From the left: Bjørn Klem, General Manager, and Janne Nestvold, Laboratory Manager, are thrilled that their incubator is among Europe’s top 20 biotech start-up ecosystems.

Among Europe’s finest 

OCC Incubator was recently rated among the top 20 European biotech incubators. Here’s why!

Every year, the biotech website Labiotech makes a top 20 list of the best biotech incubators in Europe. Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) Incubator is the only Norwegian incubator on the list this year, together with well established incubators in Belgium, Switzerland, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden and other European countries.

Labiotech.eu is the leading digital media covering the European biotech industry, with over 150,000 visitors every month.

Size and relevance matters

We asked Clara Rodríguez Fernández, Senior Reporter in Labiotech, about the selection criteria. She replied:

“We aim to include the most relevant incubators across different European countries. We selected those based on their size and relevance within their country’s biotech ecosystem and also based on feedback from the industry contacts we sent our preliminary list to.”

See the full top 20 list on labiotech.eu.  

Means a lot in Norway

In Norway, the list has attracted attention.

“This means a lot. We have a strong and attractive ecosystem around Oslo Cancer Cluster on research and commercialization of pharmaceuticals. The latest success story is the tech company OncoImmunity that was bought by the tech giant NEC this summer.” Håkon Haugli, CEO Innovation Norway

Read more about NEC OncoImmunity in this news story.

Håkon Haugli continues:

“We also recognize that Norway, through Oslo Cancer Cluster, is positioned very well for the European Union’s next big endeavour, ‘Missions’, which will be launched next year. Cancer is one of five focus areas, which the European Union will channel considerable project resources into, to resolve one of our time’s big societal problems.”

The European Union has defined five research and innovation mission areas, inspired by the Apollo 11 mission to put a man on the moon. The missions aim to deliver solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our world, such as cancer, climate change, healthy oceans, climate-neutral cities and healthy soil and food.

You can read more about the European research and innovation missions on this official website.

A boost of motivation

For OCC Incubator, being on the top 20 list is a nice boost of motivation. Bjørn Klem, General Manager OCC Incubator, puts it this way: 

“We are excited about being rated among the best biotech incubators in Europe. It motivates us to become the most attractive space for innovations in the field of cancer!” 

 

Want to read more about biotech incubators and start-up opportunities? 

 

A new project will make continuous learning for life science professionals easier by facilitating courses and material digitally. Illustration photo: Emma Dau on Unsplash

Cross-border courses in the Nordics

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator collaborates with partners in Sweden, Norway and Finland to help life science professionals learn from their neighbours.

“Life science is a global business and cross-border collaboration is important, in particular for small countries in the Nordics” says Bjørn Klem, manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Bjørn Klem, manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Bjørn Klem, manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator.

Together with partners from three different professional sectors in three countries, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator recently received €75,000 in project funding over two years from the Nordplus Programme.

Digital competences

Nordplus is the Nordic Council of Ministers’ most important programme in the area of lifelong learning. On its webpage, Nordplus writes that more than 10,000 people in the Nordic and Baltic region benefit from the programme every year.

In 2019 and 2020, Nordplus welcomes applications on digital competences and computational thinking.

Innovation and competition

Bjørn Klem hopes that the project will benefit both Nordic innovation and competition.

“The outcome of this project should be to share educational resources to increase competence in the Nordic innovation environments. This will make innovation in life science more competitive in the global market.” Bjørn Klem

The Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry in Norway (LMI), one of the five partners in the project, also stresses the importance of Nordic collaboration for the life science industry. Marie Svendsen Aase, project coordinator LMI, puts it this way: 

“We see Nordic cooperation as an essential value to the medical development that is now taking place with both personalised medicine and building a life science industry across the Nordic countries.”

Learning across the region

The project will make continuous learning for life science professionals, specifically in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, easier by facilitating courses and material digitally. At the same time, the project aims to adapt national courses to a Nordic and Baltic audience.  

A course plan will be made in 2019.

