Cancer Innovation Pitched to Investors

A full house presented itself when Inven2 pitched 8 of their most promising cancer research projects at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator June 12th.

In total approximately 60 people gathered inside Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, and among the participants several experienced investors from other cancer projects.

— I’m positively surprised that so many potential and experienced investors found their way here today, commented Ole Kristian Hjelstuen, CEO at Inven2.

The event was the second in line of Inven2’s new pitching strategy, were they open up their projects at an early stage for potential investors and entrepreneurs with the will to transform the research into working companies.

— This shows that pitching is a good way to spread the word on the potential of our portfolio. The event today strengthens my belief that financing for our projects will be easier in the future, said Hjelstuen.

Eight Potential Treatments and Companies
Norway is among the very best when it comes to cancer research. Norwegian research has created top notch companies like Algeta, Nordic Nanovector, Ultimovacs and Zelluna Immunotherapy. Tuesdays  pitch proves that many more are on the horizon.

The eight-project presented at OCC Incubator are all exciting innovations that need financial backing and entrepreneurship to commercialize. The common denominator is a focus on modern treatments like immunology or precision medicine that are emerging as a result of what has been labelled “a breakthrough in cancer treatment” in later years.

Presentations of all eight projects available here.

The projects presented:

  • Tankyrase inhibition in cancer therapy
  • A new drug against Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)
  • Autologous anti-CD20 TCR-engineered T-cell therapy for recurrent Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Lymphocyte Booster – Lymphocyte boosting growth medium for Adoptive Cell Therapy
  • CD37 CAR for cancer immunotherapy
  • IL-15 Immunotherapy – Fusion protein for immunotherapy of solid tumors
  • Backscatter: A communication technology enabling colon-cancer screening

New Chairman at OCC

Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen is appointed new chairman at Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC).

On a recent General Assembly, Oslo Cancer Cluster elected Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen as new chairman after a unanimous vote. He takes over after Henrik Lund who opted not to stand for re-election after four years in the position.

Øyvind is currently CEO at Ultimovacs, a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster with its own cancer vaccine technology. Read more about Ultimovacs here.

— We look forward to having Øyvind as our chairman. He is very knowledgeable and enthusiastically committed to oncology research and development. His medical background combined with biotech entrepreneurship and years in the pharmaceutical industry, will help elevate Oslo Cancer Cluster to the next level, says General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Ketil Widerberg.

Thank You Henrik
Oslo Cancer Cluster thanks Henrik Lund for his four years chairman and many years on the board. Oslo Cancer Cluster has during his years as chairman grown both at home and internationally. Widerberg thanked Henrik for his commitment to OCC during his tenure:

— Thank you for your commitment to Oslo Cancer Cluster all these years. During your time as chairman we have undergone important changes, and now have a solid foundation to build upon. The goal is to be the leading European center of cancer innovation.

AI Speeds Up Pharmaceutical Testing

Oslo Cancer Cluster member Immunitrack has landed investments worth millions. The money will be used to develop a computer program that can predict how the immune system will react to different substances.

Already Immunitrack, co-founded by Stephan Thorgrimsen and Sune Justesen, is offering contracted research to the pharmaceutical industry predicting how the immune system react to different pharmaceuticals, by producing reagents that can be used to examine the immune systems reaction.

New AI in The Making
When scientists discover promising substances they think can be developed into medicine for future treatments, only a small percentage will prove to have an effect after testing. The testing process is important, but at the same time expensive, time and resource consuming. What if a lot of this testing could be done virtually by a computer program? This is what Immunitrack want to offer with their new AI- technology.

The new investment will take this further and enable the company to boost its production and analytical capabilities. The investment will enable increased efforts in the development of a new best in class Prediction Software using artificial intelligence (AI). The software is seen as a vital cornerstone for applying the technology from Immunitrack in large scale projects within cancer treatment and precision medicine.

The applications of the new AI platform are multiple: The technology increases vaccine potency, speeds up the development of personalized cancer vaccines and remove negative immunological effects. Additionally, it enhances precision medicine efforts by improving patient profiling and treatment selection.

And everything is really moving fast for Immunitrack.

