Jónas Einarsson, CEO of Radforsk, and Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen, Communications Manager at Radforsk, invite guests on the podcast Radium to discuss recent developments in the Norwegian oncology field.

100 episodes of cancer research & development

From a relatively modest podcast to packed live shows at Arendalsuka, Radium has in three years grown into a leading cancer podcast in Norway.

Radium is a weekly podcast about Norwegian cutting-edge cancer research and development, produced by the evergreen investment fund Radforsk. Radforsk has 15 companies in its portfolio, of which five are on the stock market and 10 are also members of Oslo Cancer Cluster. Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen, Communications Manager, and Jónas Einarsson, CEO of Radforsk, bring guests on the show to discuss recent development in the oncology field and news from the portfolio companies.

“Three years ago, Elisabeth came to me and said ‘Now, we are going to do something new – we will make a podcast’. I replied ‘That’s great! But what is a podcast?’” Einarsson said.

Andersen then took the first steps and employed students from the media program at Ullern Upper Secondary School to help with sound production.

 

Interested investors

Andersen and Einarsson quickly noticed there is great interest in the podcast, especially from investors and shareholders. They want to stay updated about Norwegian cancer research, a relatively new but growing sector. They often send in questions, which Andersen and Einarsson ask the guests in the studio.

“We try to simplify things. It is easier to hear it explained by someone from a company, than to read a difficult press release,” Andersen said.

“I think the best episodes are when we get a good dialogue with the CEOs of the companies, especially when things get a little heated. I try to lure them out on the thin ice to make them tell us more,” Einarsson said.

The popular podcast format has exploded in recent years, giving people access to accessible conversations that they can listen to whenever they want.

“There is no strict direction. We say that we are just going to have a conversation and then we talk for an hour or more,“ Einarsson said. “We have a down-to-earth style, but Elisabeth will pull us back if the guests or I dive too deep into details.”

 

Affecting health policies

Radium has also had several events with live streaming. At Arendalsuka this year, the premises were fully packed with eager listeners at both of their live shows.

“At Arendal, we try to have podcasts with others in the cancer field and aim to be more political. We think it has worked very well, because we can reach out to even more people when we stream the event,” Elisabeth said.

“I think the podcast will interest people working in the health industry and health politics too,” Einarsson said. “For example, the health minister was a guest for an entire hour, talking about current challenges.”

 

Best of Norwegian research

Radium regularly invites famous names from the Norwegian research community too. Steinar Aamdal, a prominent researcher in cancer immunotherapies has been a guest. Another cancer expert, Håvard Danielsen, who works on the DoMore project at Oslo University Hospital, has also talked on the podcast.

Øyvind Bruland and Roy Larsen, the serial entrepreneurs who started Algeta, Nordic Nanovector and OncoInvent, also visited the show.

Soon, Radium will host Kristian Berg, the researcher behind PCI Biotech’s technology: photochemical internalisation technology.

“I believe people think it is very interesting to, through the podcast, meet the people who actually have researched and developed the treatments,” Einarsson said.

 

For the patients

Einarsson and Andersen have also noticed that cancer patients or their family members listen to the podcast to hear about what is happening in the field.

“It is important to communicate that we do this for the patients. An important driving force is that we wish to contribute to developing better treatments for patients,” said Andersen.

“Every time the survival rate increases, it means one patient gets to live longer – and perhaps that is because of a treatment we have helped to develop,” said Einarsson. “To be a part of the journey with immunotherapy over the last 20 years, for an old doctor like me, is absolutely fantastic.”

 

Listen and download Radium:

 

Send in your ideas for guests and topics directly to Radium.

 

Episode 100 was recorded at Kulturhuset in Oslo, with several interesting guests, a friendly atmosphere and, delicious food and beverages. Stay tuned for upcoming live events via Radforsk’s Facebook page!

 

Ketil Widerberg, General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, looks forward to taking part in EHiN - Norway's national e-health conference - next week.

Machine learning improves cancer research

This interview was first published on EHiN’s official website. Scroll down to read it in Norwegian.

 

EHiN is important in order to realise the opportunities that digital technologies can give patients, society and industry.

Ketil Widerberg is the General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, which is a co-owner of EHiN 2019. We asked Ketil Widerberg a few questions about why digitalization and EHiN are important for cancer research.

