Baked goods bringing people together

A special sweet pastry is the weekly highlight in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Buns with a creamy vanilla centre, sugar coating and coconut sprinkles … These are the traditional Norwegian skoleboller served to the tenants of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator every Friday.

The buns are handmade by a group called Tilrettelagt, consisting of students with special needs who attend Ullern Upper Secondary School. Tilrettelagt arranges important training for the students to prepare them for working life.

“This is an activity that the students can enjoy and have use for in their daily lives. It also brings us out of our little bubble so we can meet with the other people in the building,” said school assistant Lisbeth Fjellstad.

Young bakers

Since the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park opened in 2015, Tilrettelagt has been baking the buns to sell to students, teachers, and companies in the building.

The students bake the buns themselves and many of the students know the recipe by heart.

“It is fantastic. My plan is to get a job at a bakery that makes gluten-free goods,” said Halvard, one of the students.

The students learn practical skills in the bakery that prepares them for worklife. Photo: Sofia Linden / Oslo Cancer Cluster

Learning practical skills

The students deliver the buns to the tenants in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and sell the buns in the school hallways to other students and teachers.

“It is good for the students to learn practical skills and do meaningful work. This activity develops their skills in mathematics, Norwegian, communication, collaboration, sales, service, and hygiene. We continually work with these subjects in the bakery,” said teacher Susann Steinsvik.

In Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, the buns are a bonus for the hard-working cancer researchers. During the coffee breaks, they can have meaningful conversations with other tenants and develop their ideas.

Taking the leap for cancer research

Anette Weyergang wants to make cancer treatment more effective and match the right patient with the right drug.

“I am motivated by the thought that I can make a difference for someone. It is risky to leave a long career in research and start a company, but if that’s what it takes, I am ready to do it. I believe our research findings can be of value to patients, and I feel obligated to do what I can to transform this into something that can be used.”

Anette Weyergang, Senior Scientist and Project Group Leader at Oslo University Hospital is on the verge of creating a company to bring her cancer research into the world. Her discovery could make a real difference in how novel cancer treatments are used in patients.

“As an academic researcher when you make a discovery, you almost expect there is a team ready to commercialise your innovation. This isn’t the case. You can’t just call up a pharmaceutical company and say ‘Look what I found!’. There is a lot you need to do and document before a big company wants to take your innovation further.”

From researcher to entrepreneur

Many times, it is up to the researchers to take charge of the development of their innovation into a product themselves.

“This is a lot of work and it often feels like having two full-time jobs: being a researcher and a founder. There should be funding for the innovation activities of a project leader.”

Weyergang is a pharmacist by education and has spent her career since 2004 in Professor Kristian Berg’s research group at the Institute for Cancer Research.

“I feel lucky to work in such a group, where excellent research is performed by highly skilled people, with collaborations at the institute and internationally. This has created a drive in me.”

Berg is a well-known name in Norwegian cancer research, especially in methods for improving drug delivery. He has several patents, which have led to the establishment of the two companies Photocure and PCI Biotech. As such, it makes sense that Weyergang also wants to take her research further.

Solving problems for patients

Weyergang’s projects are in the field of translational research. This means that the researchers are constantly drawing parallels between what they discover in the laboratory and what is happening with patients in the clinic.

“I talk a lot with clinicians at Oslo University Hospital, so that I can position my research to make it as relevant as possible for what is happening in the clinic. I ask: What is the current treatment? What problems do the patients have? Why can’t we cure them? How can we solve this? I boil these big questions down into a few concrete hypotheses, perform research and aim to bring my results into the clinic.”

The last 20-30 years, there has been a revolution in cancer treatments. This has led to a wave of new medicines that are much more targeted towards specific cancers.

“Even the most effective new drugs do not work on all patients. We have found a biomarker called RAB5 that we can look at in the patient’s tumour and predict if some of these novel treatments will work or not.”

The biomarker may tell if the patient will benefit from treatment with the antibody conjugates, which is a very popular cancer treatment right now used to deliver chemotherapy to cancer tumours.

Read more about the biomarker here.

How to commercialize an innovation

Initially, Weyergang received coaching from Jónas Einarsson and Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen at Radforsk Investment Fund, who took an interest in the research project.

“They helped us to figure out how to communicate around the project and how it can be possible to make money from it. We realized that this project can make a profit, but that we have a long road ahead of us.”

The project was also selected for the innovation programme SPARK Norway at UiO Life Science two years ago.

“It has been a steep learning curve. We learnt about commercialization through educational seminars and connected with a network with the right competencies. Also, the funding we received has prepared the project for commercialization.”

As of September 2022, the project has been taken up in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, where Weyergang receives business development advice from Thomas Andersson to attract seed funding.

