Industrial precision against cancer 

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.

– 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. 

 

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.

Want to hear from the Nobel committee about why this research was awarded the price?

Listen to this podcast by ScienceTalk.