New leadership in OCC Incubator

A new leadership duo strengthens Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) Incubator, as General Manager Bjørn Klem steps down after six years.

“Six years as general manager of OCC Incubator has been a fantastic journey. We have moved from a small office in Lysaker to a dream come true in a building housing an entire innovation system for startups and enterprises next to the Radium Hospital in Oslo,” says Bjørn Klem, soon-to-be-former general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) Incubator.

OCC Incubator plays a central role in the start-up scene in OCC Innovation Park. Many newly established start-ups in cancer innovation have advanced to a higher level of development thanks to the OCC Incubator during the past six years. Through the Accelerator programme, companies have attracted public and private funding, created job opportunities and added value through innovative treatments.

There is no slowing down with the new leadership duo. OCC Incubator will continue to build the Norwegian health industry and be an essential part of a unique environment for establishing new businesses in cancer.

New Chief Operating Officer

“The leadership of OCC Incubator is in safe hands with Janne Nestvold, who has built several impressive laboratories over the last years,” says Klem.

Nestvold is currently laboratory manager at OCC Incubator. She holds a PhD in Immunology from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Oslo. Her research experience is from academia and biotech companies within the field of immuno-oncology.

“The OCC Incubator team is grateful to Bjørn Klem for his supportive and open-minded leadership. I am enthusiastic to further develop OCC Incubator and continue Klem’s solid work in the organization,” says Nestvold, new Chief Operating Officer (COO) in OCC Incubator.

Closer ties with the cluster

Ketil Widerberg steps in as the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of OCC Incubator, bringing seven years of solid experience as general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster. Widerberg will continue as general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, while leading OCC Incubator in partnership with Nestvold. Widerberg is also Chairman of the Board at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

“I look forward to ultimately obtaining Ketil Widerberg’s know-how and experience into the team,” says Nestvold.

Widerberg thinks working with Nestvold is a natural step towards a closer collaboration between the cluster and the incubator.

“OCC Incubator has become increasingly important in the development of a rich cluster environment with strong start-ups in OCC Innovation Park. For the start-ups in the incubator, closeness to larger private companies and public institutions, through the cluster, is essential. This is why I think our new organization is ideal right now,” says Widerberg.

Leading a start-up

Klem goes on to new adventures in the start-up scene in OCC Innovation Park, as the new CEO of AdjuTec Pharma from 1 July. AdjuTec Pharma is a Norwegian pharmaceutical start-up developing a new technology to combat antibiotic resistance.

“I am happy to say AdjuTec Pharma is a true product of the Accelerator programme. I will still have my office space in OCC Incubator and be part of the Accelerator programme as the head of a start-up,” Klem says.

“Finally, I want to thank the team and partners for unforgettable years at OCC Incubator. And I hope I will still get a homemade bun from the students with the baking project at Ullern Upper Secondary School every Friday.”


OCC Accelerator is here

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator relaunches the programme for start-ups in cancer innovation under the new name OCC Accelerator.

OCC Accelerator will identify, select, and develop promising innovations that will improve the lives of cancer patients. The aim is to make the projects attractive for private and public investments.

“This programme is for the best research projects and start-ups with innovative technology in cancer and a strong commercial potential.”

“This programme is for the best research projects and start-ups with innovative technology in cancer and a strong commercial potential. It is publicly funded with the overarching goal to build Norwegian health industry,” said Bjørn Klem, general manager, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

OCC Accelerator is a programme led by Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and it is funded by Siva, a governmental enterprise facilitating a national infrastructure for innovation.

“2021 will be a challenging year because of the corona pandemic, but thanks to Siva we can offer up to 100% discounted services to the Accelerator companies,” said Bjørn Klem.

How does the programme work?

OCC Incubator regularly meet with researchers, founders, and entrepreneurs to discuss whether their ideas have commercial potential. After a comprehensive evaluation and approval from the board, the project or start-up may be admitted to the OCC Accelerator programme.

“We tailor our services according to each company’s needs.”

“We tailor our services according to each company’s needs. Some companies need help with a specific challenge, while others need support with everything during the start-up phase,” Bjørn Klem said.

The activities often include to establish the company, secure intellectual property rights, fund the company, set up development plans, and recruit management, advisors, consultants, and a board of directors.

Help with funding

For most companies the most important thing is to pursue equity investments and public funding. OCC Incubator helps the company navigate the complex landscape of funding grants, coach them before negotiations with potential investors and provide valuable contacts.

