Tor Haugen attended a work placement at Thermo Fisher Scientific, arranged by Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School, where he tried DNA profiling. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

DNA profiling on the syllabus

Tor takes a mouthswab before in order to profile his DNA.

Students learned about a Norwegian invention behind CAR T-cell therapy and DNA profiling on their latest work placement.

This article is also available in Norwegian here.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is a global company that develops the Norwegian technology, which is based on “Ugelstad-kulene” (The Ugelstad Beads). In June 2019, Einar, Tor, Olav and Philip from Ullern Upper Secondary School completed a work placement with Thermo Fisher Scientific in Oslo. They used the beads to profile their own DNA and learned how the beads can be used to find murderers, diagnose heart attacks and save children from cancer.

“What do you plan to study when you finish upper secondary school?” Marie asks.

“The natural sciences,” Einar and Tor replies.

“The natural sciences at NTNU,” Olav says.

“First, the natural sciences and then, join the Air Force,” Philip answers.

Marie Bosnes is supervising the students who are attending the work placement and has worked more than 24 years in the Norwegian section of Thermo Fisher Scientific. She conducts research and development in the former monastery located on Montebello, next to Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and Ullern Upper Secondary School.

Today, Marie and several of her co-workers have taken time out of their busy schedules to tutor the four students from Ullern: Einar Johannes Rye, Tor Haugen, Olav Bekken and Philip Horn Børge-Ask. The students have nearly finished their second year and have so far focused their studies on mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. But next year, they will also study programming, instead of biology.

“It is a good mix of subjects, especially programming is useful to learn. You should consider studying bioinformatics, because, in the future, it will be a very desirable qualification,” Marie says.

Marie has studied biology and her co-workers call her Reodor Felgen (a character from a famous Norwegian children’s comic book), since she loves to constantly explore research on new topics.

Treating cancer

An ullern student is looking at the dynabeads in a test tube.

Philip Horn Børge-Ask looks at the test tubes that contain the famous “Ugelstad-kulene”. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

While Einar, Tor, Olav and Philip are on a work placement with Marie, four other Ullern students are on another work placement with Thermo Fisher Scientific in Lillestrøm. This is where they develop and produce Dynabeads for the global market.

“Dynabeads are also kalled ‘Ugelstad-kulene’, because they are a Norwegian invention. During the ‘1970s, one of NASA’s goals was to make perfectly round and identical, tiny, plastic microbeads in outer space. No one thought it was possible to make them on Earth. John Ugelstad, a Norwegian chemical engineer, did not accept that fact. He completed several difficult calculations, which enabled him to produce these tiny beads on Earth,” Marie explains.

Thanks to the tiny beads, Thermo Fisher Scientific has experienced huge global success. Even though there are only 200 employees situated in Norway (out of 70 000 employees globally), the research and development conducted in Norway is extremely important for the whole company.

“We are proud to announce that every year Dynabeads are used in almost 5 billion diagnostic tests in the world,” Marie says.

Thermo Fisher Scientific has developed the beads further, so they can be used in CAR T-cell therapy to treat cancer. The first approved CAR T-cell therapy in the world that treats child leukaemia was approved in Norway in December 2018. The advanced technology is based on the Norwegian invention “Ugelstad-kulene”.

  • Watch the video from the Norwegian TV channel TV2 about Emily Whitehead, the first child in the world that received this CAR T-cell therapy. She visited Thermo Fisher Scientific in Oslo in March 2019.

Catching killers

Elisabeth and Mary are supervising the students in the lab

Elisabeth Breivold and Marie Bosness from Thermo Fisher Scientific supervised the students in the lab. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

“The beads are used for many different purposes and you will learn about a few of them today. Simply put, the beads are like a fishing rod. Depending on which bait you fix to it, the rod can be used in different ways,” Marie says. “Before lunch, we will use Dynabeads for DNA profiling. This technology is commonly used by police to identify suspects after a crime, just like in the TV series CSI.”

During the presentation, Marie shows the students the front page of an American newspaper with a mugshot of Gary Ridgway, an American serial killer, also known as “The Green River Killer”. Ridgway has now confessed to killing 71 women. For many years, the police hunted the murderer without any luck. Finally, new technology enabled the police to retrieve damning evidence from the tiny amounts of DNA that Ridgway had left on his victims. The DNA evidence led to a successful conviction of the killer.

