Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, asks that the Norwegian government raises the bar to offer clinical studies for all cancer patients.

New political paper: Action Plan for Clinical Studies

Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster

The Norwegian government wants to double the number of clinical studies by 2025, but is this goal ambitious enough?

The highly anticipated political paper “Action Plan for Clinical Studies (2021-2025)” was released in Norway by the Ministry of Health and Care Services this week. The government’s vision is to make clinical studies an integrated part of patient care.

A clinical study is a type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches, such as screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatments, work in people.

The action plan is the first of its kind and has been requested by researchers, clinicians, the health industry and patient organisations for several years.

The number of clinical studies in Norway is on a negative, spiralling trend. This is especially alarming for cancer patients, who are eager to receive novel treatments.

The Norwegian Health Minister Bent Høie now sets the goal to double the number of clinical studies in Norway and include 5% of all patients in the specialist health services before 2025.

“The action plan includes many important points, we believe the bar should be raised higher,” commented Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster.

“Our goal should be to make clinical studies available for all cancer patients in Norway – not just a small fraction.”

The government also announced in the State Budget proposal in October 2020 that NOK 30 million will be allocated through the NorTrials scheme. The funds will be used to employ study nurses and improve competency in clinical research.

The Norwegian Health Minister also calls for a change in work culture, in order to make clinical trials an integrated part of patient treatment.

Another major obstacle is the difficulty to recruit patients quickly. The regional health authorities are now tasked with developing a best practice for patient recruitment.

Oslo Cancer Cluster contributed input to the development of this political paper in September 2019. Our major suggestions included:

  • the need for financial incentives to improve patient recruitment,
  • establishing Norway and the Nordic countries as an international testbed for innovative medicine,
  • authorities to collaborate with industry on guidelines on how to approve precision medicine treatments and the documentation requirements.

Read our entire input here (in Norwegian): Innspill Kliniske Studier til Helse- og omsorgsdepartementet (September 2019) fra Oslo Cancer Cluster

 

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Jutta Heix, Head of International Affairs at Oslo Cancer Cluster and Project Manager of the new initiative CONNECT, which 22 public and private partners have joined to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine for Norwegian patients. Photo: Stig Jarnes/Oslo Cancer Cluster

Landmark public-private agreement for precision cancer medicine

Scroll down to read the press release in Norwegian.

While more than 30 000 Norwegians are diagnosed with cancer every year and the incidence is still increasing, more precise treatments can save lives. CONNECT is a new initiative aiming to ensure that precision medicine reaches the patients.

“A serious cancer disease is an existential challenge for the individual. Cancer research gives hope. The pharmaceutical industry and the public health sector, clinicians and executive authorities, have to collaborate to offer new treatments, balancing the latest research with hospital operations,” says Åsmund Flobak, Oncologist at St Olav’s Hospital, Trondheim University Hospital.

The new initiative, called CONNECT (Norwegian Precision Cancer Medicine Implementation Consortium), is a direct response to Health Minister Bent Høie’s political guidance to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine for Norwegian patients. It also responds to the Health Minister’s ambition to increase research and collaboration between public and private actors, including hospitals, other public stakeholders, the Norwegian Cancer Society, and the pharmaceutical industry.

CONNECT is one of four interconnected initiatives that will ensure infrastructure and collaboration on diagnostics, clinical trials, implementation of advanced precision medicine and use of health data e.g. for health economics analysis. This could eventually affect how Nye Metoder (The National System for Managed Introduction of New Health Technologies within the Specialist Health Service in Norway) is adapted for personalized medicine and treatments for small patient groups in cancer.

See the fact boxes about the different initiatives at the bottom of this page.

Precision medicine for the future

Precision medicine, or personalised medicine, is a type of treatment tailored to the individual patient based on individual diagnostic and clinical information. In simple words, it is about giving the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.

“The research front is continuously moving forward. With modern technology, today’s clinicians can analyse specific changes in the cancer of each patient. There are individual changes in a patient’s tumour that can be treated with targeted therapies tailored to every individual patient,” says Bjørn Tore Gjertsen, Director of Research at Haukeland University Hospital, Helse Bergen Health Trust.

“Precision medicine changes healthcare. The implementation of precision medicine requires new types of interactions and partnerships among patients, clinicians, companies, regulators, and payors. CONNECT is a new public-private partnership allowing all stakeholders to jointly address key obstacles and piloting novel solutions,“ says Jutta Heix, Project Manager for CONNECT and Head of International Affairs at Oslo Cancer Cluster.

A nationwide effort towards a common goal

CONNECT is a unique national partnership where the central players join forces to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine.

All six university hospitals in Norway are partners in CONNECT. More than ten leading pharmaceutical companies have joined the initiative so far. As representative for patients, the Norwegian Cancer Society will play a central role.

“We are also having a good dialogue with the Norwegian Directorate of Health, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the Norwegian Medicines Agency about participating in CONNECT and contributing with their competency. The Institute of Public Health joins as an observer from the start and the Directorate of Health has expressed an intention to join as an observer as well,” says Kjetil Tasken, Head and Director of the Institute for Cancer Research at Oslo University Hospital.

Karen Marie Ulshagen, Area Director at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, says in a comment that the Medicines Agency supports the project and intends to engage.

“A culture for public-private collaboration is not created through strategic plans, political ambitions or celebratory speeches, but through actions and behaviours that set a new standard. CONNECT is not about money or donating pharmaceuticals. It is the combined expertise of the different players and agencies that will increase the competency essential to ensure the implementation of precision medicine. Novartis is happy to participate, and I think that is true for the other industry players too,” says Lars Petter Strand, Head of Medical, Novartis Oncology Norway. He has worked closely together with representatives from Roche, BMS and Merck in the working group for CONNECT.

CONNECT and the associated public initiatives work towards common goals: giving patients access to medicines they otherwise wouldn’t receive, increasing the precision medicine experience of clinicians and researchers nationwide, generating data and insights important for analysing the outcomes and adopting health technology assessments for these new treatment concepts. Via CONNECT a structured dialogue, information sharing and planning for national precision medicine and diagnostics will be established, with Oslo Cancer Cluster having the coordinating role.

Unique public-private partnership

CONNECT will be an arena for all partners and stakeholders to address important issues and will ensure a balanced, broad, and informed approach and debate.