–Can you describe in short what Oslo Cancer Cluster is and what you do?

Oslo Cancer Cluster is a non-profit member organization that gathers public and private players. The goal is to transform cancer research into treatments that change patients’ lives. We are a National Centre of Expertise (NCE).

–You are now co-owners of EHiN. What do you wish to achieve with that?

Oslo Cancer Cluster has the last ten years developed and established well-known meeting places (such as Cancer Crosslinks) by combining different disciplines. In the future, digitalisation and precision medicine (e-health) will be a central area in cancer research.

EHiN is a perfect match in this area. EHiN will be an important platform in order to realise the opportunities that digital technologies can give patients, society and industry.

–What do you think AI will mean for cancer research?

Today’s breakthroughs in treatment will often only work on 3 out of 10 patients. Artificial intelligence will change medicine in two ways. First, how we understand cancer. In the same way as the microscope gave us the ability to see things on a cellular level, data will now help us to see patterns we never would have discovered.

Second, how we treat cancer will change. We have to be ready to give the right treatment to the right patient at the right time. One way of giving individualised treatments is to recognize patterns – patterns that show how a patient will react from a treatment.

After that, you can see in larger groups of people if this pattern is repeated. Then, you select the patients that have a positive response to the treatment. This will, to begin with, not be a perfect method, but if you repeat this process, the modern machine learning systems can make it better and better.

–We know that health research takes time. How can digital solutions improve this?

Digitalisation will accelerate the development of new treatments in several areas. One area is clinical studies. Digital technology can help to adjust studies according to patient responses and enable digital control arms that shorten years off the developmental period. Digital solutions can make clinical trials more flexible and efficient, by reducing the administrative burden on companies and at the same time make it simpler for patients to enroll.

Gradually, as the volume and speed of the data increases, we have the opportunity to use new machine learning algorithms – such as deep learning. The algorithms can identify digital biomarkers that will give faster and better development of new treatments.

–Why is EHiN an important meeting place for Norway?

EHiN is relevant for Oslo Cancer Cluster because the IT revolution is about to hit the oncology field. Personalized treatments, genomics and the use of health data will soon develop into one of the most important areas of “e-health”. This is also an area that is of great interest for the IT industry, for data storing, data analysis, machine learning, pattern recognition, connecting different data sources, and so on.

At the same time, the technology will also impact the academic world and the pharmaceutical part of the health sector, and contribute to set the rules for the whole value chain in health processes in decades to come. EHiN wishes, in collaboration with Oslo Cancer Cluster, to build Norway as an important international hub in the area of e-health – by gathering and showcasing the different activities at the conference and in other settings.

 

–Selvlærende datasystemer gjør kreftforskning stadig bedre

EHiN er ifølge Ketil Widerberg viktig for å få realisert gevinsten digital teknologi kan tilføre pasientene, samfunnet og næringslivet. Widerberg er daglig leder for Oslo Cancer Cluster, som i høst 2018 gikk inn som medeier av EHiN.

Vi stilte Ketil Widerberg noen spørsmål om hvorfor digitalisering og EHiN er viktig for kreftforskning.

–Kan du beskrive kort hva OCC er og hva dere gjør?

OCC er en non-profit medlemsorganisasjon som samler offentlige og private aktører. Målet er å gjøre kreftforskning til produkter som endrer pasienters liv. Vi er et NCE (National Centre of Expertise).

Dere har blitt med på EHiN. Hva ønsker OCC å oppnå med det?

Oslo Cancer Cluster har de siste 10 årene utviklet og etablert anerkjente møteplasser (som Cancer Crosslinks) ved å kombinere forskjellige fag-grener. Fremover vil digitalisering sammen med presisjonsmedisin (e-Helse) være et sentralt område innenfor kreft.

EHiN er en perfekt match for dette området. I tråd med OCC sin strategi vil EHiN være viktig for å få realisert gevinsten digital teknologi kan tilføre pasientene, samfunnet og næringslivet.

–Hva tror du AI kan bety for forskning rundt kreft?

Dagens behandlingsgjennombrudd vil ofte bare virke på 3 av 10 pasienter. Kunstig intelligens vil endre medisin på to måter. Hvordan vi forstår kreft. På samme måte som mikroskopet ga oss evnen til å se helt ned på cellenivå, vil data nå hjelpe oss til å se mønster vi aldri ellers ville oppdaget.