“The DNA evidence was established with DNA profiling, using Thermo Fisher Scientific’s products. They did not use Dynabeads back then, but today, they would have used the beads. You will learn how to do it yourselves in the lab,” Marie says.

Learning to profile DNA

Olav takes the mouth swab

Olav performs a mouth swab on himself, the first step to retrieve the DNA. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

Before the students enter the laboratory, they need to put on protective glasses, lab coats and plastic shoe covers. The students will profile their own DNA, the same way the police profile the DNA from suspects or criminals.

First, the Ullern students collect the cells with a mouth swab. Then, they add the different enzymes and chemicals that will open the cell membranes into the test tube, so that the DNA is released.

Afterwards, the Ullern students add “Ugelstad-kulene”, which bind to the DNA like magnets. Then, they retrieve their DNA from the solution.

They put the DNA in a kind of “photocopier”, in order to study it with something called “gel electrophoresis”. This is a method for analysing individual parts of DNA that make up the human genome. It shows a bar code pattern, which is completely unique for every person in the world.

Tor is using the pipette in the lab.

Tor adds new chemicals to the solution with his DNA. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

“DNA is incredibly stable, which means that we can retrieve it from people and animals that died a long time ago and copy their DNA so that it can be analysed,” Marie explains.

“The most fun was to retrieve our own DNA. We tried it ourselves and it was fun to learn how to do it,” Philip says.

The Ullern students were very happy with their work placement at Thermo Fisher Scientific.

“I think the placement was educational and interesting. It was very well arranged and we got to try many different things. What surprised me the most was probably the close collaboration between scientists at Thermo Fisher Scientific – it seemed like everyone knew each other!” Philips says at the end of the day.

After the students had completed the DNA profiling, they ate lunch and then they learned more about the use of “Ugelstad-kulene” in diagnostics, and CAR T-cell therapy.

Elisabeth Breivold supervised the students while they performed the DNA profiling in the laboratory at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

 

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Nobel Laureate Dr James Allison and oncologist Dr Padmanee Sharma will become Strategic Advisors for our member, the Oslo-based biotech company Lytix Biopharma. Photo: Shutterstock

Nobel Prize winner joins Lytix Biopharma

Dr James Allison, Dr Padmanee Sharma

The Nobel Laureate Dr James Allison and oncologist Dr Padmanee Sharma will become strategic advisors for our member Lytix BioPharma.

Oslo Cancer Cluster’s member Lytix BioPharma announced this week that the cancer researchers and married couple Dr James Allison (PhD) and Dr Padmanee Sharma (MD) will join their Scientific Advisory Board.

Dr James Allison was, together with Dr Tasuku Honjo, awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine last December. The renowned cancer researchers received the award for their ground-breaking work in immunology. It has become the basis for different immunotherapies, an area within cancer therapy that aims to activate the patient’s immune system to fight cancer.

Dr Sharma is a distinguished oncologist, who has focused her work on understanding different resistant mechanisms in the immune system. These resistant mechanisms sometimes hinder immunotherapies from working on every cancer tumour and every cancer patient.

Lytix Biopharma is a biotech company, located in the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, that develops novel cancer immunotherapies. They are making an “oncolyctic peptide” – a drug with the potential to personalize every immunotherapy to fit each patient.

  • Please visit Lytix BioPharma’s official website for more information about their product

Edwin Clumper, CEO of Lytix BioPharma, expressed how thrilled he was to welcome Dr Allison and Dr Sharma:

“We are honoured that they have offered their support to further the development of our oncolytic peptides with the aim to tackle tumour heterogeneity – an unresolved challenge in cancer treatment.”

 

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Martin Bonde, CEO of Vaccibody, a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster, held a company presentation at the International Cancer Cluster Showcase 2019.

Dynamic networking and pitch sessions at ICCS 2019

Oslo Cancer Cluster and its international partners organised the International Cancer Cluster Showcase (ICCS) on 3 June in Philadelphia, kickstarting this year’s BIO International Convention.

The aim of this annual event is to showcase cutting edge oncology research and development activities performed in start-ups and biotechs from Oslo Cancer Cluster and its international partners from North America and Europe.

This year’s meeting offered a compact program including company presentations, engaging poster sessions and lively networking among representatives of the international oncology community.