“This is a concrete and important milestone for public-private collaborations in the health sector and builds on the ambitions from, among other things, HelseOmsorg21. This is a completely new way to work in Norway and I hope it paves the way for more collaborative projects and pilots between private and public players in healthcare,” says Karita Bekkemellem, CEO of Legemiddelindustrien (LMI).

 

Press release in Norwegian:

Inngåelse av historisk offentlig-privat kreftsamarbeid

Mer enn 30 000 nordmenn diagnostiseres med kreft hvert år og antall krefttilfeller øker, mer presis behandling vil kunne redde liv. CONNECT er et nytt initiativ med mål å sørge for at presisjonsmedisin når pasientene.

– Alvorlig kreftsykdom er en eksistensiell utfordring for den enkelte. Kreftforskning er håp. Privat legemiddelindustri og offentlig helsevesen, både behandlere og overordnet byråkrati, må samarbeide for å kunne tilby ny behandling i grenseflaten mellom forskningsfront og sykehusdrift, sier Åsmund Flobak, lege ved Kreftklinikken St Olavs hospital.

Det nye initiativet, som kalles CONNECT, er en direkte respons til helseminister Bent Høies ønske om å akselerere implementering av presisjonsmedisin for norske pasienter. Det svarer også helseministerens ønske om mer forskning, og aktivt samarbeid mellom offentlige og private aktører som blant annet sykehus, andre offentlige interessehavere, Kreftforeningen og legemiddelindustrien.

Avtalen er en del av flere initiativ som vil sikre en infrastruktur og samarbeid for diagnostikk, kliniske studier, implementering av avansert presisjonsmedisin og bruk av helsedata til blant annet helseøkonomiske analyser. Dette vil etter hvert kunne påvirke hvordan systemet for Nye Metoder tilpasses persontilpasset medisin og behandlinger til små pasientgrupper innen kreftområdet.

Se faktaboks om de ulike initiativene nederst i saken.

Presisjonsmedisin for fremtiden

Presisjonsmedisin, eller persontilpasset behandling, er en form for kreftbehandling som er tilpasset spesielt den enkelte pasient. Kort fortalt handler dette om å gi riktig medisin til riktig pasient og til riktig tid.

– Forskningsfronten flytter seg stadig fremover, og med moderne teknologi kan leger i dag undersøke detaljerte forandringer i kreftsvulster hos hver enkelt pasient. Det finnes individuelle forandringer i arvestoffet som kan behandles med målrettede behandlinger som er tilpasset hvert enkelt individs behov sier Bjørn Tore Gjertsen, forskningssjef, Helse Bergen

– Presisjonsmedisin forandrer hele helsetjenesten og krever nye typer samarbeid og partnerskap mellom pasienter, klinikere, selskaper, regulatoriske myndigheter og betalere. CONNECT er et helt nytt offentlig-privat samarbeid som vil gi alle parter felles muligheter for å adressere utfordringer og prøve nye løsninger, sier Jutta Heix, prosjektleder for CONNECT og leder for internasjonal kontakt i Oslo Cancer Cluster.

Samler hele Norge for felles mål

CONNECT er et unikt partnerskap der alle de sentrale aktørene er samlet for å akselerere innføringen av presisjonsmedisin.

Alle seks universitetssykehus i Norge er med som partnere. Over ti ledende legemiddelselskaper har også gått med i initiativet. Som representant for pasientperspektivet er Kreftforeningen sentral.

– Vi har også hatt en god dialog med Helsedirektoratet, Folkehelseinstituttet og Legemiddelverket om å delta i CONNECT og bidra med sin kompetanse. Folkehelseinstituttet kommer inn som observatør fra starten, Helsedirektoratet har uttrykt en intensjon om å være med som observatør i CONNECT, sier Kjetil Tasken, leder for Institutt for Kreftforskning ved Oslo Universitetssykehus.

Karen Marie Ulshagen, Områdedirektør, SLV sier i en kommentar at Legemiddelverket støtter prosjektet og har en intensjon om en nærmere tilknytning dersom det er mulig.

– Kultur for offentlig-privat samhandling skapes ikke ved strategiske planer, politiske ambisjoner eller festtaler, kun gjennom handling og adferd som setter en ny standard. CONNECT handler ikke om penger eller donasjon av legemidler, det er den faglige ekspertisen fra de ulike aktører og instanser som utgjør kompetanseløftet som er essensielt for å sikre innføring av presisjonsmedisin. Novartis er glad for å kunne ta del i dette, og det tror jeg gjelder de andre industriaktørene også, sier Lars Petter Strand, Medisinsk Direktør i Novartis. Han har arbeidet tett sammen med representantene fra firmaene Roche, BMS, Merck i arbeidsgruppen for CONNECT.

Målet er at CONNECT og de underliggende initiativene sammen kan bidra til å gi pasienter tilgang til medisiner som de ikke ellers ville fått, helsepersonell og forskere får unik erfaring med denne type medisiner og diagnostikk, og helsevesenet vil få data og erfaring fra hvordan presisjonsmedisin fungerer og påvirker måten vi i dag regner helseøkonomi. Gjennom CONNECT skal det etableres strukturert dialog, kunnskapsutveksling og planlegging for persontilpasset medisin og diagnostikk hvor Oslo Cancer Cluster vil ha den koordinerende rollen.

Unikt offentlig-privat samarbeid

Alle medlemmer og interessenter vil kunne ta opp saker som er viktige for dem, da målet er at CONNECT blir en arena som sikrer en bred, balansert og informert debatt.

Dette er et konkret og viktig løft for offentlig-privat samarbeid på helsefeltet og bygger videre på ambisjonene fra blant annet HelseOmsorg21-rådet. Det er en helt ny måte å jobbe på i Norge og jeg håper det baner vei for flere samarbeidsprosjekter og piloter mellom private og offentlige helseaktører, sier Karita Bekkemellem, Administrerende direktør i Legemiddelindustrien (LMI).