The five partners in the project are:

  • Swedish Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Swedish Pharmaceutical Industry Association
  • Pharmaceutical Information Centre in Finland
  • The Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry in Norway (LMI)
  • Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator

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: 

 

Dr. Nadia Mensali (in the middle) and her colleagues from Oslo University Hospital in their cell lab at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. Photo: Christopher Olssøn

Natural killer cells dressed to kill cancer cells

Oslo, Norway, 26.04.2017. Photographs from Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC), an oncology research and industry cluster dedicated to improving the lives of cancer patients by accelerating the development of new cancer diagnostics and medicines. Photographs by Christopher Olssøn

New research: A new study may potentially enable scientists to provide cancer immunotherapy that is cheaper, faster and more manageable.

New work by researchers with laboratories at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator may help to dramatically improve a T cell-based immunotherapy approach so that it can benefit many more patients.

 

T cell assassins

T cells are the professional killers of the immune system – they have a unique capability to specifically recognize ‘foreign’ material, such as infected cells or cancer cells. This highly specific recognition is achieved through receptors on the surface of T cells, named T cell receptors (TCRs). Once its receptor recognizes foreign material, a T cell becomes activated and triggers the killing of the infected or cancerous cell.

T cell receptors (TCRs): receptors on the surface of T cells, that recognize foreign material and activate the T cell. This triggers the killing of the infected or cancerous cell by the T cell.

 

Adoptive cell therapy 

Unfortunately, many cancers have adapted fiendish ways to avoid recognition and killing by T cells. To combat this issue, an immunotherapy approach known as adoptive cell therapy (ACT) has been developed in recent years. One such ACT approach is based on the injection of modified (or ‘re-directed’) T cells into patients. The approach is further explained in the illustration below.

 

Illustration from the research paper ‘NK cells specifically TCR-dressed to kill cancer cells’.

 

The left side of the illustration shows how redirected T-cell therapy involves:

1) Harvesting T cells from a cancer patient

2) Genetic manipulation of T cells to make them express an ideal receptor for recognizing the patient’s cancer cells

3) Growing T cells in culture to produce high cell numbers

4) Treating patients with large quantities of redirected T cells, which will now recognize and kill cancer cells more effectively

 

An alternative approach 

Adoptive T cell therapy has delivered very encouraging results for some cancer patients, but its application on a larger scale has been limited by the time consuming and costly nature of this approach. In addition, the quality of T cells isolated from patients who have already been through multiple rounds of therapy can sometimes be poor.

Researchers have long searched for a more automated form of adoptive cell therapy that would facilitate faster and more cost-effective T cell-based cancer immunotherapy.

One approach that has seen some success involves the use of different immune cells called Natural Killer cells – NK cells in brief.

Despite their great potential, NK cells have unfortunately not yet been proven to provide a successful alternative to standard T cell-based cancer immunotherapy. One major reason for this may be that, because NK cells do not possess T cell receptors, they are not very effective at specifically detecting and killing cancer cells.

NK cell lines: Natural Killer cells (NK cells) have the ability to recognise and kill infected or cancerous cells. Scientists have been able to manipulate human NK cells so that they grow without restriction in the lab. This is called a cell line. It enables a continuous and unlimited source of NK cells that could be used to treat cancer patients.

 

Cells dressed to kill

The group led by Dr. Sébastien Wälchli and Dr. Else Marit Inderberg at the Department of Cellular Therapy aimed to address this issue and improve NK cell-based therapies.

They reasoned that by editing NK cells to display anti-cancer TCRs on their cell surface they could combine the practical benefits of NK cells with the potent cancer killing capabilities of T cells. This is shown in the right hand side of the illustration above.

The researchers found that by simply switching on the production of a protein complex called CD3, which associates with the TCR and is required for T cell activation, they could indeed induce NK cells to display active TCRs. These ‘TCR-NK cells’ acted just like normal T cells, including their ability to form functional connections to cancer cells and subsequently mount an appropriate T cell-like response to kill cancer cells.

This was a surprising and important finding, as it was not previously known that NK cells could accommodate TCR signaling.

This video shows TCR-NK cell-mediated killing of cancer cells in culture. The tumour cells are marked in green. Tumour cells that start dying become blue. The overlapping colours show dead tumour cells.

 

The researchers went on to show that TCR-NK cells not only targeted isolated cancer cells, but also whole tumours.