Hvordan vi behandler kreft vil forandre seg. Vi må derfor klare å gi den rette behandlingen til den rette pasienten til rett tid. En måte å kunne gi individbasert behandling er å gjenkjenne mønster. Mønster som viser hvordan en pasient vil reagere på en behandling.

Deretter se i større grupper mennesker om dette mønsteret gjentar seg. Da kan man plukke ut de pasientene med positivt utbytte av behandlingen. Dette vil i begynnelsen ikke være en perfekt metode, men hvis man gjentar denne prosessen, kan moderne selvlærende datasystemer gjøre den stadig bedre.

–Vi vet at helseforskning tar lang tid. Hvordan kan digitale løsninger bidra på dette?

Digitalisering vil akselerere utviklingen av ny behandling på flere områder. Ett område er kliniske studier. Digital teknologi kan gjøre at studier justeres etter respons og muliggjøre digitale kontrollarmer som korter år av utviklingstiden. Kliniske forsøk kan bli fleksible og effektive ved å redusere administrative byrder på firmaer, og samtidig gjøre det enklere for pasientene.

Etter hvert som volumet og hastigheten på data øker, har vi mulighet til å bruke nye maskinlæringsalgoritmer – som dyplæring. Det kan identifisere digitale biomarkører som vil kunne gi raskere og bedre utvikling av ny pasientbehandling.

–Hvorfor er EHiN en viktig møteplass for Norge?

EHiN er faglig relevant for OCC fordi IT-revolusjonen er i ferd med å slå inn på onkologi feltet. Persontilpasset medisin/behandling, genetikk og bruk av helsedata vil snart utvikle seg til et av de viktigste områdene innen “e-helse”. Dette er også et område som er av stor interesse for IT-bransjen (datalagring, analyse, machine learning, mønstergjenkjenning, kobling av ulike datakilder osv.).

Samtidig vil teknologien også få konsekvenser for den akademiske verden, samt den farmasøytiske delen av helsesektoren, og bidra med å legge rammene for hele verdikjeden i helseprosessene i tiårene fremover. EHiN ønsker, i samarbeid med OCC, å bygge Norge som en viktig internasjonal hub på området e-Helse ved å samle og vise frem ulike aktiviteter på konferansen og også i andre sammenhenger.

 

The panelists during our breakfast meeting about precision medicine in Arendal: (from left to right) Audun Hågå, Director (Norwegian Medicines Agency), Per Morten Sandset, vice principal for Innovation (University of Oslo), Tuva Moflag (Ap), Marianne Synnes (H), Geir Jørgen Bekkevold (KrF).

Together for precision medicine

Debate from Arendalsuka

During Arendalsuka 2019, we arranged a breakfast meeting on the development of cancer treatments of the future, together with LMI and Kreftforeningen.

Arendalsuka has become an important arena for those who want to improve aspects of Norwegian society. We were there this year to meet key players to accelerate the development of cancer treatments.

Our main event of the week was a collaboration with Legemiddelindustrien (LMI) and The Norwegian Cancer Society (Kreftforeningen). We wanted to highlight the cancer treatments of the future and whether Norway is equipped to keep up with the rapid developments in precision medicine. (Read a summary of the event in Norwegian on LMI’s website)

First speaker, Line Walen (LMI), presented the problems with the traditional system for approving new treatments in face of precision medicine.

The second presenter, Kjetil Taskén (Oslo University Hospital), introduced their new plan at Oslo University Hospital to implement precision medicine.

Then, Steinar Aamdal (University of Oslo) talked about what we can learn from Denmark when implementing precision medicine.

Lastly, Ole Aleksander Opdalshei (Norwegian Cancer Society) highlighted a new proposal for legislation from the government.

The exciting program was followed by a lively discussion between both politicians and cancer experts.

There was general agreement in the panel that developments are not happening fast enough and that the Norwegian health infrastructure and system for approving new treatments is not prepared to handle precision medicine, even though cancer patients need it immediately.

The panelists proposed some possible solutions:

  • Better collaboration and public-private partnerships between the health industry and the public health sector.
  • More resources to improve the infrastructure for clinical trials, with both staff, equipment and financial incentives.
  • Better use of the Norwegian health data registries.