 

Fact boxes:

InPreD (Infrastructure for Precision Diagnostics) is a national infrastructure for advanced molecular diagnostics that will secure a robust, interactive structure facilitating clinical cancer trials on a national level by providing equal access for patients to advanced diagnostics, state-of-the art competence and technology.
IMPRESS-Norway (Improving public cancer care by implementing Precision medicine in Norway) is a prospective, non-randomized clinical trial evaluating efficacy of commercially available, anti-cancer drugs prescribed for patients with advanced cancer diagnosed with potentially actionable alterations as revealed by standardized molecular diagnostics. IMPRESS-Norway is a nation-wide study and all hospitals with an oncology and / or hematology department will be invited to participate in the study. As of December 2020, 17 Norwegian Hospitals have agreed to join IMPRESs. The study will use a combined umbrella and basket design and a Simon two-stage model of expanding cohorts to follow up potentially effective combinations of biomarker and drug on specific indications. Sampling of biological material will be performed at presentation, during treatment and upon progression. Additional biomarker and translational analyses including whole genome sequencing (WGS) on tumour material and liquid biopsies, identifying mechanisms underlying drug sensitivity versus resistance will be performed.
INSIGHT (Regulatory framework for implementing precision medicine into the Norwegian health care system) will develop an analytic framework for using synthetic control data for evaluating effects of small-scale one-armed clinical trials, as in IMPRESS-Norway. INSIGHT will use the developed control arms and data from IMPRESS-Norway and InPreD to evaluate cost-effectiveness of the PCM-model and suggest new reimbursement scheme that reflects the uncertainty in PCM. Concrete ethical and legal challenges when integrating clinical research as part of standard-of-care e.g. the need for informed consent, access and data sharing, storage of molecular data as part of diagnostic pipeline will also be addressed. Taken together, the project will deliver fundamental knowledge and suggest regulatory changes/models necessary for implementation of PCM.

 

CONNECT Founding Partners:

  • Akershus universitetssykehus HF
  • Helse Bergen HF
  • Helse Stavanger HF
  • Olavs hospital HF
  • Universitetssykehuset Nord-Norge HF
  • Oslo Universitetssykehus med Kreftregisteret og OUH Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Folkehelseinstituttet
  • Oslo Cancer Cluster SA
  • Kreftforeningen
  • Legemiddelindustrien
  • Roche Norge AS
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Norway Ltd NUF
  • Novartis Norge AS
  • Merck AB NUF
  • Takeda AS
  • Amgen AB Norge NUF
  • AstraZeneca AS
  • AbbVie AS
  • Bayer AS
  • PubGene AS
  • Pfizer Norge AS
  • NEC Corporation

 

 

Oslo Cancer Cluster’s highlights 2020

Networking events, political meetings, ambitious students, funding for SMEs and expansion of the laboratory… Here is a “pick and mix” of our many news from the past year.

Another year has passed and as we look back on a year filled with both challenges and successes, we are inspired with renewed energy to continue our work in 2021. It is never easy to summarise an entire year in only a few paragraphs, but here is an attempt to present a variety of the many positive experiences, fruitful meetings and engaging activities that Oslo Cancer Cluster has enjoyed.

 

Cancer Crosslinks 2020

The speakers, chairpersons, introducers and organizers of Cancer Crosslinks 2020

The speakers, chairpersons, introducers and organizers of Cancer Crosslinks 2020. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

The year began with the 12th Annual Cancer Crosslinks on 16 January. This year’s topic “Progress in Cancer Care – A tsunami of promises or Game Changing Strategies?” included engaging presentations by leading international and Norwegian experts on the latest advances in immune-oncology. These sparked stimulating discussions between colleagues in the networking breaks. Cancer Crosslinks 2020 was one of the few physical meetings this year and gathered more than 350 delegates from all of Norway and abroad at the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park.

Please visit the official Cancer Crosslinks website at https://www.cancercrosslinks.com to register for Cancer Crosslinks 2021, which will be presented digitally on 21 January.

 

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator developed cell therapy lab

Björn Klem and Janne Nestvold celebrate that the Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has been nominated among Europe's 20 best incubators.

Bjørn Klem, general manager, and Janne Nestvold, laboratory manager, at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster.

Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) Incubator invested in the laboratory’s cell therapy infrastructure, thanks to a grant from the Oslo City’s Regional Innovation Programme. Moreover, Radiumhospitalets Legater have kindly donated a valuable instrument, called a Seahorse, which was set up in the OCC Incubator in November, to boost research into cancer cells further. Cell therapies have the potential to cure cancer and turn it into a chronic disease. More research is however needed to document the full potential of cell therapies and the OCC Incubator is happy to facilitate this.

Please visit Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator’s website to learn more about their facilities and services

 

First-year researchers held poster session

Linnéa M. Skille, May Dagny Kollandsrud Hutchings, Tonje Marie Bjørklund Hopen and Elakhiya Dushyanthan presented their research project at the school’s poster session. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersem

Oslo Cancer Cluster has collaborated with Ullern Upper Secondary School for several years to inspire students to pursue careers in science, research and entrepreneurship. In 2019, we launched the research programme in partnership with the school and this year marked the end of its first year. The grand finale was a real poster session, similar to those at large science conferences, where the students presented their research projects to their mentors. We are proud of these talented, ambitious students and delighted to follow their journey onwards.

Please visit our School Collaboration website for more information

 

Oslo Cancer Cluster joined Oslo Science City

Christine Sørbye Wergeland, CEO of Oslo Science City, was delighted to welcome Oslo Cancer Cluster as a new member in June. Photo: Oslo Science City

Oslo Cancer Cluster joined Oslo Science City, the first innovation district in Norway, in June 2020. The district already includes more than 30 000 students, 7 500 researchers, the country’s foremost universities, hospitals and world-class research institutions, as well as more than 300 companies. Now, the aim is to become a world leading innovation district that contributes to research excellence, jobs creation, the green shift and sustainable economic development. Oslo Cancer Cluster is eager to contribute to Oslo Science City to solve the hard problems of the future, such as cancer.

Please visit Oslo Science City’s official website to learn more

 

Ministers met at Oslo Cancer Cluster

Danish Foreign Minister meets with Norwegian Trade Minister at Oslo Cancer Cluster

Ministers Jeppe Kofod and Iselin Nybø met at Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park in August 2020. Photo: The Embassy of Denmark in Norway

Oslo Cancer Cluster was honoured by a visit from the Foreign Minister of Denmark Jeppe Kofod and the Minister for Trade, Industry and Fisheries Iselin Nybø in August 2020. The ministers discussed current topics, such as export, international trade and foreign investments. The ministers also listened to presentations from key representatives from the health industry on the potential of Nordic collaboration on life science and cancer. A central issue was how to reduce the development time of cancer treatments from 10 to 5 years, and to make the Nordics a destination for health innovation.