Jutta Heix, Head of International Affairs at Oslo Cancer Cluster, and main organizer of the event:

“Building on the first meeting at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge in 2012, ICCS was established as a successful format to expose and connect emerging oncology companies to executives of the global oncology community attending the BIO International Convention.

“Via collaboration with partners from North American and European innovation hubs, we gather a strong group of exciting new companies and attract more than 200 participants.”

Jan Alfheim, CEO of Oncoinvent, another member of Oslo Cancer Cluster also held a presentation.

Among this year’s presenters were our members OncoInvent and Vaccibody. The dynamic pitch session featured 20 companies from 9 countries advancing a variety of innovative oncology technologies and assets in preclinical and clinical development.

“ICCS was a great opportunity to present Vaccibody and our recent progress towards a relevant international audience. It triggered new contacts and stimulated good discussions following the presentation.”
Martin Bonde, CEO of Vaccibody

Commenting on the highlights, Heix said:

“The National Institutes of Health / National Cancer Institute (NCI) participated for the 2nd time. Michael Salgaller, Supervisory Specialist Technology Transfer Center presented the partnering opportunities and benefits the NCI offers to outside parties from academia and industry.

“Our sponsors Precision for Medicine, Takeda Oncology and Boehringer Ingelheim enriched the program by short presentations and active discussions during the humming poster and networking sessions.”

 

The event was sponsored by:

 

The event was organised by:

Ultimovacs enters the Oslo Stock Exchange

Oslo Cancer Cluster member Ultimovacs, a Norwegian cancer vaccine company, has raised NOK 370 million and entered the Oslo Stock Exchange on Monday 3 June 2019.

There was a stir of interest among both national and international investors when Ultimovacs announced they will enter the Oslo Stock Exchange. Several interested parties have now become shareholders in the company, totalling approximately 1 500 shareholders.

“It is good for the Norwegian health industry and for Ultimovacs when national and international investors show the company this kind of trust. In today’s uncertain market, it is especially nice with such a large interest, from both international investors and small savers. I look forward to following the company further,” says Jonas Einarsson, Chairman of the Board in Ultimovacs and Managing Director in Radforsk.

The funds that Ultimovacs has raised will go to financing the development of their universal cancer vaccine, UV1. A large clinical study will document the effect of the vaccine. UV1 will be combined with other immunotherapies in patients with malignant melanoma (a type of skin cancer) at around 30 hospitals in Norway, Europe, USA and Australia.

Ultimovacs has already run two successful clinical trials of the vaccine on patients with lung cancer, prostate cancer and malignant melanoma.

“The cancer vaccine has shown promise in the studies we have conducted at the Norwegian Radium Hospital. Based on the results, we have established a development programme to document that our vaccine has effect on cancer patients. I am very happy that we now have entered the Oslo Stock Exchange. It means that the practical conditions are in place to put our development programme into action,” said Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen, Chief Executive Officer in Ultimovacs.

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Emmy and Benedicte learned about research into neuroscience and how to use modern medical technology, such as CRISPR, when on work placement with researcher Marianne Fyhn and her colleagues at the University of Oslo. Photo: Monica Jenstad

Learning about the human brain

Oslo Cancer Cluster and Ullern Upper Secondary School arranged a work placement for students to learn about neuroscience at the University of Oslo.

Four biology students from Ullern Upper Secondary School spent two great days on work placement with some of the world’s best neuroscientists at the University of Oslo. In Marianne Fyhn’s research group, the students tried training rats and learned how research on rats can provide valuable knowledge about the human brain.

The Ullern students, Benedicte Berggrav, Lina Babusiaux, Maren Gjerstad Høgden and Emmy Hansteen, first had to dress in green laboratory clothes, hairnets and gloves. They also had to leave their phones and notepads behind, before enterring the animal laboratory where Marianne Fyhn and her colleagues work. Finally, they had to walk through an air lock that blew the last remnants of dust and pollution off them.

On the other side was the most sacred place for researchers: the newly refurbished animal laboratory. It is in the basement of Kristine Bonnevies Hus on the University of Oslo campus. We used to call it “Bio-bygget” (“the bio-building”) when I studied here during the ‘1990s.

 

Researcher Kristian Lensjø showed the four excited biology students into the most sacred place: the animal lab.