After the debate, we interviewed a few of the participants and attendees. We asked: which concrete measures are needed for Norway to get going with precision medicine?

Watch the six-minute video below (in Norwegian) to find out what they said. (Turn up the sound)

 

Did you miss the meeting? View the whole video below on YouTube (in Norwegian).

 

Full list of participants:

  • Wenche Gerhardsen, Head of Communications, Oslo Cancer Cluster (Moderator)
  • Line Walen, Senior Adviser, LMI
  • Kjetil Taskén, director Institute for Cancer Research, Oslo University Hospital
  • Steinar Aamdal, professor emeritus, University of Oslo
  • Ole Aleksander Opdalshei, assisting general secretary, The Norwegian Cancer Society
  • Marianne Synnes (H), politician
  • Geir Jørgen Bekkevold (KrF), politician
  • Tuva Moflag (Ap), politician
  • Per Morten Sandset, vice principal for Innovation, University of Oslo
  • Audun Hågå, Director Norwegian Medicines Agency

 

Thank you to all participants and attendees!

The next event in this meeting series will take place in Oslo in the beginning of next year. More information will be posted closer to the event.

We hope to see you again!

 

Organisers:

 

 

 

 

 

Sponsors:

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Richard Stratford and Dr. Trevor Clancy, founders of OncoImmunity are happy to combine forces with NEC Corporation to strengthen their machine learning software in the fight against cancer.

Norwegian AI-based cancer research gets a boost

The Japanese tech giant NEC Corporation has acquired OncoImmunity AS, a Norwegian bioinformatics company that develops machine learning software to fight cancer.

This week, Oslo Cancer Cluster member OncoImmunity AS was bought by the Japanese IT and network company NEC Corporation. The company is now a subsidiary of NEC and operates under the name of NEC OncoImmunity AS. NEC has recently launched an artificial intelligence driven drug discovery business and stated in a press release that NEC OncoImmunity AS will be integral in developing NEC’s immunotherapy pipeline.

 

AI meets precision medicine

One of the great challenges when treating cancer today is to identify the right treatment for the right patient. Each cancer tumour is unique, and every patient has their own biological markers. So, how can doctors predict which therapy will work on which patient?

NEC OncoImmunity AS develops software to identify neoantigen targets for truly personalized cancer vaccines, cell therapies and optimal patient selection for cancer immunotherapy clinical trials. Neoantigen targets are parts of a protein that are unique to a patient’s specific tumor, and can be presented by the tumor to trigger the patient’s immune system to attack and potentially eradicate the tumor.

“The exciting field of personalized medicine is moving fast and becoming increasingly competitive. The synergy with NEC Corporation will allow us to make our technology even more accurate and competitive, as we can leverage NEC’s expertise in AI and software development and enable OI to deploy our technology on scale in the clinic due to their expertise in networks and cyber security,” said Dr. Trevor Clancy, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder.

“This acquisition gives us the opportunity to be a world leading player in this field and serve our Norwegian and international clients with improved and secure prediction technology in the medium to long term,” said Dr. Richard Stratford, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder.

 

The rise to success

OncoImmunity was founded in 2014 and has been a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster since the early days of the start up. The co-founders Dr. Trevor Clancy and Dr. Richard Stratford said the cluster has been instrumental to their success and thanks the team for their advice and support from the very beginning of their journey:

“It is crucial with a technology like ours that we interact with commercial companies active in drug development, research, clinical projects, investors and other partners. Oslo Cancer Cluster is the perfect ecosystem in that regard as it provides the company with the networking and partnering opportunities that in effect support our science, technological and commercial developments.”

Mr. Anders Tuv, Investment Director of Radforsk, has been responsible for managing the sales process in relation to the Japanese group NEC Corporation on behalf of the shareholders. The shareholders are happy with the transaction and the value creation that was realised through it. Mr. Tuv commented:

“It is a huge recognition that such a global player as NEC sees the value of the product and expertise that have been developed in OncoImmunity AS and buys the company to strengthen their own investments in and development of AI-driven cancer treatment. It is also a recognition of what Norway is achieving in the field of cancer research, and it shows that Radforsk has what it takes to develop early-phase companies into significant global positions within the digital/AI-driven part of the industry. We believe that NEC will be a good owner going forward, and we wish the enterprise the very best in its future development.”

