A PhD on antibiotic resistance

Rebekka Rolfsnes is doing her PhD with the start-up AdjuTec Pharma AS and the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Oslo (UiO). Together, they will look for solutions to antibiotic resistance.

 

Rebekka Rolfsnes has a Master’s in molecular biology and will be starting her PhD next month. The subject is antibiotic resistance, and more accurately she will study the mechanism of action of one of AdjuTec Pharma’s new compounds, called APC247, on resistant enzymes, bacteria, and off-target effects in human cells. The PhD project is a result of a collaboration between the industry and the university.

Read more about the industry PhD scheme at UiO’s web pages.

A hope to save the world

When asked why she wanted to work with AdjuTec, Rebekka Rolfsnes said:

“Working with a start-up in this field is a unique opportunity to be part of something big all the way from start.”

“Besides, the combination of pharmacy and microbiology is the most intriguing I know,” she added.

Rolfsnes will be writing three articles that will cast new light on the global health problem of antibiotic resistance.

“This is the subject that is closest to my heart because it is a global challenge and there is a hope to save the world. Although it is also a very scary issue,” Rolfsnes admitted.

Win-win relationship

Professor Hanne Cecilie Winther-Larsen at the Department of Pharmacy, UiO, is Rolfsnes’ main PhD supervisor.

“This PhD project will meet one of the largest challenges our society is currently facing, antimicrobial resistance, and we are happy to be a part of it. In the early phase of this project, there are many questions to answer and experiments to perform, which we find scientifically interesting,” said Winther-Larsen.

Woman in lab coat at lab

Professor Hanne Cecilie Winther-Larsen, in the lab at the Department of Pharmacy, UiO.

The Department of Pharmacy offers both competence and the infrastructure to support a successful outcome for the project. Professor Winther-Larsen had no doubt:

“The mutual relationship between the industry and the university creates a win-win situation.”

 

The slow pandemic

Antibiotics are important for treating infections but also for prophylactic use during major surgery, cancer therapy, and for patients vulnerable to infections, such as patients on immunosuppressive drugs and catheterized patients. But after many years of successful treatment of bacterial infections, there has been an alarming increase of infections that are resistant to even last-resort antibiotics.

Pål Rongved, founder, project leader, and CSO in AdjuTec, and professor at UiO, put it this way:

“Antibiotic resistance is the slow pandemic. It is a steadily increasing threat.”

Antibiotic resistance, or antimicrobial multidrug resistance, is due to decades of overuse of antibiotics in agriculture and human medicine, and with few antibiotic innovations. This creates all kinds of problems in hospitals, where the presence of bacteria is high.

5 people in front of a modern building in sunshine

The entire Adjutec Pharma team in front of Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. From the left: Pål Rongved, Bjørg Bolstad, Ragnar Hovland, Rebekka Rolfsnes and Bjørn Klem.

AdjuTec’s story

AdjuTec’s story started in 2009, when professor Pål Rongved and one of his PhD students at UiO, Alexander Åstrand, found a remarkable effect in their PhD project (which was a collaboration with The University Hospital of Northern Norway and the University of Tromsø).

The effect was this: A chemical compound that could inactivate bacterial resistance enzymes, thus preserving the effect of common antibiotics.

In 2019, Rongved established AdjuTec Pharma to commercialize his invention, which he called the ZinChel technology. The first drug candidate was called APC148 and targets one of two main resistance enzyme families, the metallo-beta-lactamases (MBLs). APC148 is the lead product of AdjuTec in preclinical development, planning for clinical trials in healthy volunteers next year.

AdjuTec has been heavily supported by the Norwegian Research Council (NRC) from the start, and with private investors also on board, the company can now develop its pharmaceutical projects and hire the right people. The company was recently awarded financial support from the City of Oslo, an industry innovation project (IPN) from NRC as well as Eurostars to kick-start the new APC247 preclinical program.

A new drug candidate

During the summer of 2021, AdjuTec designed a new substance that works on a broader spectrum of bacteria compared to APC148. This next-generation compound is called APC247. It is based on a different technology that shows promise in inhibiting both the main resistance families, the prior mentioned MBLs and the serine-beta-lactamases (SBLs).