— Until September last year it was only the two of us that stood for everything. Production, marketing, you name it. Then things started happening for real and now we have employed 4 new colleagues, says Stephan Thorgrimsen.

The Investor
The new investment is from Blenheim Capital Limited. They are a diversified investment company focusing on geographically, commercially and technologically frontier companies and projects.

The investment in Immunitrack ApS with its emphasis on transforming market proven immunology-based skill set into a commercially viable AI solution matches Blenheim’s investment profile.

About Immunitrack
Immunitrack aims at becoming a world leader within prediction and assessment of biotherapeutic impact on patient immune response. The company has until now provided services and reagents to more than 70 biotech companies worldwide, including 6 of the top 10 Pharma companies.

Immunitrack was founded in 2013 by Sune Justesen and Stephan Thorgrimsen. Sune Justesen brings in experience from more than a decade of working in one of the world leading research groups at the University of Copenhagen. The company started commercialization of its products in 2016, and has grown its staff from 2 to 6 within the last 8 months.

Inven2-Pitch: Morgendagens kreftselskaper

Er du investor eller gründerspire? Vi trenger deg!

Norge har en sterk tradisjon innen kreftforskning i verdensklasse. Basert på denne fremragende forskningen har selskaper som Algeta, Nordic Nanovector, Ultimovacs og Zelluna Immunotherapy blitt spunnet ut. Og det kommer mer.

Inven2 inviterer investorer, gründerspirer og andre interesserte til en presentasjon av de mest lovende nye prosjektene innen kreft i Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovasjonspark den 12. juni kl. 14.

Dette er alle spennende innovasjonsprosjekter som når de går over i kommersiell fase om kort tid vil trenge finansiering og gründere. Er du gründer, investor eller helseinteressert, er dette en unik sjanse.

Bli med å skape morgendagens helsenæring!

12. juni kl. 14-16 | Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator (OCCI)

Meld deg på her!

Prosjektene som skal pitches:
  1. Tankyrase inhibition in cancer therapy
  2. A new drug against Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)
  3. Autologous anti-CD20 TCR-engineered T-cell therapy for recurrent Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  4. Lymphocyte Booster – Lymphocyte boosting growth medium for Adoptive Cell Therapy
  5. CD37 CAR for cancer immunotherapy
  6. IL-15 Immunotherapy – Fusion protein for immunotherapy of solid tumors
  7. Backscatter: A communication technology enabling colon-cancer screening.

The Future Norway: Ketil Widerberg on Tech and Cancer

Our General Manager Ketil Widerberg visited the podcast People creating the future Norway (De som bygger det nye Norge) hosted by Silvija Seres and Oslo Business Forum.

Ketil and Silvija discussed important issues like: Is it possible to make cancer a chronic disease? And how do you really create medicine that is tailored for each individual? And many other important topics. Have a listen!

Listen to the podcast HERE (In Norwegian).

Enjoying a Meteoric Career as a Researcher

Former Ullern upper secondary school student Simone Mester is enjoying a meteoric career as a researcher. Her research is aimed at making cancer drugs more efficient by getting them to stay longer in the body. But how did she end up here, and what advice does she have for upper secondary school students who are about to choose what educational path to take?

Simone Mester is 25 years old. Before studying molecular biology and being taken on as a researcher at the University of Oslo (UiO), she took natural science subjects at Ullern upper secondary school. She was one of the first students to be offered a place on a work placement programme under the auspices of Oslo Cancer Cluster. Her placement was at the Institute of Clinical Medicine where she worked at both the Department of Tumor Biology and the Department of Radiation Biology.

But choosing molecular biology after upper secondary school was not an easy choice.

‘I felt unsure at the time. I remember thinking a lot about what jobs would be available to me after studying molecular biology. At the same time, the work placements had given me an idea of what it means to work as a researcher. Without that, I would never have dared to choose molecular biology, but would have gone for medicine instead,’ says Simone Mester.