 

Medicine is becoming digital

NEC OncoImmunity AS is now positioned to become a front runner in the design of personalized immunotherapy driven by artificial intelligence. Dr. Trevor Clancy said that NEC and OncoImmunity share the common vision that medicine is becoming increasingly digital and that AI will play a key role in shaping future drug development:

“Both organizations believe strongly that personalized cancer immunotherapy will bring curative power to cancer patients, and this commitment from NEC is highlighted by the recent launch of their drug discovery business. The acquisition now means that both companies can execute on their vision and be a powerful force internationally to deliver true personalized medicine driven by AI.”

 

For more information, please visit the official websites of NEC Corporations and NEC OncoImmunity AS 

 

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The High Throughput Screening Lab at SINTEF. Photo: Thor Nielsen / SINTEF

SINTEF to develop methods in immuno-oncology

SINTEF and Catapult Life Science are looking for new partners to develop methodology for cancer immunotherapy.

“We want to develop methods within immunotherapy, because this is currently the most successful strategy for improving cancer treatments and one of the main directions in modern medicine,” says Einar Sulheim, Research Scientist at SINTEF.

The Norwegian research organization SINTEF is an Oslo Cancer Cluster member with extensive knowledge in characterisation, analysis, drug discovery and development of conventional drugs.

The new project on methodology for cancer immunotherapy recently started in April 2019 and is a collaboration with Catapult Life Science, a new Oslo Cancer Cluster member. The aim is to help academic groups and companies develop their immunotherapy drug candidates and ideas.

Help cancer patients

Ultimately, the main aim is of course that the project will benefit cancer patients. Immunotherapy has shown to both increase life expectancy and create long term survivors in patient groups with very poor prognosis.

“We hope that this project can help streamline the development and production of immunotherapeutic drugs and help cancer patients by helping drug candidates through the stages before clinical trials.” Einar Sulheim, Research Scientist at SINTEF

 

Develop methodology

The project is a SINTEF initiative spending NOK 12,5 million from 2019 to 2023. SINTEF wants to develop methodology and adapt technology in high throughput screening to help develop products for cancer immunotherapy. This will include in vitro high throughput screening of drug effect in both primary cells and cell lines, animal models, pathology, and production of therapeutic cells and antibodies.

 

High throughput screening is the use of robotic liquid handling systems (automatic pipettes) to perform experiments. This makes it possible not only to handle small volumes and sample sizes with precision, but also to run wide screens with thousands of wells where drug combinations and concentrations can be tested in a variety of cells.

 

The Cell Lab at SINTEF. Photo: Thor Nielsen / SINTEF

The Cell Lab at SINTEF. Photo: Thor Nielsen / SINTEF

 

Bridging the gap

Catapult Life Science is a centre established to bridge the gap between the lab and the industry by providing infrastructure, equipment and expertise for product development and industrialisation in Norway. Their aim is to stimulate growth in the Norwegian economy by enabling a profitable health industry.

“In this project, our role will be to assess the industrial relevance of the new technologies developed, for instance by evaluating analytical methods used for various phases of drug development.” Astrid Hilde Myrset, CEO Catapult Life Science

A new product could for example be produced for testing in clinical studies according to regulatory requirements at Catapult, once the centre achieves its manufacturing license next year.

“If a new method is intended for use in quality control of a new regulatory drug, Catapult’s role can be to validate the method according to the regulatory requirements” Myrset adds. 

SINTEF and Catapult Life Science are now looking for partners.

Looking for new partners

Einar Sulheim sums up the ideal partners for this project:

“We are interested in partners developing cancer immunotherapies that see challenges in their experimental setups in terms of magnitude, standardization or facilities. Through this project, SINTEF can contribute with internal funding to develop methods that suit their purpose.”

 

Interested in this project?

Anette Weyergang demonstrated the PCI technology to the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg during her visit to Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park.

Radforsk to invest NOK 4.5 million in cancer research

Radforsk, the Radium Hospital Research Foundation, a partner of Oslo Cancer Cluster, is awarding several million Norwegian kroner to new research that fights cancer with light.