 

Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park 5-Year Milestone

Five years ago, Prime Minister Erna Solberg was welcomed by Jónas Einarsson, founder of Oslo Cancer Cluster, at the opening of the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. Photo: Gunnar Kopperud

This year marked five years of innovation in Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. The milestone was commemorated with a virtual event that will be live until 31 December 2020. The virtual event includes greetings from Prime Minister Erna Solberg, perspectives from members of Oslo Cancer Cluster, reflections from stakeholders in the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and comments from Innovation Norway, SIVA and the Research Council of Norway.

 

Leading the way for precision medicine

Dr. Kjetil Taskén, Dr. Åslaug Helland and Dr. Hege Russnes are part of the enthusiastic team at Oslo University who are behind the national study IMPRESS. Photo: Oslo University Hospital

Dr. Kjetil Taskén, Dr. Åslaug Helland and Dr. Hege Russnes are part of the enthusiastic team at Oslo University behind the national study IMPRESS. Photo: Oslo University Hospital

IMPRESS-Norway, a national clinical study starting in 2021 working towards implementing cancer precision medicine in Norway, was officially announced in October. IMPRESS involves the active support of leading global pharmaceutical companies that will provide the study drugs and contribute with per patient fees. Public funding will help to ensure this innovative study paves the way for more cancer clinical trials in Norway. A new public-private partnership called CONNECT is also being established with Oslo Cancer Cluster as project coordinator. CONNECT will provide an arena for all stakeholders to jointly address key obstacles and to pilot novel solutions to advance the implementation of precision cancer medicine.

 

DIGI-B-CUBE funding for SMEs

The first round of voucher applications by SMEs in the DIGI-B-CUBE project was a success. On 29 August 2020, the successful applicants were announced, with funding support of more than 1,4 million euros to SMEs for fostering cross-sectoral Innovation. Of the 217 applications, 22 SMEs were granted financial support to implement their customized solution innovation ideas with an overall budget of more than 1 million euros, ranging from topics like a sleep apnea test device, to Covid-19 monitoring, to in-vitro cellular immunoassays. In addition, 21 SMEs with an overall budget of more than 400 000 euros will be financially supported by the DIGI-B-CUBE project to implement their prototypes.

Please visit DIGI-B-CUBEs official website to learn more

 

Oslo Cancer Cluster events went digital

The Organising Partners from Europe and North America opened the first virtual version of the International Cancer Cluster Showcase this year.

This year we had to think of new, creative ways to meet and deliver key events in a new format. Here is a selection of this year’s virtual events:

In May, we live-streamed a political meeting on integrating clinical studies in standard patient care in Norway from Oslo, in collaboration with Kreftforeningen, LMI, MSD, AstraZeneca and Janssen.

On 8 June 2020, the 9th International Cancer Cluster Showcase was launched as a virtual event presenting 20 early-stage oncology companies and sparking record-high participation with about 400 registrations.

During Oslo Innovation Week in September 2020, we arranged the virtual event “What does it take to impact innovation?”, with talks from stakeholders who inspire innovation, protect innovation and provide the necessary tools for innovation.

As a long-standing conference supporter of EHiN “E-health in Norway”, we participated in the first-ever fully digital EHiN in several sessions, covering current topics such as gene technology, artificial intelligence and health data.

Please visit the Oslo Cancer Cluster Event Calendar for an overview of all upcoming events.

 

New members announcement

The Oslo Cancer Cluster member wheel gives a glimpse of the membership base, which has grown this year.

During 2020, Oslo Cancer Cluster has welcomed several new members to our organization. We are happy to announce that the following companies have joined us and been introduced to the rest of the cluster: Glaxo-Smith Kline, Hubro Therapeutics, Kaiku Health, Ledidi, Hemispherian, PharmaRelations, Vesteraalens, Adjutec Pharma, K og K and Worldwide Clinical Trials.

Please visit the Oslo Cancer Cluster Member Overview to see all our members and to visit their websites.

 

 

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The mentors described their diverse roads into science and research to the second-year students at Ullern Upper Secondary School. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Mentor meeting: many roads to reach your goal

The second-year class of the Researcher Programme at Ullern Upper Secondary School has been assigned new mentors for the school year 2020/2021. The first meeting with the mentors was about how the road to becoming a researcher or doctor or other occupation can be diverse and take many different routes.

This article was originally published in Norwegian on our School Collaboration website.

The students in the second year of the Researcher Programme at Ullern Upper Secondary School are used to having mentors guiding them during the school year, and inspiring and challenging them. This year, all the mentors, except for Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen, are new to the students. These are the mentors:

  • Henrik Sveinsson, a physics researcher at the University of Oslo,
  • Steven Ray Wilson, a chemist and professor at the University of Oslo,
  • Janne Nestvold, laboratory manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator,
  • Severin Langberg, a PhD student in machine learning and cancer at the Norwegian Cancer Registry (absent from this meeting).

The meeting included introductions of all the mentors and a Q&A session.

Henrik Sveinsson

“I was fascinated by the financial crisis in 2008 and how they used math to cover up the fraud in big banks like Lehman Brothers. I applied to Norway’s Business School in Bergen to study economy, but I learnt quickly that I should have gone to the University of Oslo to study social economics, so I did that instead. Coincidentally, I took up a physics course and became very interested in that, and ended up as a physicist.”

Henrik Sveinsson became interested in the financial crisis of 2008, and how math was used to cover up the economic situation in the big banks that led to the crisis. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Henrik Sveinsson became interested in the financial crisis of 2008 and how math was used to cover up what the big banks were doing. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

 

Steven Ray Wilson

Steven studied psychology first, but then switched to chemistry, and is today professor at the Institute for Chemistry at the University of Oslo. He and his students work with pharmaceuticals, drugs and doping, and use chemistry to measure concentration levels in the body.

“Chemistry was the core of everything I thought was cool,” he said to the students of the Researcher Programme about why he chose to study chemistry.