“Attracting investments is difficult right now. The most important thing for us is financing: how to get it, understanding what kind of funding to look for, and identifying who might be interested. We are setting up a company to sell a product and the development of that product will cost a lot of money.”

Calling for more basic research

Norway has a world-class cancer research environment, built upon many decades of excellent research.

“The biggest problem with being a cancer researcher today is financing and long term security. There are permanent positions for scientists, but employees need to acquire the funds for their projects themselves. This insecurity weighs heavily and is the reason many brilliant minds disappear.”

Finally, Weyergang highlights the importance of basic research which is fundamental for all translational research and innovation.

“To develop cancer treatment we need new ideas both within basic and translational research.”

GU Ventures visited Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator

New connections were made between the incubators in Gothenburg and Oslo.

GU ventures, an incubator that supports projects and companies spawned by the University of Gothenburg, visited Oslo Cancer Cluster on 25-26 January 2023. Anders Waas, Business Development Advisor for GU Ventures, was accompanied by several cancer companies from the Gothenburg milieu, including Sortina Pharma (Sara Rhost and Göran Landberg, Iscaff Pharma (Per Setterberg), Simsen diagnostics (Gustav Johansson) and Oncorena (Börje Haraldsson and Pål Falck).

The OCC Incubator team, consisting of Ketil Widerberg, CEO, Janne Nestvold, COO, and Thomas Andersson, Business Development Advisor, facilitated meetings with several companies from Oslo Cancer Cluster.

GU Ventures also participated at Cancer Crosslinks, an annual educational meeting which gathers prominent experts in oncology, providing a forum for networking and interaction.

Anders Waas commented: “We were very impressed by the research, the start-up companies and the activities at Oslo Cancer Cluster and strive to build a closer collaboration, which can benefit the development of cancer research and growth of cancer companies in the Oslo – Gothenburg region.”

Thomas Andersson commented: “This was a great experience for Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. We were very impressed by the quality of the companies from GU Ventures and look forward to collaborating more closely.”

Cancer incubator secures further financing

SIVA continues backing our Incubator so we can help cancer start-ups succeed

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has been awarded NOK 3,5 million to continue supporting cancer innovators during 2023. The funds come from SIVA, a governmental enterprise facilitating a national infrastructure for innovation.

Why are these funds important? Well, the road is long from a promising innovation is born until it becomes a solution that improves patients’ lives. An innovator often needs support to make their idea into a commercial product.

Precision therapy against cancer

This was the case with Kongsberg Beam Technology, founded by Per Håvard Kleven who had invented a digital solution to improve proton therapy, based on expertise from the Kongsberg defence industry.

The company was admitted into the Accelerator programme at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator in 2019. The incubator team worked closely with the company and helped with everything from setting up a business plan, developing a company strategy and recruiting management, to attracting the company’s first investors.

Kerstin Johansson, CEO of Kongsberg Beam Technology, one of the companies in the Incubator that has received help from SIVA.

“If it wasn’t for Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, Kongsberg Beam Technology wouldn’t be where we are today.”

“If it wasn’t for Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, Kongsberg Beam Technology wouldn’t be where we are today. From being a one-man company, we have grown to a semi-virtual company with a mix of employees and CRO/service companies with key competences for the road to commercialise our product MaMa-K. To date we have attracted NOK 50,4 million in private investments and public funding. We strongly believe that with our solution, MaMa-K software intended for radiation therapy the clinical benefits will be significantly better and cancer patients will have a much better life with less side effects after the treatment,” said Kerstin Jakobsson, CEO of Kongsberg Beam Technology.

A melting pot for innovation

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator is the only cancer incubator among the total 35 companies accepted into the SIVA’s new ten-year Incubator programme starting 2023. The Incubator offers business development services, state-of-the-art laboratories, and access to a global cancer community.

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator have state-of-the-art labs that are shared between academics and private companies. Photo: Christopher Olssøn

A multitude of languages can be heard between the international researchers as you walk down the hallways. When peering into the labs, you see academics working side-by-side with private companies. This is a true melting pot for health innovation.

“Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator is uniquely situated next to Oslo University Hospital and can provide the network in oncology that early-stage companies in cancer need.”

“Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator is uniquely situated next to Oslo University Hospital and can provide the network in oncology that early-stage companies in cancer need. We are now expanding the Innovation Park to make room for more companies, who are in dire need of our facilities and expertise. This is good for the companies, it benefits the patients and adds value to Norwegian society,” said Ketil Widerberg, CEO and Chairman of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

The Incubator is situated in Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, right next to the Cancer Research Institute and a stone’s throw away from the Oslo University Hospital (a Comprehensive Cancer Centre). Photo: Christian Tandberg