It is the second day of the students’ work placement with Marianne. The four biology students, who normally attend the second year of Ullern Upper Secondary School, have started to get used to their new, temporary jobs. They are standing in one of the laboratories and looking at master student Dejana Mitrovic as she is operating thin electrodes onto the brain of a sedated rat. PhD student Malin Benum Røe is standing behind Dejana, watching intently, giving guidance and a helping hand if needed.

“We do this so we can study the brain cells. We will also find out if we can guide the brain cells with weak electrical impulses. This is basic scientific research. In the long term, the knowledge can help to improve how a person with an amputated arm can control an artificial prosthetic arm,” Marianne explained.

“The knowledge can help to improve how a person with an amputated arm can control an artificial prosthetic arm.”

Dejana needs to be extremely precise when she connects the electrodes onto the rat’s brain. This is precision work and every micrometre makes a difference.

 

Training rats

The previous day, Maren, Benedicte, Lina and Emmy helped to train the rat on the operating table on a running course. Today, the Ullern students will train the other rats that haven’t had electrodes surgically connected to their brains yet.

“We will train the rats to walk in figures of eight, first in one direction and then the other”, the students explained to me.

We remain standing in the rat training room for a while, talk with Dejana and train some of the rats. Dejana tells me that the rats don’t have any names. After all, they are not pets, but they are cared for and looked after in all ways imaginable.

“It is very important that they are happy and don’t get stressed. Otherwise, they won’t perform the tasks we train them to do,” says Dejana. She and the other researchers know the animals well and know to look for any signs that may indicate that the rats aren’t feeling well.

“It is very important that they are happy and don’t get stressed.”

I ask the students how they feel about using rats for science.

“I think it is completely all right. The rats are doing well and can give us important information about the human brain. It is not okay when rats are used to test make-up and cosmetics, but it is a whole different matter when it concerns important medical research,” says Emmy and the other biology students from Ullern nod in agreement.

 

Understanding the brain

Marianne is the head of the CINPLA centre at the University of Oslo, where Maren, Benedicte, Lina and Emmy are on work placement for two days. Four other Ullern students, Henrik Andreas Elde, Nils William Ormestad Lie, Hans Christian Thagaard and Thale Gartland, are at the same time on a work placement with Mariannes research colleague, Professor of Physics Anders Malthe-Sørenssen. They are learning about methods in physics, mathematics and programming that help researchers to better understand the brain.

“CINPLA is an acronym for Centre for Integrative Neuroplasticity. We try to bring together experimental biology with calculative physics and mathematics to better understand information processing in the brain and the brain’s ability to change itself,” says Marianne.

Physics, mathematics and programming are therefore important parts of the researcher’s work when analysing what is happening in the rat’s brain.

If you think that research on rats’ brain cells sounds familiar, then you are probably right. Edvard and May-Britt Moser in Trondheim received the first Norwegian Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2014. The award was given to them for their discovery of a certain type of brain cells, so called grid cells. The grid cells alert the body to its location and how to find its way from point A to point B.

Marianne did her PhD with Edvard and May-Britt, playing an essential role in the work that led to the discovery of the grid cells. Marianne was therefore very involved in Norway securing its first Nobel Prize in Medicine.

 

The dark room

Another room in the animal section is completely dark. In the middle of the room, there is an enormous box with various equipment. In the centre of the box, there is a little mouse with an implant on its head.

In this test room, there is an advanced microscope. It uses a laser beam to read the brain activity of the mouse as it alternates between running and standing still on a treadmill.

The researcher Kristian Lensjø is back from a longer study break at the renowned Harvard University and will use some of the methods he has learned.

“I will train the mouse so that it understands that for example vertical lines on a screen mean reward and that horizontal lines give no reward. Then I will look at which brain cells are responsible for this type of learning,” says Kristian.

The students stand behind Kristian and watch the mouse and the computer screen. When the testing begins, they must close the microscope off with a curtain so that the mouse is alone in the dark box. Kristian assures us that the mouse is okay and that he can see what the mouse is doing through an infra-red camera.

“This room and the equipment is so new, we are still experiencing some issues with the tech,” says Marianne. But Christian fixes the problem and suddenly we see something on the computer screen that we have never seen before. It is a look into the mouse’s brain while it runs on the treadmill. This means that the researchers can watch the nerve cells as the mouse looks at vertical and horizontal lines, and detect where the brain activity occurs.