Inspired by Inger
Now, just five years after celebrating her graduation from Ullern, Simone is a researcher at the University of Oslo (Department of Biosciences and Department of Pharmacology) and at Oslo University Hospital (Department of Cancer Immunology) as a member of Jan Terje Andersen and Inger Sandlie’s research group. As chance would have it, Professor Inger Sandlie is a member of the board of Oslo Cancer Cluster and is one of the founders of two enterprises working on a new form of cancer treatment.

‘Inger was one of my lecturers when I took my bachelor’s degree, and I found her very inspiring. She has won several innovation awards and started up businesses. I like working on research that is complex but understandable, and that can form the basis for new and better treatment for serious illnesses,’ says Simone.

So it is no great surprise that Simone’s research project focuses on developing better cancer drugs that stay longer in the body. This enables the drug to kill more cancer cells at lower doses, which means that there are also fewer side effects. This was also the focus of her master’s thesis.

‘My master’s thesis was well received. It opened the door to Inger Sandlie and Jan Terje Andersen’s research group, but chance played a part as well, of course,’ says Simone modestly.

Chance always plays some part, but Simone has no reason to be modest. She is not where she is today as a result of chance alone.

Do not choose the most prestigious fields
Simone is very happy that she did not choose a subject that is better known than molecular biology in terms of status and job opportunities. She encourages upper secondary students to think about what they are good at and what they think is fun when making the hard choice of which direction to take after upper secondary school.

‘I feel that it’s a general problem that so many young people choose high status professions such as law, engineering and medicine, rather than looking at other possibilities. When I tell people that I’m a molecular biologist, they don’t understand what it is, and they don’t ask either, but that’s OK. It’s more important to choose something you think is fun, because that means you will also perform better, even though it’s hard work,’ says Simone.

She adds:

‘And if you think upper secondary school is tough and that you have to work really hard to get good grades, then I can tell you that university is much tougher. That means that it’s really important that you choose a field you’re passionate about,’ says Simone.

She encourages students to talk to their subject teachers about possible career choices.

‘I had several good biology teachers at Ullern, and was considering studying biology. However, Ragni, one of my teachers, was adamant that I should focus on molecular biology since I was particularly good at it,’ says Simone.

She has never regretted her decision. When we ask her what fascinates her about molecular biology, she says:

‘I’m working on such a tiny scale with things like DNA, protein and cells, the building blocks for all life. It’s like a different universe, and, in the beginning, it was hard to understand how I fitted in,’ Simone says.

But after listening to Inger’s lectures and later becoming part of her research team, she is sure about her decision.

The SPARK Winner And the Prime Minister
Simone completed her master’s degree in 2017, by which time the university had already granted her application for innovation funds to continue her research. In addition, she is the youngest person at the university to be accepted for ‘Spark Norway’, an innovation programme at UiO:Life Science, which Oslo Cancer Cluster has helped to establish.

‘My SPARK project is an extension of the project I began during my master’s studies. Of all the proteins I’ve created, I’ve found one with the ability to stay in the blood stream for a very long time. That means that it doesn’t break down so quickly. At the same time, a lab in the Netherlands has developed several new antibodies that can effectively kill cancer cells. The problem is that the antibodies break down quickly in the body. So now we’re trying to combine these antibodies with our unique technology, in the hope of tailoring the next generation of cancer drugs,’ says Simone.

The aim of the SPARK innovation programme is to give young researchers a chance to further develop their own ideas in health-related life science for the benefit of patients and society at large. And Simone’s project really fits the bill in that respect, something a lot of people agree with.

When Prime Minister Erna Solberg opened the new incubator ShareLab at the Oslo Science Park in March this year, a competition was organised between the SPARK participants. And guess who won?

None other than Simone.

Ragni Fet on Simone:

Ragni is a biology teacher at Ullern upper secondary school. Simone Mester was one of her students for all three years: first in natural science and then in biology for two years. Simone was part of Ragni’s first cohort of students nine years ago.

‘I remember Simone very well, and we have actually been in touch after she graduated from Ullern upper secondary school. She struggled a bit to stay motivated while taking her bachelor’s degree in biology, and I talked to her about how that was completely natural and that things would improve at master’s level,’ says Ragni.

And it’s safe to say that the pep talk worked.