Steven is also a musician, has worked professionally as a musician for periods and even won the Norwegian music award “Spellemanspris”. He encourages the students to have a passion besides their jobs. In one of the research projects he leads, they are cultivating mini-organs to faster test the efficacy and side-effects of drugs, as an alternative to animal testing.

Steven Ray Wilson to the left in the image, tells the students about his experiences from a combined life as a researcher and musician. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

Steven Ray Wilson (to the left) tells the students about his experiences from combining careers in research and music. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen

 

Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen

Øyvind is a doctor by education, has worked as a surgeon and led the cancer vaccine company Ultimovacs. He tells the students that the road to get there was not always straightforward:

“I dropped out of upper secondary school and went for a long time on unemployment activities as a youth. One of the jobs was to clean test tubes in the laboratory at the Dentist School. After a while, I got more fun assignments and even participated in research into fluor in drinking water, among other things. Then, I finished upper secondary school by picking up some courses and worked at Dikemark as an unskilled worker. That was when I decided to study medicine and retook some subjects to be accepted to the medical programme.

“After that, I worked a lot with developing a vaccine against a contagious form of meningitis at the Norwegian Institute for Public Health. I am very proud to have been a part of that because this vaccine now saves hundreds of thousands of people’s lives.”

Janne Nestvold

Janne manages the research laboratory at Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and helps biotech start-ups. She has a PhD in immunology and a background as a cancer researcher at the Institute for Cancer Research, and several other places. Before her career in research, she studied social anthropology and worked with drug addicts in Oslo. That was when she became interested in the combination of drugs and psychology and began to study biology.

Image caption: Janne Nestvold today manages the laboratory in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and has a background in both social anthropology and cancer research. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Janne Nestvold today manages the laboratory in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and has a background in both social anthropology and cancer research. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

 


Questions & Answers


Steven, what kind of music do you like – besides your own band?

“To play in a band and be creative is in many ways like being a researcher. Miles Davies is my biggest musical hero. He was extremely innovative and a tough guy unafraid to make any mistakes. When the band played something wrong, the point was to use the mistake to make something completely new in the music.

“Making mistakes is more about how you handle them than anything else. It is about being able to use the imperfect creatively, which I always remember in life, both generally and in research.”

 

Øyvind, how was everyday life when you worked as a surgeon?

“When I worked shifts as a surgeon, they would go on for about 27 hours. We would start at 7:00 am in the morning with a meeting, where we would learn something new. Then, we reviewed all the patients scheduled for surgery that day and assigned the tasks and surgeries among ourselves. The shift team got the easiest surgeries, so we could help the surgeons in the emergency room at Oslo University Hospital when seriously injured patients were admitted. If you were lucky, you got to sleep a little during the night.

“Then, it was the next morning. We had another meeting to report what had happened during the shift, and then we were supposed to visit the patients. I refused to do that, because it is not acceptable for the patients that an exhausted, tired doctor comes in to talk with them.”

The students listened intently to all the advice from their new mentors: Steven, Henrik, Øyvind and Janne. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

The students listened intently to all the advice from their new mentors: Steven, Henrik, Øyvind and Janne. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

 

Janne, how do you get a reliable result when you perform research?

“Preparations make up half the work. I worked a lot with animal testing, which means you must think through everything before the experiment. For example, the accurate dosage for sick animals and healthy animals. It is very expensive to do these experiments, so it is important that everything is set up correctly. Afterwards, you analyse the results in a research group, and then you publish the results. If others cite your research, it spreads in the environment, and has an impact on other research in the same field.”

 

Question for everyone: why do you want to be our mentors?

Janne: “I want you to know that a career in science is an exciting path to take. Every day you are in the middle of everything here at Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. There are a lot of opportunities here with the Incubator and the Institute for Cancer Research. I want to show you what some of those opportunities are.”

Steven: “It is fun to follow your journeys. As I told you earlier, I have been a mentor for over 40 students so far, and it is like being in a time machine. In a couple of years, you will do academic and professional things that are amazing, so it is fun to participate and observe and help a little in your lives.”

Henrik: “I am not completely sure, but I accepted the offer immediately. It feels important, when I think it through now, to give you an insight into physics and to contribute to the choices you will make.”

Øyvind: “Some of the most fun things I do are to teach, and I can’t decline when I am the Chairman of Oslo Cancer Cluster (jokingly). Honestly, it is fun for me to contribute as your mentor, so that is the reason.”

 

The mentors gathered with one metre distance apart. From left to right: Steven Ray Wilson, Henrik Sveinsson (behind), Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen (in front) and Janne Nestvold. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

The mentors gathered with one-metre distance apart. From left to right: Steven Ray Wilson, Henrik Sveinsson (behind), Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen (in front) and Janne Nestvold. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

 

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Photo: Stig Jarnes/Oslo Cancer Cluster

More precise cancer treatments with digital solutions

Ketil Widerberg, general manager, Oslo Cancer Cluster.

Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, gives his perspectives on why EHiN and digital health are important for faster development of new cancer treatments in Norway.

 

This interview was first published on EHiN’s website in Norwegian.

 

What do you think are the biggest challenges in the health sector today?

One challenge in cancer treatments is to give the right medicine to the right patient at the right time. This is called precision medicine and means that cancer treatments can to a greater extent be tailored to the individual patient. The government recently proposed more money for this in the State Budget for 2021. There are already digital tools that can identify more targeted treatments ready to be put to use. One example is our member NEC OncoImmunity, who are using artificial intelligence to develop new personalised immunotherapies against cancer.

Another big challenge is to shorten the development time for new cancer medicines. The corona pandemic has shown us that it is possible to quickly develop new treatments, initiate clinical studies and gather data. The analysis of health data will be essential for the development and approval of new treatments. It is important that national infrastructure, such as the Health Analysis Platform, is put in place. One inspiring company is our member Ledidi; their software solution was recently approved for all Covid-19-studies at Oslo University Hospital. This tool can also be used in cancer research to make quick statistical analysis and to cooperate across research groups, hospitals and countries.

A third challenge is how we involve the cancer patient in their own treatment. New technology, for example the data platform from our member Kaiku Health, enables the patients to self-report symptoms in real-time. If we can gather data on pain and side effects every day, instead of every third month, our understanding of cancer improves and the doctor can do a better job.

 

How can you contribute digitally to the health sector?

Oslo Cancer Cluster contributes to the digitalisation of the health sector by connecting pharmaceutical companies and biotech start-ups in cancer with tech companies.