 

Research role models

The students from Ullern know they are lucky to see how cutting-edge neuroscience is done in real life. Marianne and her colleagues are far from nobodies in the research world. Bente Prestegård from Oslo Cancer Cluster and Monica Jenstad, the biology teacher at Ullern who coordinates the work placements, made sure to tell the students beforehand.

“This is a fantastic and unique opportunity for students to get a look into science on a high international level. They can see that the people behind the research are nice and just like any normal people. When seeing good role models, it is easier to picture a future in research for oneself,” says Monica.

“This is a fantastic and unique opportunity for students to get a look into science on a high international level.”

Monica and Marianne have known each other since they were master students together at the University of Tromsø almost twenty years ago.

“I know Marianne very well, both privately and professionally. She is passionate about her research and about dissemination and recruitment. She also works hard to create a positive environment for her research group. Therefore, it was natural to ask Marianne to receive the students and it wasn’t difficult to get her to agree,” says Monica.

Back in the first operating room, Dejana and Malin are still operating on the rats. They will spend the entire day doing this. It takes time when the equipment needs to be found and sterilised, the rats need to be sedated and then operated on as precisely as possibly. It is past noon and time for lunch for Marianne, Kristian and the Ullern students on work placement.

Before I leave them outside Niels Henrik Abels Hus at the Oslo University Campus, I take a picture to remember the extra-ordinary work placement. And not least: to store a picture of the memory in my own brain.

 

Finally, time for lunch! From the left: Emmy Hansteen, Benedicte Berggrav, researcher Marianne Fyhn, Lina Babusiaux, Maren Gjerstad Høgden and researcher Kristian Lensjø. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

 

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Photo: Nordic Nanovector

A successful first quarter for Nordic Nanovector

Nordic Nanovector raises NOK 225 million in private placements, begins phase II clinical trials in 74 sites in 23 countries and prepares to commercialize the company. These were some of the good news presented in the first quarter 2019 report.

Oslo Cancer Cluster’s member company Nordic Nanovector develops precision medicine against haematological cancers. These are the types of cancers affecting blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes – also known as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. These cancers are notoriously difficult to treat and therefore have a highly unmet medical need.

On the morning of 23 May 2019, the CEO of Nordic Nanovector, Eduardo Bravo, presented some of the successes the company has had during the first quarter of 2019.

“As we advance the clinical development programmes with Betalutin, including PARADIGME, we are also beginning to initiate some of the other pre-commercialisation activities, such as manufacturing, that are crucial to ensure that we can submit our regulatory filing in a timely and efficient manner.”

The company’s highlights from the first quarter included raising approximately NOK 225 million in private placements.

They have also extended their clinical trials, known as the PARADIGME study, which address advanced, recurring follicular lymphoma. They now have phase II clinical trials in over 74 sites in 23 countries.

During the first quarter, Nordic Nanovector has also welcomed a new chairman to the Board of Directors – Jan H. Egberts, M.D. He is also the chairperson of the Board of Directors of Oslo Cancer Cluster member Photocure.

Lastly, Dr Mark Wright has been appointed Head of Manufacturing to lead the production of Nordic Nanovector’s therapies. This prepares Nordic Nanovector for future commercialisation and will hopefully lead to more precise treatments successfully reaching cancer patients.

 

Cathrine Wahlström Tellefsen gave a talk to teachers on how programming can be used to teach science subjects in upper secondary schools.

Introducing programming to the curriculum

Programming is not only for computer hackers, it can also help teachers to engage their students in science subjects and inspire start ups to discover new cancer treatments.

 

Almost 60 teachers working in upper secondary schools in Oslo visited Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and Ullern Upper Secondary School one evening in the end of March. The topic for the event was programming and how to introduce programming to the science subjects in school.

“The government has decided that programming should be implemented in schools, but in that case the teachers first have to know how to program, how to teach programming and, not least, how to make use of programming in a relevant way in their own subjects.”

This was how Cathrine Wahlström Tellefsen opened her lecture. She is the Head of Profag at the University of Oslo, a competence centre for teaching science and technology subjects. For nearly one hour, she talked to the almost 60 teachers who teach Biology, Mathematics, Chemistry, Technology, Science Research Theory and Physics about how to use programming in their teaching.

 

What is KUR? KUR is a collaborative project between Oslo Cancer Cluster, Ullern Upper Secondary School and other schools in Oslo and Akershus. It aims to develop the skills and competence of science teachers. Every six months, KUR arranges a meeting where current topics are discussed.