The method was proven to be effective in preclinical studies of human colorectal cancer cells in the lab and in an animal model.  This demonstrates its potential as an effective new form of cancer immunotherapy.

 

Paving the way

Lead researcher Dr. Nadia Mensali said:

“These findings pave the way to the development of a less expensive, ready-to-use universal TCR-based cell therapy. By producing an expansive ‘biobank’ of TCR-NK cells that detect common mutations found in human cancers, doctors could select suitable TCR-NK cells for each patient and apply them rapidly to treatment regimens”.

Whilst further studies are needed to confirm the suitability of TCR-NK cells for widespread treatment of cancer patients, the researchers hope that these findings will be the first step on the road towards off-the-shelf immunotherapy drugs.

 

  • Read the whole research paper at Science Direct. The paper is called “NK cells specifically TCR-dressed to kill cancer cells”.
  • The researchers behind the publication consists of Nadia Mensali, Pierre Dillard, Michael Hebeisen, Susanne Lorenz, Theodossis Theodossiou, Marit Renée Myhre, Anne Fåne, Gustav Gaudernack, Gunnar Kvalheim, June Helen Myklebust, Else Marit Inderberg, Sébastien Wälchli.
  • Read more about research from this research group in this article from January.
  • Read more about Natural Killer cells in this Wikipedia article.

 

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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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NOME is based on the mentoring principals of MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service. The fundamental principle is to connect first time entrepreneurs with a team of three to four experienced and skilled mentors to help them reach their goals and technology milestones. Photo: Accelerace

Why a Nordic mentor network is a good idea 

Participants discussing at NOME mentor network.

The Nordic Mentor Network of Entrepreneurship (NOME) is the first pan-Nordic mentor network for lifescience start-ups. Why is it a good idea for start-ups working in cancer?

 

Bjørn Klem has an answer. He is the General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and point of contact for start-ups within the cancer field in Norway.

“Start-ups working in cancer need to access commercialisation expertise and investor networks. When looking for this, it is an advantage to seek in other Nordic countries where investors are experienced with cancer and biotech in general. Participating in NOME will also take you into their global network.” Bjørn Klem

 

Connecting with a mentor team

NOME is based on the mentoring principals of MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service. The fundamental principle is to connect first time entrepreneurs with a team of three to four experienced and skilled mentors to help them reach their goals and technology milestones. 

From Boston to the Nordics, this is the first mentor network within life sciences that spans across all the Nordic countries. 

In Norway, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator og the health incubator Aleap are coordinating start-ups with suitable mentors.

“Team mentorship, where mentees have a group of mentors, rather than single one-on-one mentorship, encourages more diverse thinking, cross-disciplinary approaches to ideas and problem solving, and it allows the access to professionals from different fields.”  NOME Magazine Issue 1 2018

 

Norwegian mentors and start-ups

One of the Norwegian NOME mentors is Kari Grønås. She has extensive experience in drug development and commercialisation within the pharmaceutical industry.

You can listen to her (in Norwegian) in this video that was made by Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator as the programme was just starting in Norway in 2017.

One of the Oslo Cancer Cluster members that have taken advantage of the NOME opportunity and mentors, is Nacamed.

Nacamed is a Norwegian spin-off company of Dynatec AS. The Nacamed technology is based on 10 years of research on silicon done by Dynatec engineering. According to the company webpage, this enables a production that can tailor particles with the desired physical attributes. With this, Nacamed aims to create a new generation of treatment methods.

 

Best in class-network

This video, made by Accelerate, explains the concept of NOME and the value it adds to the Nordic startup ecosystem.

The mentors are volunteering to share their knowledge and experience with new entrepreneurs within fields such as digital health, immuno-oncology and AI in healthcare. NOME mentors can give unbiased advice, provide strategic guidance, open their network and possible collaboration partners, as well as assisting in reaching key milestones.

The start-ups have to be best in class too. The local NOME partners evaluate the companies on the novelty of the science or technology, their high commercial potential as well as the strength and commitment of the founding team. Furthermore, strong IP or alternative protection strategies, market differentiation, and the impact NOME potentially can have on the company’s development are also taken into consideration.

Participation is free of charge and funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Infographic from NOME magazine.