Among other things, we are coordinating the Horizon 2020 EU-project “DIGI-B-CUBE”, which provides funds to collaboration projects between small to medium-sized companies in IT and health. They try to find digital solutions to challenges in the health sector.

Our cluster is also a part of the consortium «NORA EDIH – Norwegian Artificial Intelligence Research Consortium» that was recently selected as one of eight Digital Innovation Hubs that Innovation Norway will recommend to Digital Europe Programme. These innovation centres will be essential to stimulate increased use of digital solutions.

 

How has Covid-19 affected you?

Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator has put several measures in place to keep laboratories and offices open to ensure that important cancer research and patient treatment can continue as normal during the pandemic. Start-ups, researchers and the incubator have received more support from the financial apparatus for business development, in order to strengthen the health industry in this period of uncertainty. In addition, the Incubator has updated its IT infrastructure to facilitate the increased use of digital solutions from home offices and streaming of meetings and events.

Covid-19 has proven that the health industry is important for society – to fight pandemics, to contribute to better health and to create value. Norwegian companies in health experience great interest from investors now. One example is our member Vaccibody, who signed the largest biotechnology agreement in Norway ever this month and later was listed on Merkur Market (Oslo Stock Exchange), valued at NOK 17 billion.

Covid-19 has also created challenges for cancer patients that missed treatments because of the risk of getting infected and for those who have avoided important health checks because they don’t want to put any extra stress on the health services. Pharma companies experienced a challenge to keep clinical trials running in the beginning of the pandemic, but most hospitals have facilitated this now.

One positive side-effect of the pandemic is that social distancing has led to a rapid digitalisation of the health sector and put digital health at the top of the agenda.

 

What do you expect from EHiN?

EHiN is an arena that connects cross-sectional initiatives in digitalisation and biology across public institutions and private companies. It is a meeting place to find good digital solutions that can be implemented in the health sector and can position Norway internationally in long-term trends, which also creates great value for society.

At EHiN, you will meet different decision makers and participate in setting the political agenda for e-health. We need to continue to stress the importance of good public-private collaboration to develop, test and approve treatments for cancer patients.

 

What else would you like to communicate?

EHiN is important because collaboration is the key to create changes in health. We are working now with an application to become a health catapult centre, in collaboration with several innovation environments in health. If we succeed, we can strengthen the health industry by offering important services to small and medium-sized enterprises in digital health.

We also think it is very positive that the Norwegian Cancer Society have a good collaboration with EHiN. It shows how important e-health in Norway is for the entire cancer community.

 

Meet Ketil Widerberg as he moderates the session “Fremtidsmennesket” on 10 November 2020 at 11:00-12:00 during EHiN 2020. 

Register to EHiN here

 

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The students from the Researcher Programme were eager to hear more from Vegard Vinje after the mentor meeting. Vegard, in the middle, is a researcher at Simula and former student at Ullern Upper Secondary School. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

First-year students met their mentors

This fall, 32 students have begun their first year of the Researcher Programme at Ullern Upper Secondary School. Earlier in October, they met their four mentors, who will support them throughout the school year – and the mentors include some big names in the field.

Thirty-two nervous first-year students are sitting in Jónas Einarsson Auditorium. They are all attending the Researcher Programme. This is a unique opportunity for young people in Oslo who wish to immerse themselves in science, especially in biomedicine, and gain a more practical introduction to subjects like maths, physics, chemistry, biology, and IT and programming.

First of three meetings

Ragni Fet, former cancer researcher and currently biology teacher at Ullern school, is responsible for the first-year students at the Researcher Programme.

“It is nice to see all of you here and it is my pleasure to introduce the four mentors to you,” Fet says.

The mentors are:

  • Vegard Vinje, researcher at Simula and former Ullern student
  • Jónas Einarsson, CEO of Radforsk and initiator of Oslo Cancer Cluster and Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park
  • Simone Mester, PhD student and former Ullern student
  • Bjørn Klem, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and former Head of Research at Photocure.
The mentors. From left to right: Vegard, Jónas, Simone and Bjørn. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

The mentors. From left to right: Vegard, Jónas, Simone and Bjørn. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Fet tells the students that they will meet the four mentors today and twice more during the school year. The next time the visit will take place at one of the mentor’s workplaces. Read more about what the students of the Researcher Programme (2019/2020) experienced when they visited Simone Mester at her workplace in December 2019.

The following time, the students will present their own research to the mentors and receive an evaluation from them. Read more about the type of research the students of the Researcher Programme (2019/2020) presented to their mentors.

“Today you can ask the mentors as many questions you like about their choices concerning education, focus, career, what they have learnt and experienced, and what they are doing today. Please feel free to ask your questions,” Fet says.

Question time

The students are eager to ask their questions to Vegard, Jónas, Simone and Bjørn during the next hour. It is obvious that the students have done some in-depth research on their four mentors.

When the question time was over, Jónas said:

“This was fun! You asked us good and interesting questions. This was both educational and entertaining for me too.”

You can read some of the questions and answers that occurred during the course of the hour they spent together below.

Q&As

Question: What is the most exciting thing you have experienced during your careers?

Vegard:

I was interviewed by NRK radio and they produced an article about our research. The research is about how breathing affects flows in the brain, something that can help to clear the brain from toxins.

An accumulation of toxins in the brain can be associated with an increased risk to develop Alzheimer’s disease, so NRK’s angle was: “Norwegian study: Your breathing can play a part in Alzheimers” even though our research does not say anything about causation. In the comments under the piece, the conclusion was practically “Yoga is good for the brain”, since breathing is an essential part of yoga.

It was interesting to see how our research was communicated so differently from what our work actually was.

The first-year students of the Researcher Programme listened intently to the mentors' stories. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

The first-year students of the Researcher Programme listened intently to the mentors’ stories. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Jonas:

My biggest moment was two years ago when I was sitting at a science conference on immunotherapy against cancer in New York. The same day, it was announced that the two researchers Tasuku Honjo and James Allison had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of how checkpoint inhibitors, a form of immunotherapy, can make the body’s own immune system fight cancer.

When the conference opened, Jim – which is James Allison’s nickname – came into the auditorium to give a presentation. This had already been decided long ago and had nothing to do with the Nobel Prize. The whole room stood up and clapped. That was huge. Jim was also here last year and visited the students who are now in the second year of the Researcher Programme.