 

Programming and coding

“Don’t forget that programming is much more than just coding. Computers are changing the rules of the game and we have gained a much larger mathematical toolbox, which gives us the opportunity to analyse large data sets,” Tellefsen explained.

Only a couple of years ago, she wasn’t very interested in programming herself, but after pressures from higher up in her organisation, she gave it a shot. She has since then experienced how programming can be used in her own subject.

“I have been a Physics teacher for many years in an upper secondary school in Akershus, so I know how it is,” she said to calm the audience a little. Her excitement over the opportunities programming provides seemed to rub off on some of the people in the room.

“In biology, for example, programming can be used to teach animal population growth. The students understand more of the logic behind the use of mathematical formulas and how an increase in the carrying capacity of a biological species can change the size of its population dramatically. My experience is that the students start playing around with the numbers really quickly and get a better understanding of the relationships,” said Tellefsen.

When it was time for a little break, many teachers were eager to try out the calculations and programming themselves.

 

Artificial intelligence in cancer treatments

Before the teachers tried programming, Marius Eidsaa from the start up OncoImmunity (a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster) gave a talk. He is a former physicist and uses algorithms, programming and artificial intelligence every day in his work.

“OncoImmunity has developed a method that can find new antigens that other companies can use to develop cancer vaccines,” said Eidsaa.

He quickly explained the principals of immunotherapy, a cancer treatment that activates the patient’s own immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells, which had previously remained hidden from the immune system. The neoantigens play a central role in this process.

“Our product is a computer software program called Immuneprofiler. We use patient data and artificial intelligence in order to get a ranking of the antigens that may be relevant for development of personalised cancer vaccines to the individual patient,” said Eidsaa.

Today, OncoImmunity has almost 20 employees of 10 different nationalities and have become CE-marked as the first company in the world in their field. (You can read more about OncoImmunity in this article that we published on 18 December 2018.)

The introductory talk by Eidsaa about using programming in his start up peaked the audience’s interest and the dedicated teachers eagerly asked many questions.

 

Programming in practice

After a short coffee break, the teachers were ready to try programming themselves. I tried programming in Biology, a session that was led by Monica, a teacher at Ullern Upper Secondary School. She is continuing her education in programming now and it turns out she has become very driven.

“Now you will program protein synthesis,” said Monica. We started brainstorming together about what we needed to find out, which parameters we could use in the formula to get the software Python to find proteins for us.

Since my knowledge in biology is a little rusty, it was a slow process. But when Monica showed us the correct solution, it was surprisingly logical and simple. The key is to stay focused and remember to have a cheat sheet right next to you in case you forget something.

 

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Biobank Norway coordinates Norwegian biobanks with the health industry to ensure that the valuable biosamples are used to develop new, breakthrough treatments.

How will biobanks accelerate cancer research?

Biobanks ­– the powerful tools in cancer research you may have never heard of.

 

Biobank Norway is a national research infrastructure that comprises all public biobanks in Norway and represents one of the world’s largest existing resources within biobanking. They are also a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster, through NTNU, and represent an exciting initiative in the endeavour to develop precision medicine.

 

A biobank is a storage facility that keeps biological samples to be used for medical research. The samples come from population-based or clinical studies.

 

Christian Jonasson, seniorforsker ved NTNU.

Christian Jonasson, seniorforsker ved NTNU.

Christian Jonasson, the Industry Coordinator for Biobank Norway, connects businesses with Norwegian biobanks to accelerate medical research. He said that more biobanks now work with the health industry and benefit from added value in the process.

“It is the health industry that will ultimately bring new therapies to patients.”
Christian Jonasson

Biobank Norway has developed several strategic areas for Norwegian biobanks. They have built automated freezers for secure long-term storage, with advanced robotised systems that can retrieve barcoded biological samples. They have initiated new biobanks, established new IT systems and also developed policies for public-private collaborations. Also, they have contributed to strategic processes that promote increased utilization of Norwegian health data, including the national Health Data Program.

Ultimately, Biobank Norway aims to facilitate collaborations between the global health industry and Norwegian biobanks to accelerate innovation in the life sciences, disease prevention and treatment.