Source: The NOME Magazine, Issue 01, 2018

 

20 start-ups since 2016

Since 2016, 20 start-ups have joined NOME and of these two have graduated from the program. Graduation usually means the start-up has successfully raised funds for the coming few years and has engaged a formal board and therefore has less need for the NOME mentors.

The mentors either move on to work with other emerging companies or have been so excited about the potential of the company they have been working with that they have taken a seat on the board.

By the end of 2018, NOME had 50 mentors and 18 enrolled start-ups.

 

Mentors in immuno-oncology

In the NOME Magazine first edition, released in October, Carl Borrebaeck, professor at Department of Immuno-technology at Lund University in Sweden, is interviewed about his field of expertise, immuno-oncology and creating companies from his research. Borrebaeck is a founding mentor in NOME and has been part of the network for the past two years. 

“People tend to think, that innovation just happens and that it will reach patients without any commercial drive. That is simply untrue.” Prof. Carl Borrebaeck 

He continues to explain what is really needed to make health innovations happen:

“A combination of companies and academia is needed. Big pharma is always looking for the newest discoveries and ways they can collaborate in order to stay at the forefront of innovative research. The Nordics are highly innovative and they have a strong reputation globally. However, there are too few big pharma companies commercializing the science at the very early stages. This is often a major challenge for emerging companies who then have to seek funding not only in the Nordics but across Europe and the US to cover this funding gap.”

 

Mentors in artificial intelligence

NOME has mentors in several interesting life science fields. Lars Staal Wegner, the CEO of Evaxion Biotech, is another mentor. He started a company dedicated to using artificial intelligence, supercomputers, and big data to fight cancer and infectious diseases. In the NOME Magazine Wegner says: 

“It is no longer the pharma industry or the companies producing the off-the-shelf drugs. It is the ones who own the data and know how to convert it to effect, the cloud-based giants that are half life science half tech. This is maybe 30-40 years into the future, but it is important already now to know that the tech evolution is not linear. It is exponential. We have reached an inflection point in tech. The industry doesn’t have five or ten years to toe the line. It is exploding.” 

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are expected to have an unprecedented impact on how drugs are developed, their cost, and time to market, according to Wegner. 

 

Nordic partnership

NOME is operated by Accelerace and funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The initiative is represented in the Nordic region through partnerships in Sweden, Norway and Finland. In Norway, Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator og the health incubator Aleap are coordinating start-ups with suitable mentors.

In the US, the California Life Sciences Institute (CLSI) is a new partner for NOME. In fact it is too new to have entered the overview below. CLSI is a non-profit organization which supports entrepreneurship, STEM education and workforce development for the life science industry in California. It is located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Infographic from NOME magazine.

Source: The NOME Magazine, Issue 01, 2018

 — We want to use Norwegian spearhead technology to combat cancer, Per Håvard Kleven said during his pitch at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 12 December 2018. 

Industrial precision against cancer 

The start-up company Kongsberg Beam Technology wants to direct the precision technology from smart missiles to hit tumours in the human body. — We want to use Norwegian spearhead technology to combat cancer, Per Håvard Kleven said during his pitch at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 11 December 2018. 

Kongsberg Beam Technology wants to direct the precision technology from advanced industrial control systems to hit tumors in the human body.

— We want to use Norwegian spearhead technology to combat cancer, Per Håvard Kleven said from the stage as he pitched the idea of his start-up at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2018.

He is the founder of the start-up company Kongsberg Beam Technology AS. As he wrote the patent application for the technology behind this start-up, he was far from the only one to explore this field. Nevertheless, the patent was granted earlier this year (2018). He was ahead of companies like Siemens and other giants.

— There is a lot of research going into radiation and all of it is focusing on increased precision, but no one is attacking the problem as fundamentally as we are.

Precision proton radiation
The method in question is proton radiation. This kind of radiation is directed towards a tumour and radiates far more precisely than x-ray radiation, the standard radiotherapy that hospitals currently use to treat cancer.

Proton radiation requires special machines. There are currently only 85 of these machines, known as proton  therapy synchrocyclotrones, in the world. Norway awaits its first proton synchrocyclotron in a couple of years. The existence of such a machine in Norway is a precondition for the business plan of Kongsberg Beam Technology.