Simone:

When I was finished with my master I was accepted into SPARK, which is the University of Oslo’s innovation programme. Because of that, I was also invited to Arendalsuka to present my project to many important people, and it was a big thing for me to be able to contribute.

In addition, it is always big when I experience an Eureka! moment in the laboratory: it is fun when you get a result that proves that your theory actually works.

Bjørn:

To find solutions to different things is what I like the most. If I had to choose one individual event, it would have to be this: I had worked for a long time in Photocure as Head of Research, and developed a medical device called Cevira, which is made to treat cervical cancer. We tested it in humans and it had good results, but then it was put on hold for many different reasons.

Then, about one year ago, the news came that a Chinese company had licensed this product for billions of NOK. They are already underway with the last part of the testing of Cevira, so maybe it will enter the market and be used by women all over the world in only a few years. I knew this product would work, so it is fun it is no longer forgotten about.

Question: Where do you think your research careers will take you, Simone and Vegard?

Vegard:

I dream about finding out more about the different flows in the brain that I am doing research on, but I am not sure I will find the answers. It is a simple transition between research and private industry, so maybe I will start my own company in time.

Simone:

I really want to start my own company and it is scary to even say it, but I am already underway. To start a company and develop a pharmaceutical that can make a difference for patients would be fun. I think it is a very exciting and challenging journey, and I am lucky to have guides that help me to do this.

Question: Why are you working with what you are doing now?

Vegard:

When I think back, it seems completely random. I did not have a plan about what I wanted to become when I attended upper secondary school. I liked maths and physics, and got an education in that, which was really fun. When I completed my bachelor degree, I got a summer job at Simula. This was in 2013 and after that, they have continued to offer me work and research projects.

Jónas:

I am a doctor by education and worked for many years as a general practitioner in Western Norway. When I moved from Western Norway to Oslo because of family, I did not have any job to go to and I did not know what I wanted to do either. A friend of mine worked at the Radium Hospital’s Research Foundation and offered me a project-based position for six months so that I could have time to think about the future, and since then I have remained.

Bjørn:

I do not think it is completely random, even if Vegard and Jónas say so, but it seems like that for me too. I studied pharmacy and later I was hired into Photocure and afterwards, I ended up here in the Incubator. But it isn’t completely random. We are affected by our surroundings: just think about what you do here at Ullern and what you are exposed to in the Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. Even if things seem random sometimes, they are not.

Bjørn Klem tells about his background as a pharmacist. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Bjørn Klem tells the students about his background as a pharmacist. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Jónas:

What you are talking about, Bjørn, is called Serendipity and is a type of unplanned discovery or a positive surprise when looking for something else.

For example, I was a rascal during upper secondary school and I wanted to study medicine, but my grades were not nearly good enough for that. So one day, my brother who was the president of ANSA, the association for Norwegian students who study abroad, called me. He told me that all Icelandic people are accepted to the first year of medical school in Iceland, and since I am an Icelandic citizen, that became my way in. That is typical serendipity.

Simone:

I studied science at Ullern Upper Secondary School and thought medicine would be a safe choice. But I wasn’t really interested of patient care, which made me very unsure. I talked a lot with Ragni, who was my biology teacher, and she encouraged me to study molecular biology at the university.

I was lost and confused the first year, because I wanted to study and work with something that has a value and is of use to others: to make a difference. Luckily, I found the research group led by Jan Terje Andersen and Inger Sandlie, where I have received a lot of support to go my own way and be innovative.

By the way, Inger Sandlie is my role model as a researcher and innovator. She has the most innovations registered with Inven2, the tech transfer office of the University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital, and is behind Vaccibody, that recently entered Norway’s largest agreement in biotechnology.

Simone and Ragni. Ragni Fet, a former cancer researcher and now biology teacher at Ullern was crucial in Simone’s study choice. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Simone and Ragni. Ragni Fet, a former cancer researcher and now biology teacher at Ullern was crucial in Simone’s decision to study molecular biology. Photo: Elisabeth Kirkeng Andersen.

Articles about previous mentor meetings

 

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Kjetil Taskén, Åslaug Helland and Hege Russnes from Oslo University Hospital are a few of the enthusiasts behind the national clinical study for cancer precision medicine in Norway. Photo: Oslo University Hospital

IMPRESS leads the way for cancer precision medicine

IMPRESS Norway is a national clinical study starting in 2021 working towards implementing cancer precision medicine in Norway.

As one of the initiators behind IMPRESS-Norway, Oslo Cancer Cluster is thrilled to see this national clinical study in cancer precision medicine become a reality.

Precision medicine is an approach to patient care that allows doctors to select treatments that are most likely to help patients based on a genetic understanding of their disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.

During 2019, Oslo Cancer Cluster hosted a series of workshops with public and private stakeholders in cancer. The joint goal was to accelerate the implementation of cancer precision medicine in Norway. The initial idea for IMPRESS emerged in one of these workshops. A dedicated team, including Kjetil Taskén, Sigbjørn Smeland, Åslaug Helland and Hege Russnes, at Oslo University Hospital quickly turned it into a national effort together with colleagues at university hospitals across Norway.

IMPRESS involves the active support of leading global pharmaceutical companies that will provide the study drugs and contribute with per patient fees. Public funding will help to ensure this innovative study paves the way for more cancer clinical trials in Norway.

National infrastructure for precision diagnostics is needed and is currently being set up at all Norwegian cancer hospitals. Cancer patients who are eligible for clinical trials can soon be tested and selected based on their specific genetic profile.

A new public-private partnership called CONNECT is also being established with Oslo Cancer Cluster as project coordinator. CONNECT will provide an arena for all stakeholders to jointly address key obstacles and to pilot novel solutions to advance the implementation of precision cancer medicine.

In the newly released Norwegian state budget, an additional NOK 30 million is allocated for personalized medicine. NOK 25 million is earmarked for the implementation of genetic precision diagnostics at the Norwegian hospitals. This demonstrates a commitment from the Norwegian government to advance the implementation of precision medicine for Norwegian cancer patients.

Learn more: Read the article (in Norwegian) at Oslo University Hospital’s website or the English translation below.