“Biobanks are one of the most important tools in precision medicine.” Christian Jonasson

 

Biosamples may be used for important, life-saving cancer research. For example, to develop new immunotherapies, such as T cell therapy. Photograph by Christopher Olssøn

 

A competitive edge

Norway has been collecting biological samples for the last 30-40 years. For example, one of the world’s largest birth cohort studies, the Mother and Child study (called MoBa) was initiated in 1999. It included 100 000 newborns with mother and father, which totalled over 285 000 participants over a ten-year period. There are numerous other Norwegian health studies, which have involved hundreds of thousands of people, such as the HUNT study and the Tromsø study.

Moreover, the Norwegian Radium Hospital have collected countless valuable samples from cancer patients over the years from both regular clinical care and from clinical research studies. Hospitals across Norway also continually collect and save diagnostic samples, which may be used for medical research at a later stage.

The number of biobanks and the rigorous collection of clinical data in health registers in Norway represent unique assets for medical researchers.

“Norway has a competitive edge on its health data infrastructure.” Christian Jonasson

 

Sharing the data

However, Jonasson also points out that the health registers in Norway are too fragmented. To combat the problem, Biobank Norway are helping the Norwegian Directorate of eHealth to develop a Health Data Program. The digital platform, called the Health Analytics Platform (HAP), will collate copies of relevant data from the various health registers, providing a single point of easy access for researchers.

Biobank Norway also has a long-term vision to collect all biobank data and health data in a common platform. This is a necessary step to unleash a larger national precision medicine initiative. First, they want to organise the data from the four largest population-based cohort studies in one place. In a couple of years, this database would hopefully include 400 000 people, which is a very attractive cohort for medical research.

“We need to attract leading actors from the international health industry and Norwegian start-ups in real collaborations with biobanks.” Christian Jonasson

Important medical research is already being conducted in biobanks across Norway. Jonasson said that there now needs to be a plan to market Norwegian health data and biobanks internationally to spur innovation further.

 

Biosamples are also used for sequencing of the human genome, to develop more precise diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

 

The hidden key

To unlock the potential of biobanks, the biological samples need to be analysed and converted into meaningful data, which can be an expensive and laborious process.

Finland, for example, has begun to collect biological samples from 500 000 individuals. One single database holds all phenotypic data, such as diagnosis and treatment, and all genotypic data, which is the mapping of the human genome.

In the UK, there is the Genomics Project, which has already sequenced the DNA (the coded parts of the human genome) of 100 000 patients. The UK Biobank are aiming to sequence the DNA of half a million brits.

Jonasson hopes that such ambitious initiatives will be imported to Norway to build the biobank infrastructure further and provide meaningful data for medical research. He adds that public-private collaborations will be key to drive and fund such large scale initiatives.

Biobank Norway is currently in the process of extending into its third phase and aims to continue to improve the biobanks, the partner institutions and global research collaborations in the future.

 

  • Do you need help with your research and innovation project using biobanks in Norway?
    E-mail Christian Jonasson.
  • For more information, please visit the official website of BioBank Norway.

 

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Kronikk: Dine helsedata kan styrke helsenæringen

This opinion piece was first published on 9 May 2019 in Dagens Medisin, by Ketil Widerberg, General Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster, and Christian Jonasson, Senior Adviser at NTNU. Both are also members of a work group for innovation and business development for the Health Data Program for the the Norwegian Directorate of eHealth. Please scroll to the end of this page for an English summary.

 

Vi får nye forretningsmodeller innen helse som er basert på digitalisering og persontilpasset medisin. Her kan Norge virkelig lede an!

Christian Jonasson, seniorforsker ved NTNU.

Christian Jonasson, seniorforsker ved NTNU.

Ketil Widerberg, daglig leder i Oslo Cancer Cluster.

HELSE BLIR digitalisert og medisin blir tilpasset den enkelte pasienten. Dette er to megatrender som vil endre forretningsmodellen for helseindustrien. Forrige uke kom Stortingsmeldingen om nettopp helsenæringen. Den åpner for store muligheter for Norge.

I bilindustrien erstatter gradvis digital mobilitet den tradisjonelle boksen på fire hjul. Et eksempel er at Tesla blir verdsatt høyere enn tradisjonelle bilprodusenter blant annet for sin evne til kontinuerlig datainnsamling fra bilene. I helsenæringen vil vi se det samme.