This is one of the few proton therapy machines in use in the world today. It is the proton therapy synchrocyclotron in the Jacobson Building at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. Photo: Jonathunder/ Wikimedia Commons

The ambition of Kleven and his new board of directors is to let proton radiation follow the movements of the tumour, meaning the smallest movements of the patient as she breathes. This does not seem like much, but there is actually a lot of movement in for instance the lungs. And with vital organs closely linked to the lungs, such as the heart and the spine, it is extremely important to have a precise beam.

There is in deed a need for more precision in radiation therapy.

— The radiation that the hospitals use to treat cancer today is not precise. Healthy tissue is always damaged with radiation and this is a problem which we are attacking.

Norwegian spearhead technology
The system in question is to figure out exactly where the tumour is situated in the body, how it moves and how much radioactive energy it takes to radiate it properly.

He wants to take the principals and methods currently used in precision industries such as defence, space and oil- and gas, and apply these to radiation in cancer treatments. The aim is to obtain industrial precision to avoid damaging any healthy tissue.

Aims to develop a solution
The mechanical part of the system makes it possible to do online tracking of the cancer and synchronise the beam so that it always hits exactly on the cancer. This might not sound like it should be too difficult, but indeed it is.

— We cannot control a beam of particles with the agility and precision that is required today, but these functions will develop. We aim to develop them!

– In five years, when our project makes proton radiation reach its potential for industrial precision, my assumption is that proton radiation will take a much higher share of radio therapy in cancer treatment and that the number of proton centres will increase steeply.

According to Kleven, the testing will start soon, followed by prototyping and further testing and qualification. The goal is to have a working system by mid 2024. Kleven assumes that the future product can be installed as an add-on to exciting proton therapy synchrocyclotrones.

— Testing and remaining R&D will start as soon as the needed capital is in place, he said.

Needs more funding
The financing for the start-up so far is covered by Buskerud county, Innovation Norway, Oslofjordfondet and the Research Council of Norway. Kongsberg Beam Technology needs 93 million NOK initially, to test, develop and qualify the technology. 60 million of this sum should come from investors.

Kleven shows an estimate of a one billion NOK turn-over after a few years, in a profitable company with growth possibilities.

The new business is going to be established in Kongsberg in Norway, a town that is already well established as a hub for spin offs of the Norwegian defence industry. Kleven himself has a lifetime of experience from this sector, since he started to work in Kongsberg Weapons Factory (Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk) in 1975.

Meet Thomas Andersson, the new Senior Advisor Business Development in Oslo Cancer Cluster and Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

– An idea needs to attract investors

Meet Thomas Andersson, our new Senior Advisor Business Development. How could he be of help to your startup company? 

— The most important thing I do is to get the startup companies rolling.

Thomas Andersson, the new Senior Advisor for Business Development at Oslo Cancer Cluster and Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, looks dead serious as he makes this statement, but immediately after he lets out a smile and elaborates:

— A company needs to be investible. An idea needs to attract investors.

A lifetime of experience
Thomas holds a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Lund University in Sweden and has more than 30 years of experience from establishing, operating and funding start-ups in the life science field. He has a long background in business development in health tech startups, all the way back to the early 1980s.

— I’m that old! I went straight from my Ph.D. in biophysics into the problem-solving of business development.

In his career he has also taken on issues with patents and sales and he even bought a company that produced monoclonal antibodies with some friends and remodelled and sold it. 

— What did you learn from this journey? 

— I learned quite a lot, including the production business and the cell cultivation biotech business from the floor. I also learned how to lay out the production manufacturing facility.

See it like an investor
Thomas Andersson knows the biotech startup-scene from the investors’ point of view. He started to work at the tech transfer office of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. It was called Karolinska Innovations back then, now it is known as KI Innovations.

— We raised a lot of money there, formed 45 companies as a group and we had a fantastic time! 

After 8 years he was recruited to Lund and worked in Lund University Bio Science and tried to vacuum clean the whole university for life science innovation.

— And we did find a lot! In the end there were about 20 investment proposals and those ended up in 9 investments, of which we turned down 5 or 6. Two of them are now at the stock market. 