Ragni was also the one who recommended Simone to study molecular biology.

‘Many upper secondary school students tend to have a too narrow perspective when it comes to choosing an education and profession. I’m trying to expand their horizons, and I strongly recommended that Simone study molecular biology rather than medicine, which she was considering at the time,’ says Ragni.

She is both pleased and proud that Simone is doing so well as a researcher at the University of Oslo, but she is not the least bit surprised.

‘Simone was very good at biology and really grasped the subject in her final year. I seem to remember giving her the best grade in biology. It’s great that she’s doing so well now. I’m really rooting for her. She has everything it takes to succeed, from intelligence to social skills and work capacity,’ says Ragni.

She is really pleased that the work placement offered to Ullern students was the decisive factor in Simone’s decision to go for a career as a researcher.

‘Students and society at large are very under-informed about what research is and what being a researcher entails. When students praise each other, they say “What are you, a brain researcher or something?”, so they clearly think you have to be extremely clever to become a researcher. Most people find research diffuse, so it’s great that some students can go on work placements and experience first-hand what research is and what a researcher does,’ says Ragni.

Creating One Cancer Vaccine Per Patient

Oslo Cancer Cluster member Vaccibody is making headway with their cancer vaccine technology. Now they are ready with clinical trials involving 40 patients in Germany, the first patient is already enrolled.

 

Neoantigens Reveals Cancer Cells
Cancer is famous for its ability to deceive, appearing to the immune system as normal tissue while wreaking havoc on the body. But what if cancer cells could be revealed with subtle but unmistakable characteristics that revealed their true nature?

This revealing clue exists and is called neoantigens, which are mutated (or changed/altered) proteins found only in cancer cells. This is the science behind what Vaccibody and Agnete Fredriksen is currently doing, working to develop vaccines that use neoantigens to help patients’ own immune systems recognize and fight cancer tumors.

— I dare to say that this is quite unique. Each vaccine is thoroughly customized for each individual cancer patient. One vaccine per patient! What we do is conduct biopsies and blood tests to reveal each patient’s unique set of neoantigens and with our technology we have the ability to create a potent individualized vaccine in a relatively short time at reasonable cost, says Agnete B. Fredriksen, President and Chief Scientific Officer at Vaccibody.

Extra Effective With Checkpoint Inhibition
The Vaccibody researchers analyze individual tumor genomes and the patients’ immune systems to select an optimal mix of neoantigens.

— We can do that in a few days because of modern technology. Then we monitor and record the changes we think the immune system will react to and include them in the personalized vaccine. The neoantigen technology is then combined with so called checkpoint inhibitor therapy, which stops tumors from suppressing immune-system activity — to make the vaccine extra effective.

With this personalized medicine approach, each patient receives a unique DNA vaccine, in combination with standard of care checkpoint inhibitor therapy.

Vaccibody has also reached the front page of VG! Read the story here. (In Norwegian)

Clinical Trials in Germany
In the upcoming German clinical trials the vaccine will be tested on patients with locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, renal, bladder or head and neck cancer.

— Our technology is very flexible and it can record a number of different changes. The vaccine is therefore applicable as a treatment for many different kinds of cancers. The ones included in the trial are chosen because they contain a high number of mutations and changes creating a good basis to create a neoantigen vaccine.

During the trial Vaccibody will check if the vaccine is safe and without side effects.

— We really think it is based on previous experience with this platform! And we will of course check if the vaccine has the expected immune response and investigate signs of clinical efficacy, says Fredriksen.

The Health Industry Is On the Rise

For the third year running, Menon Economics presented a report on “The Value of the Norwegian Health Industry”. The conclusion: Both the industry and exports are growing substantially. We see an increase in export income, research and innovation levels.

The report was launched at “Næringslivets Hus”, the home of NHO, and gathered a full house with people from the industry, public sector, press and the political sphere present.

Indications Verified: The health Industry is Growing
The report showed that export income is increasing and are estimated at 23.5 billion NOK, an estimate that is viewed as conservative. The report also finds an increase in private funds for research. In 2017, research and development funds originating from the private sector was in total 2.6 billion NOK.