 

NYE MODELLER. Med digital persontilpasset medisin vil nye forretningsmodeller vokse frem. Vi ser eksemplene daglig: Roche, et globalt legemiddelselskap, har nylig kjøpt opp helsedataselskapet Flatiron. Oppkjøpet gjorde de for å kunne utvikle nye kreftbehandlinger raskere, for nettopp tid er viktig for kreftpasienter som kjemper mot klokka. Et annet legemiddelselskap, AstraZeneca, har ansatt toppleder fra NASA. Norske DNVGL, som tradisjonelt har jobbet med olje, gass og shipping, har nå helsedata som et satsingsområde.

Helsemyndigheter erkjenner også endringen mot mer datainnsamling. Legemidler blir mer målrettede og brukes på stadig mindre undergrupper av pasienter. Dette utfordrer hva som er nødvendig kunnskapsgrunnlag for å gi pasienter tilgang til ny behandling. Mens det i dag er kunnskap om gjennomsnitt for store pasientgrupper som ligger til grunn for beslutninger om nye behandlingsmetoder, er det med persontilpasset behandling nettopp viktig å ta mer hensyn til individer og små undergrupper. De amerikanske helsemyndighetene (FDA) har derfor lagt frem retningslinjer for hvordan helsedata kan brukes som beslutningsgrunnlag for nye legemidler.

 

NORSKE FORTRINN. Legemiddelverket i Norge gir uttrykk for at de også ønsker å være i front i denne utviklingen – for også de ser at helsedata gir bedre beslutningsgrunnlag.

Hvordan kan så Norge lede an? Norge har konkurransefortrinn knyttet til et sterkt offentlig helsevesen, landsdekkende person- og helseregister og biobanker som kan knyttes sammen gjennom våre unike fødselsnummer. Dette er få land forunt! Derfor kan vi utnytte dette konkurransefortrinnet for å ta en posisjon i den store omveltningen av helsesektoren og helsenæringen.

Nedenfor følger noen forslag som vi mener vil styrke Norges stilling.

 

PLATTFORM. Vi kan starte med å lage en norsk dataplattform. Selskap leter globalt etter helsedata av god kvalitet. La oss utvikle en dataplattform hvor helsedata er raskt og sikkert tilgjengelig for norske og utenlandske aktører. Et eksempel er helseanalyseplattformen. Her må data gjøres tilgjengelig for alle aktører og for alle legitime formål. Samarbeidsmodeller må utvikles som sikrer at verdiskapingen blir i Norge og pasientene får bedre behandling.

Vi kan utvikle bedre økosystemer. Verdiskapingspotensialet for helsedata ligger i skjæringspunktet mellom offentlig og privat. Dagens offentlige forvaltere av helsedata må derfor samarbeide tettere med norske oppstartsbedrifter og internasjonale aktører.

 

INNSYN. Vi kan bruke personvern som konkurransefortrinn. Hver og en av oss eier våre egne helsedata. Derfor er det viktig med digitale plattformer som gir oss innsyn i egne helsedata.

Hvordan vi kommer til å bruke helsedata om få år, er vanskelig å forutse, akkurat som det var vanskelig å forutse hva konsesjonsutlysningen for oljeutvinning i 1965 ville føre til. Historien viser imidlertid at slike avgjørelser kan ha stor betydning for fremtidens verdiskapning i Norge, og for pasienter i hele verden. La oss derfor ikke overlate til tilfeldighetene hva vi i Norge gjør med våre helsedata.

 

 

English summary:

Digitalisation and precision medicine are influencing emerging business models in the health industry. It is time for Norway to lead the way!

As precision medicine develops, data gathering becomes ever more important. Instead of relying on results from a big patient group, cancer researchers are using big data to find out how treatments can be customised for small patient groups and individual patients.

Norway has a competitive advantage on health data: thanks to its strong public health sector, national health registers and biobanks that can be connected to unique personal ID numbers.

We suggest creating a common platform for Norwegian data, where high quality data can be accessed securely by legitimate national and international companies. Through collaborative models, we can ensure that the medical breakthroughs stay in Norway and benefit the patients. We need to develop better ecosystems that inspire simple collaboration between international key players, Norwegian start ups and the public agencies that handle health data.

Data privacy can be used as an asset. If we ensure everyone has complete access and insight into their own personal health data, people can be empowered to share it for the common good.

The decisions we make today will have great ramifications for the future value creation in Norway and for cancer patients across the world. We should not leave it up to chance.

 

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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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