In total, Thomas Andersson has been involved in starting about 20 companies, of which 5 survived and are now on the stock market.

Normally, it is said that only 1 in 30 biotech startups make it. 

 

Thomas Andersson, Senior Advisor Business Development. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

Here for you
— How did you end up here at Oslo Cancer Cluster?  

— I have had my eyes on Oslo Cancer Cluster for a while. I have liked the ideas that the cluster stands for. And I wanted to do something new in the end of my career. That is why I am here as a senior advisor now. I like it here! I am working on very interesting projects and ideas.

Our new Senior Advisor Business Development is present in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator nearly every week although he still lives in Lund, Sweden, on a farm in the woods where he can be practical and hands-on with hardwood and fly fishing.

— My door is open to people in the cluster and incubator with projects and ideas. I have a network that can help them and I have the experience of how investors, scientists and other actors can value a company. And being a Swede in the Norwegian system; I am basically here also to encourage you to think differently.

 

Interested in more funding opportunities for your company?

Check out our Access to Capital-page. 

 

This is a T-cell, or more precisely, an actin cytoskeleton of a T lymphocyte. The picture is obtained by a special microscope. The cell’s size is 38*38 μm. Photo: Pierre Dillard

T-cells and the Nobel Price

What does the Nobel Prize have to do with cancer research in Oslo Cancer Cluster?

This year the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer. This was a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options.

A statement from the Nobel committee hailed the accomplishments of Allison and Honjo as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.”

This principle, the idea behind much of the immunotherapy we see developing today, is shared by several of our Oslo Cancer Cluster members, including Oslo University Hospital and the biotech start-up Zelluna.

– This year’s Nobel Price winners have contributed to giving new forms of immunotherapy treatments to patients, resulting in improved treatments to cancer types that previously had poor treatment alternatives, especially in combination with other cancer therapies, said doctor Else Marit Inderberg as a comment to the price.

She leads the immunomonitoring unit of the Department of Cellular Therapy at Oslo University Hospital. The unit is present in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator with a translational research lab.

Inderberg has been studying and working with T-cells since 1999, first within allergies and astma, before she was drawn to cancer research and new cancer therapies in 2001.

So, what is a T-cell?
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. They are deployed to fight infections and cancer, but malignant cells can elude them by taking advantage of a switch – a molecule – on the T-cell called an immune checkpoint. Cancer cells can lock onto those checkpoints, crippling the T-cells and preventing them from fighting the disease.

The drugs based on the work of Nobel Prize winners Allison and Honjo belong to a class called checkpoint inhibitors – the same immune checkpoint that we find on T-cells. Drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors can physically block the checkpoint, which frees the immune system to attack the cancer.

Group leaders Else Marit Inderberg and Sébastien Wälchli often work in one of the cell labs in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. Photo: Christopher Olssøn

 

– We work on other ways of activating the immune system, but in several clinical trials we combine cancer vaccines or other therapies with the immune-modulating antibody, the checkpoint inhibitors, which the Nobel Price winners developed, Inderberg explained.

Inderberg and her team of researchers in the translational research lab in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator use the results from the Nobel Price winners’ research in their own research in order to develop their own therapy and learn more about the mechanisms behind the immune cells’ attack on the cancer cells and the cancer cells’ defence against the immune system.

– This Nobel Prize is very inspiring for the entire field and it contributes to making this kind of research more visible, Else Marit Inderberg added.

– Our challenge now is to make new forms of cancer therapies available for a large number of patients and find ways to identify patient groups who can truly benefit from new therapies – and not patients who will not benefit. Immunotherapy also has some side effects, and it is important that we keep working on these aspects of the therapy as well.

From research to company
Most of the activity of the translational research lab in Oslo relies on the use of a database of patient samples called the biobank. This specific biobank represents an inestimable source of information about the patients’ response to immunological treatments over the years. Furthermore, the patient material can be reanalysed and therapeutic molecules isolated. This is the basis of the Oslo Cancer Cluster member start-up company Zelluna.

 

Want to know more about Zelluna and the research they are spun out of?

This is a story about their beginning.

Curious about new research from the Department of Cellular Therapy in Oslo?

More on their webpage.