In addition, the report notes an increase in start-up companies and innovation levels, but emphasizes a lack of available funds to realize projects in vulnerable phases.

The report’s main focus is the industry’s value contribution, which means contribution to BNP, jobs creation and tax income. However, in social economic terms, the report claims at present that as a benefit for society, the health industry is more important for the population and healthcare sector as a whole, rather than for economic growth alone.

Read the report. Download it here. (In Norwegian)

Can Help With White Paper
State Secretary Magnus Thue visited the launch of the report and talked about the upcoming White Paper on the Health Industry.

— Being healthy is a priced asset both for the individual and the society as a whole. This government prioritizes health and we want to create good working conditions for the industry.

And he added: – We will use this report as a backdrop when we are working on our White Paper.

We Have to Use Our Strengths
General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Ketil Widerberg, is also happy for the report and that the health industry is on the rise.

— It means more and better treatment for people who need it!

However, he emphasized the importance of realizing that the health industry business is a global competition.

— This is an international competition and if we are to succeed, we have to succeed internationally! We need to use our strengths to position ourselves: That means putting our health data from our health registries to good use! This will prove beneficial both for industry and patient.

Behind the report is a consortium of contributors to the Norwegian Health Industry: NHO, Abelia, NHO Service, Oslo Cancer Cluster, Norwegian Smart Care Cluster, Inven2, The pharmaceutical Industry (LMI), Innovation Norway, The Norwegian Science Council, SIVA and Norway Health Tech.

Receives Prestigious Grant for a Second Time

Professor Harald Stenmark is granted the European Research Council’s (ERC) Advanced Grant for his cancer research. This is the second time he receives the grant; a privilege that has only befallen two other people, professor Edvard Moser (NTNU) and professor Kenneth Hugdahl (UiB).

Through the grant Stenmark’s research project “Coincidence detection of proteins and lipids in regulation of cellular membrane dynamics (CODE)” is supported with 2.5 million Euros over a 5-year period.

Cell Codes Give Cancer Insight
The research is intended to reveal “codes” our body use to trigger certain processes in our cells. This is especially important in cancer research because an error in these important codes may lead to uncontrollable cell division and cancer. If we can decipher the “codes” the cell utilizes, we could exploit this biotechnologically. Furthermore, one of the research objectives is to develop artificial codes that can be used in bio-sensors.

One of The Elite
Professor Stenmark is certainly a very busy researcher. Currently he is also starting his second Norwegian Center of Excellence (SFF) called “CanCell – Centre for Cancer Cell Reprogramming”. A center that will continue the research on cell coding and how it can be a tool in future cancer treatment.

The Research Council in a comment on the grant describes Stenmark as one of the elite.

By getting his second ERC-grant Stenmark is consolidating his position as an elite scientist who is producing breakthrough cancer research on a European and global scale, says Per Magnus Kommandantvold, national ERC contact at the Norwegian Science Council.

Bekjemper kreft med gentilpasset behandling

Gentilpasset behandling har siden begynnelsen av 2000-tallet blitt beskrevet som et av de nye, viktige våpnene som kan bekjempe kreft.

Hør forsker Hege G. Russnes og professor Anne Hansen Ree, her fra Cancer Crosllinks i januar i år, fortelle om deres forskningsprosjekt MetAction, og hvordan de tar i bruk gentilpasset behandling for å gi et behandlingstilbud til en pasientgruppe som har manglet det tidligere. Nå avsluttes prosjektet og du kan høre her hvorfor forskerne synes det er både feil og trist.

Forskningsprosjektet, som varte fra 2014 til 2017, ble ledet av Ree, kreftforsker og professor Gunhild Mari Mælandsmo, molekylærpatolog og lege Hege Russnes ved Oslo universitetssykehus, samt kreftkirurg og lege Kjersti Flatmark.

I forrige uke fikk de også forsiden på VG. Og det med god grunn: Ved bruk av genterapi og tverrfaglig kompetanse gir de hjelp til nye pasientergrupper og løfter norsk kompetanse innen gentilpasset behandling.

Les saken i VG her.