Radforsk is an evergreen investor focusing on companies that develop cancer treatment. Since its inception in 1986, Radforsk has allocated NOK 200 million of its profit back into cancer research at Oslo University Hospital. This year, four researchers will be awarded a total of NOK 4.5 million. One of them is Anette Weyergang, who will receive NOK 3.75 million over a three-year period.

“I’m so happy for this grant. As researchers, we have to find funding for our own projects. I didn’t have any funding for the project I have now applied and been granted funds for,” says Anette Weyergang.

Anette Weyergang is one of the researchers who has received funding from Radforsk.

Anette Weyergang is a project group manager and senior researcher in a research group led by Kristian Berg. The group conducts research in the field of photodynamic therapy (PDT) and photochemical internalisation (PCI). Radforsk’s portfolio company and Oslo Cancer Cluster member PCI Biotech is based on this group’s research.

What is PDT / PCI? Cancer research in the field of photodynamic therapy and photochemical internalisation studies the use of light in direct cancer treatment in combination with drugs, or to deliver drugs that can treat cancer cells or organs affected by cancer.

 

Weyergang is the first researcher ever to receive several million kroner over the course of several years from Radforsk.

“We have donated a total of NOK 200 million to cancer research at Oslo University Hospital, of which NOK 25 million have gone to research in PDT/PCI. We have previously awarded smaller amounts to several researchers, but we now want to use some of our funds to focus on projects we believe in,” says Jónas Einarsson, CEO of Radforsk.

By the deadline on 15 February 2019, Radforsk received a total of eight applications, which were then assessed by external experts.

 

The new research focuses on how to use light to release the cancer drugs more efficiently inside the cancer cells.

 

New use of PCI technology

PCI is a technology for delivering drugs and other molecules into the cancer cells and then releasing them by means of light. This allows for a targeted cancer treatment with fewer side effects for patients.

Weyergang will use the funds from Radforsk to research whether PCI technology can be used to make targeted cancer treatment even more precise.

“The project aims to find a method for delivering antibodies to cancer cells using PCI technology. This has never been done before, and if we succeed, it can open up brand new possibilities for using this technology,” says Weyergang.

Initially, she will focus on glioblastoma, which is the most serious form of brain cancer. Glioblastoma is resistant to both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and has a very high mortality rate.

“This is translational research, so human trials are still a long way off. We will now use both glioblastoma cell lines and animal experimentation to test our hypothesis. We do this to establish what is called a “proof of concept”, which we need to move on to clinical testing,” says Weyergang.

 

The other researchers who have received funding for PDT/PCI research from Radforsk in 2019 are:

  • Kristian Berg and Henry Hirschberg Beckman: NOK 207,500
  • Qian Peng: NOK 300,000
  • Mpuldy Sioud: NOK 300,000

 

What is Radforsk?

  • Since its formation in 1986, Radforsk has generated NOK 600 million in fund assets and channelled NOK 200 million to cancer research, based on a loan of NOK 1 million in equity back in 1986.
  • During this period, NOK 200 million have found its way back to the researchers whose ideas Radforsk has helped to commercialise.
  • NOK 25 million have gone to research in photodynamic therapy (PDT) and photochemical internalisation (PCI). In total, NOK 40 million will be awarded to this research.

 

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From the left: Hakan Köksal, PhD student, and Pierre Dillard, scientist, are splitting cells in the lab at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. They are two of the scientists behind the new Norwegian study described in this article.

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.

 

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: 

 

Arctic Pharma, a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster, gave students a lecture on the chemistry behind cancer treatments.

Chemistry with mutual benefits

Students were taught about the chemistry behind developing cancer treatments in the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

In February, forty chemistry students were given a memorable specialisation day on the subject of the chemistry behind developing cancer treatments. The company Arctic Pharma in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator invited them to the lab and gave a long and detailed lecture on the chemistry behind the medication they are developing to treat cancer.

Karl J. Bonney, who is a researcher in the company, started the day with an interactive lecture in English about the chemistry of the substance Arctic Pharma hopes will be effective against cancer.

Bonney emphasised to the students that the company is in the early stages of the development, and that it will take approximately three to four years before they are potentially able to start clinical trials on humans to see whether the substance is effective.

The pupils who are studying chemistry as their specialisation in the last year of upper secondary school were obviously fascinated by what they heard. They asked many important questions both to the lecturer, Bonney, and the chemistry teacher, Karsten, who participated to explain the most difficult terms in Norwegian.