Both AdjuTec products will be administered intravenously to patients in combination with antibiotics. If successful, and with various regulatory fast tracks, AdjuTec expects that the new drug candidate can be ready for market in five years.

Read more about AdjuTec and their progress on their homepage.

 

Woman smiling looking into camera outside

Meet our new NOME coordinator

Hege Eiklid is the new coordinator of the Nordic Mentor Network for Entrepreneurship (NOME) in Norway.

“As a startup company, one is incapable of immediately building a team of world-class experts. To become a successful company, mentorship is necessary,” said Hege Eiklid.

The new coordinator of NOME in Norway has no doubts about the importance of world-class mentors for promising life science projects.

The essence of NOME

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has coordinated NOME activities in Norway since 2016 and is actively seeking both start-ups and mentors to join this programme, offering free mentoring to promising start-ups in the life science sector.

NOME is a not-for-profit mentoring network in the life sciences, managed by Accelerace AS. The goal of NOME is to increase the success rate of Nordic life science start-ups by giving access to experienced mentors. Participation is free of charge and funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The mentors also work for free.

“Because NOME mentors work pro bono, the mentors are truly passionate about mentorship and genuinely believe in the mission of these high-potential companies,” said Eiklid.

She sincerely believes in connecting people in order to advance health technology.

“This passion is the essence of NOME,” she said.

A coordinator with experience

Hege Eiklid is a seasoned business development strategist with ample experience both leading and promoting startup companies within the field of health technology. As for the foundation of her expertise, she holds two master’s degrees: one in Economic Development from Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main and another in Business Development and Innovation from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Eiklid has a proven track record in the management of strategic partnerships, and her expertise is cemented in comprehensive, hands-on experience. She has managed an incubator for start-ups within the field of health tech, and she has experience from investing in and working as a mentor for other start-ups.

 

OCC Incubator labs

Turning offices into laboratories

Something remarkable has happened in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator: office spaces have transformed into laboratories.

When Janne Nestvold, Chief Operating Officer of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, noticed the empty offices and meeting rooms in the beginning of the corona lockdown, she saw an opportunity. Why not turn these spare rooms into much-needed laboratory space?

Walls had to be moved, a separate ventilation system had to be installed, and new water pipes had to be fitted. Expensive instruments were ordered and work benches with hoods were mounted for the cell laboratory. All rooms needed to be dimensioned correctly down to the last millimetre for everything to fit precisely.

Shortage of laboratories

Why did Nestvold go to all this trouble? The answer is simple: there is a lack of laboratory and test capacity in Norway for new health companies.

“Emerging companies in cancer often don’t have the resources to build their own advanced laboratories and buy all the expensive equipment themselves. The companies turn to us instead for our shared public-private laboratory facilities, which have become very important for them to succeed.”
Janne Nestvold

Janne Nestvold

Janne Nestvold, Chief Operating Officer of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator

An urgent need

The demand for test facilities can be seen all over Norway. One example is Vaccibody, a Norwegian biopharmaceutical company developing novel vaccines and immunotherapies against cancer. As the company has grown recently, they needed to expand beyond the two labs they have in Oslo Science Park.

This spring, the Research Oncology Team at Vaccibody started using the labs at OCC Incubator. They are currently performing pre-clinical vaccination studies at the Radium Hospital, Oslo University Hospital, a Comprehensive Cancer Centre, which is located next to OCC Incubator.

“It is practical for us to have a laboratory located close to the facility where we perform our in vivo studies. Being a member of OCC Incubator is beneficial as we for instance get access to equipment that we may not use often enough to purchase on our own.” Audun Bersaas, PhD and Senior Scientist at Vaccibody.

Audun Bersaas, and his team from Vaccibody, working in the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator laboratories.

The Research Oncology team at Vaccibody are developing novel vaccines and immunotherapies against cancer. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

Breaking down barriers

The laboratories are shared between academic researchers from the Cell Therapy Unit at Oslo University Hospital and researchers from Norwegian companies, including Vaccibody, ThermoFisher, Zelluna Immunotherapy, Ultimovacs, and more.

