

The goal is simple: to help the very best biotech and medtech startups in the Nordics to become the next growth successes. Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator coordinates the NOME-programme in Norway and collaborates with Oslo Medtech and the incubator Aleap to find the best match of mentors and entrepreneurs.

 

Watch the NOME information video here

Contact Bjørn Klem, General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, if you would like to join NOME or if you want more information about the programme in Norway.

Take a look at the NOME website and the information flyer for more information about the programme. 

 

The PCI Biotech and Ultimovacs collaboration awarded NOK 500,000 from Innovation Norway

The PCI Biotech and Ultimovacs collaboration awarded NOK 500,000 from Innovation Norway

Oslo (Norway), 6 January 2017 – PCI Biotech (OSE: PCIB), a cancer focused biopharmaceutical company, and Ultimovacs, a pharmaceutical company developing novel immunotherapy against cancer, today announced that they are awarded NOK 500,000 for further development of the existing preclinical research collaboration. The purpose of the collaboration is to utilise the companies’ complementary scientific platforms to explore potential synergies and the grant will support these activities. The Innovation Norway grant of NOK 500,000 is awarded for 2017 and the grant is made available through Oslo Cancer Cluster a Norwegian Centre of Expertise.

Contact information:
PCI Biotech Holding ASA, Ullernchausséen 64, N-0379 Oslo, Norway. www.pcibiotech.com
Per Walday, CEO, pw@pcibiotech.no, Mobile: +47 917 93 429.

This information is subject to the disclosure requirements pursuant to section 5-12 of the Norwegian Securities Trading Act.