 

Sugar-hungry cancer cells

Arctic Pharma is exploiting a well-known biological fact regarding cancer cells, namely that they like sugar, which means they have a sweet tooth. This is called the Warburg effect, and, so far, nobody has used it in the treatment of cancer. Since this is such a characteristic aspect of cancer cells, it would make sense to think that this could be a viable starting point for treatment.

Arctic Pharma is one of the smaller companies in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and is co-located with Ullern Upper Secondary School. Bonney has been permitted to use the school’s chemistry lab to test the chemical substance being developed to attack the Warburg effect.

The chemistry day at the company was organised to return the favour and to inspire the young chemistry students to keep studying chemistry at a university or university college.

 

 

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Three offices have been converted into extra laboratory space for the members of the Incubator.

The Incubator Labs are expanding

One of the tenants in the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

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

 

 

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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The pupils Kalina Topalova Casadiego, Ida Hustad Andresen,Andreas Bernhus and Dina Düring had the opportunity to experiment with fruit flies at the Institute for Cancer Research in Oslo.

Operation fruit flies

Three students experimenting with fruit flies in a lab.

Fruit flies are not only annoying little insects that appear when bananas are overripe. They are also popular research tools for cancer researchers.

The four pupils Kalina Topalova Casadiego, Ida Hustad Andresen, Andreas Bernhus and Dina Düring got to experience how cancer researchers look at fruit flies during their work placement in January.

“Let’s turn on the gas, and then I’ll put some fruit flies on the pad under your microscope.” Speaking is cancer researcher Lene Malrød who, together with her colleague Nina Marie Pedersen, is responsible for four pupils from Ullern Secondary School on work placements.

“Gosh! They’re moving,” proclaims one of the pupils.

But not for long. Soon, all the fruit flies are anaesthetised and, eventually, dead; then the pupils are tasked with surgically removing the ovaries of the female flies. It is easier said than done, even with the help of microscopes to enhance the tiny flies. Especially when the operating tools are two tweezers.

Fruit flies are kept in two test tubes

The fruit flies are kept in test tubes.

 

An exciting placement

It is the third day of the pupils’ work placement at the Institute for Cancer Research, located next to the school. For four days at the end of January, they have learnt about cancer research and which methods researchers use in their daily work.

“The work placement is not like we imagined,” says Kalina and Ida.

“There’s a lot more manual work than I would have thought, and then you realise how important research is through what we do,” says Ida.

She is the only one who is specialising in biology in combination with with other science subjects, and she finds this very useful when working in the lab together with researchers. The other three have had to catch up on the reading, but they all agree that it is very exciting.

“Yesterday, we learnt a lot about CRISPR, which is a new method for cutting and splicing genes. Media gives you the impression that this is a highly precise tool, but the researchers here say that a lot can go wrong, and that it’s not at all as precise as you might think,” says Ida.

A student looks at fruit flies under a microscope

The students look at the fruit flies under a microscope.

 

From Western Blot to flies

A total of twelve pupils were picked out for this work placement. They have been chosen based on motivation and grades, and they all have a wish to study something related to medicine or science after they finish upper secondary school.

The twelve students are divided into three groups with completely different activities and get to learn a number of different research methods. The group consisting of Ida, Kalina, Andreas, and Dina, for instance, is the only group which will have a go in the fly lab.

“Am I really supposed to remove the ovaries? I don’t see how,” one of the pupils say, equally discouraged and excited.

Andreas, on the other hand, is in complete control. First, he has separated the males and the females with a paint brush. He has then used the tweezers to remove the heads from the females, punctured the bottom to remove the intestines, and finally found the ovaries in the abdomen.

Lene gathers all the different body parts for the pupils to look at through a different microscope. These fruit flies are in fact genetically manipulated to glow in the dark – they are fluorescent.

If you are wondering why researchers use fruit flies as part of their research, you can read more about it in this article from Forskning.no (the article is written in Norwegian).

“It is so much fun to be here, and we are really lucky to get this opportunity,” says Dina on her way from the fly lab to another lab to carry out another experiment.

 

The pupils on the work placement have uploaded many nice photos and videos on Ullern Secondary School’s Instagram account – visit their account to see more from the placement.