“Research environments can be very competitive. In Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, we are building a collaborative atmosphere, based on mutual respect and sharing principles. This is important to help new companies reach their milestones.” Janne Nestvold

The Research Oncology team at Vaccibody are developing novel immunotherapies and vaccines against cancer.

The laboratories will be shared between different companies and researchers from Oslo University Hospital’s Cell Therapy Unit. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

The vision for a healthy future

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator supports more collaboration between researchers, industry, hospital staff and innovation ecosystems, so treatments can be developed and reach patients faster.

“To meet increasing pressure on the health services in the future, we need to invest in developing new technologies, diagnostics and treatments here in Norway,” said Ketil Widerberg, CEO, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

“Norway has world-class research environments in medicine, it is time to turn the research into products that help people and companies that create jobs, export opportunities and added value for society.” Ketil Widerberg

Ketil Widerberg, CEO, OCC Incubator

Ketil Widerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator

However, developing novel solutions in health come with high requirements. There is a need to test carefully to ensure it is safe and the innovations have a lengthy development time. This means that companies need access to more test facilities to bring innovative solutions to market.

Together with the other Norwegian health clusters, Norway Health Tech and Norwegian Smart Care Cluster, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator wants to set up more laboratories and test facilities in Norway.

In Oslo, there is already a lot happening. The Radium Hospital is building a completely new clinic and proton building, while Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park will expand in two building stages over the next few years.

  • Hear more about the plans for building the health industry in Norway in this webinar (in Norwegian) from 21 May 2021.

Calling all life science start-ups

Are you a Norwegian life science start-up in need of mentoring?

The Nordic Mentor Network for Entrepreneurship (NOME) offers free mentoring to promising start-ups in the life science sector. Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) Incubator has coordinated NOME activities in Norway since 2016 and is actively seeking both start-ups and mentors to join the programme.

NOME is a not-for-profit mentoring network in the life sciences, managed by Accelerace AS. The goal of NOME is to increase the success rate of Nordic life science start-ups by giving access to experienced mentors. Participation is free of charge and funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

How does it work?

Selected start-ups are matched with 3-4 mentors to address the company’s specific challenges. These are some of the most experienced, best networked, and most influential leaders from the Nordic life science industry. The mentors volunteer their services to help start-up companies in biotech, medtech and healthtech areas to reach their goals.

Peter Birk, Accelerace

Peter Birk, Head of Business Development at Accelerace

“It is not very easy for start-ups to get access to advice from people of the level that we have in NOME. We provide a framework and facilitate help from those who know to those who need,” said Peter Birk, Head of Business Development at Accelerace.

“Several analyses of life science ecosystems confirm that access to advice from those who “have been there and done that” is a critical factor of success,” Birk continued.

 

Accelerating innovation

The NOME mentoring programme is a complement to the OCC Incubator’s other activities, facilities, and services to support start-ups in the cancer innovation field. This includes one-to-one business development advice, state-of-the-art laboratories and offices, and access to a global network of key players in the cancer field.

Ketil Widerberg, CEO, OCC Incubator

Ketil Widerberg, CEO of OCC Incubator

”To accelerate the development of new cancer treatments, we need to build the Norwegian health industry and Nordic collaboration on life science,” said Ketil Widerberg, Chief Executive Officer, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

“NOME is one example of this. The start-ups get connected with the mentors they need to develop their companies and bring new innovations to the market. We hope many new life science start-ups in Norway will take advantage of this opportunity,” Widerberg continued.

 

Nordic collaboration for life science

NOME is active in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland, and has an important role in connecting the entire Nordic Life Science system.

“Individually we are all small countries, but together we have critical mass and represent a very significant stronghold for life sciences that gets attention from the rest of the world,” said Peter Birk.

“A good example is that there is a high interest from very experienced non-Nordic individuals from the life science industry to become NOME mentors. This would not have happened if we were just a local Norwegian, Danish or Swedish,” Birk continued.

  • Do you want to receive mentoring for your start-up? Please get in touch with Ketil Widerberg, CEO of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.