The global network through Oslo Cancer Cluster also gives the companies exposure through international partnering conferences, pitching events and official communication channels.

Moreover, the OCC Accelerator companies have access to the OCC Incubator’s state-of-the-art laboratories and offices in Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park.

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator offers state-of-the-art laboratories for researchers in the cancer field. Photo: Christopher Olssøn

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator offers state-of-the-art laboratories for researchers in the cancer field. Photo: Christopher Olssøn

“We can work intensely with companies for periods of time, but eventually they need to stand on their own feet. Our main goal is to make them attractive for investments,” Bjørn Klem said.

The companies may stay up to 4 years in the programme. Their progress is evaluated on a yearly basis to ensure they reach the necessary milestones.

One success story

Kongsberg Beam Technology is one of the companies currently in the OCC Accelerator programme. The company has benefited in several ways. Bjørn Klem has helped the founders write funding applications and arranged investor meetings. Thomas Andersson, Senior Advisor for Business Development in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, aided in recruiting the CEO Kerstin Jakobsson to the company and retains a seat on the board.

After the company’s first investor presentation in February 2021, the first issue of shares was oversubscribed in less than two days to the amount of 13MNOK. The company is also supported by the Norwegian Research Council with 23MNOK.

“We would not be where we are today without the support of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.”

“Kongsberg Beam Technology is a medtech company in oncology. It is very important for us as a start-up company to be part of a life science community such as Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and have access to their network and partner meetings. We would not be where we are today without the support of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. They have helped us with important funding contacts, to prepare the crucial investor meetings, which have secured our initial funding,” said Kerstin Jakobsson, CEO of Kongsberg Beam Technology.

If you are a researcher, founder or entrepreneur with an idea in cancer innovation with commercial potential, you are welcome to apply to OCC Accelerator. Please contact Bjørn Klem to find out more.


Unravelling the mysteries of cancer cells

A new instrument in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator will help researchers to learn how cells function so novel cancer treatments can be developed.

The instrument Seahorse was recently donated by Radiumhospitalets Legater to Oslo University Hospital’s Department for Cell Therapy and will be available for all researchers in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

“The Department of Cell Therapy is in the international forefront in their field of research. Radiumhospitalets Legater is proud to support their endeavor with this important instrument,” says Jan Vincents Johannessen, Head of Radiumhospitalets Legater.

The instrument can make important measurements inside cells to understand the mechanisms of many diseases, including cancer. The data is collected from live cells in real-time, which will give researchers novel insights into cell metabolism.

“A Seahorse instrument measures the metabolism of cells, their respiration and energy production in real time and at high throughput,” said Dr. Else Marit Inderberg, senior scientist at the Department of Cell Therapy, Oslo University Hospital.

Metabolic reprogramming is emerging as a critical target in therapeutic intervention, for example in the development of new cancer treatments, which is why this instrument is so important for academics and companies in the cancer field.

“Metabolism plays a central part in the evolution of cancer cells and also in the efficacy of immune cells that infiltrates tumour cells. A tool that permits measuring the different metabolism modalities of both cancer cells and immune cells is an invaluable asset in the development of new therapeutic approaches,” Dr. Inderberg continued. “We will use the instrument to both assess the cancer cells as target cells and to optimize our immune cells used in therapy. This may help to provide clues about why some patients in clinical trials respond to different types of treatments and some do not.”

The instrument is placed in one of the laboratories in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, where both academic researchers and researchers from private companies can access it as they develop new cancer treatments. Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, by laboratory manager Janne Nestvold, made the physical space available and facilitated the procurement of the instrument, including user training.

“The Seahorse instrument will be a useful cell analysis tool in the laboratory instrument portfolio to support researchers in the development of next generation cancer therapies,” commented Nestvold.

The Seahorse is not the type of instrument you would find in just any laboratory.

“There are only around ten instruments of this kind in Norway,” said Erik Brodin from Matriks AS, a company that offers solutions, instruments and support to laboratories across Norway. “Each is worth approximately NOK 2 million.”

Brodin has given training and instructions to a couple of the researchers in the Incubator. These two researchers will pass on their knowledge to the rest of the team.

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator are currently in the process of expanding the cell laboratories due to high demand for these kinds of facilities. Meeting rooms are now being converted into laboratories to meet the growing need from tenants.

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.

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.

Sign up to our monthly newsletter