 

IMPRESS NORWAY: Large national precision medicine study in cancer

IMPRESS-Norway, a large national study on precision medicine against cancer, starts in the beginning of 2021. The study will, based on individual and expanded gene analysis give its participants the opportunity to receive so-called off-label medicines, that is medicines approved for the treatment of other diseases, to fight their specific unique cancer disease.

IMPRESS-Norway is a national clinical cancer study in precision medicine. The goal with the study is to test approved pharmaceuticals on new patient groups based on their cancer type and genetic mutations (molecular profile). The study is open for all hospitals in Norway that treat cancer patients and so far, thirteen hospitals have decided to participate in the study.

In the study, we will, in addition to data on clinical efficacy, collect comprehensive information about the molecular changes in the cancer tumour, by performing a complete DNA analysis, whole genome sequencing. This will provide us with a unique and comprehensive dataset that can be used by researchers across Norway to answer key questions in cancer treatment, such as improving the selection of patients for treatment and understanding resistance mechanisms.

For patients with advanced cancer who have received standard treatment

Patients with advanced cancer who have already received standard treatment are eligible to participate in IMPRESS-Norway, and we expect between 250 and 500 patients to be recruited every year. The patients will be included in patient groups (cohorts) based on molecular profiles, cancer diagnosis and medicine. Each cohort will first include eight patients. If one or more patients respond to the treatment, then another sixteen patients will be included. A cohort is considered positive if five or more patients of the total twenty-four patients, respond to the treatment.

The protocol for the study has been sent to The Norwegian Medicines Agency and it is expected to start in the beginning of 2021. The patients need to be referred to the study by their general practitioner or hospital clinician.

The study requires a national infrastructure

IMPRESS-Norway requires that cancer patients are offered an in-depth analysis of the cancer tumour’s genetic mutations. Therefore, the academic environments have worked, with dedicated funds from the regional health authorities, to establish a national infrastructure for precision diagnostics for cancer patients (National infrastructure for precision diagnostics called InPred).

Mapping 500 genes

The establishment of these new diagnostic services is already well underway at several hospitals. The goal is to offer expanded molecular diagnostics with mapping of 500 genes to all cancer patients who are eligible for clinical trial inclusion. The molecular results will be discussed in a national molecular tumour board, consisting of clinicians, pathologists and informaticians, and if the analysis shows that the patient has genetic mutations that can be treated with targeted therapy, the patient can be referred to the appropriate clinical trial or to IMPRESS-Norway.

Collaboration with pharmaceutical companies

IMPRESS-Norway is in dialogue with 17 pharmaceutical companies about contributing approved drugs that can be tested outside their approved indication (off-label). One goal with the study is to try out a concrete model for the implementation of personalized medicine. The clinical study will give health personnel and researchers unique experience with precision medicine and the use of molecular diagnostics in treatment, and will offer new treatments to a group of patients who have used up all other options. In addition, the collaboration partners of IMPRESS-Norway are planning to build a public – private collaboration (called CONNECT) where the experiences from IMPRESS-Norway will provide knowledge of how precision medicine affects, among other things, health economy, the health industry and the health services.

Learning from the Netherlands

IMPRESS-Norway is modelled on a precision medicine study called DRUP, which is currently ongoing in the Netherlands. Similar studies are being planned in several European countries and IMPRESS-Norway plans to collaborate on data sharing with the other Nordic countries. This is especially important since we know from experiences with the DRUP study that individual molecular profiles are so rare that it is difficult to fill the cohorts in a single country and therefore it becomes important to compile data from similar cohorts across studies.

Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, provides some perspective on cancer innovation and the newly released Norwegian State budget. Photo: Stig Jarnes/Oslo Cancer Cluster

State budget: 61,3 million to personalized medicine

Funds for personalized medicine, clinical trials, mature clusters, and digitalisation – these are some of the main points for cancer innovation in the newly released state budget.

In this week’s state budget, the Norwegian government increases the funding for personalized medicine with NOK 30 million to a total of NOK 61,3 million.

NOK 25 million will be used to establish precision diagnostics with advanced molecular profiling in the hospitals, which will give cancer patients a more precise diagnosis. This is also an important requirement for cancer patients to participate in clinical trials.

“The infrastructure for precision diagnostics will improve Norway’s ability to attract clinical studies internationally, it will give more cancer patients the opportunity to participate in clinical trials and it will provide valuable data for further research,” said Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster.

The remaining funds for personalized medicine will be used to build competences and begin to establish a national genome centre.

More funding for clinical trials

The Norwegian government announces NOK 75 million to health innovation and clinical studies. The establishment of NorTrials, which will be a partnership between industry and hospitals on clinical studies, will receive NOK 30 million. NorTrials will offer a one-stop-shop for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the health industry and for public institutions that want to conduct clinical trials in Norway.

“Oslo Cancer Cluster has long worked for the establishment of a partnership model for clinical studies between industry and public actors. It is great to see this important aspect addressed in the state budget,” said Widerberg.

More information about NorTrials and the infrastructure for precision diagnostics will be announced in the Action Plan for Clinical Studies, to be presented in December 2020.

As a follow-up to The White Paper on the Health Industry, the Norwegian government also proposes to establish a scheme to improve collaboration between industry and public institutions on health innovation, called Pilot Helse (Pilot Health). This scheme will receive NOK 20 million in funding.

100 million for Norwegian export

A total of NOK 100 million will be used for strategic investments in export opportunities. Most of these funds, NOK 75 million, will go directly to the new unit Business Norway. Another NOK 20 million will strengthen the Norwegian mature clusters through Innovation Norway’s cluster programme. The remaining NOK 5 million will support Norwegian cultural export.

“The mature clusters can assume a central role in creating export opportunities for Norwegian industry abroad. The aim for Oslo Cancer Cluster is to put Norwegian health industry on the agenda internationally, and develop a leading European cancer innovation centre,” said Widerberg.

Greenlight for Horizon Europe

In 2021, an impressive NOK 40,9 billion will be used for research and development, which is 1,1 per cent of Norway’s total BNP.

The government also announced that Norway will participate in the EU programme Horizon Europe. The programme will replace Horizon 2020 and covers the period 2021-2027. It has a total budget of 75,9 billion euro over the entire period.

“It is important for Norwegian industry to participate in Horizon Europe, it brings access to novel knowledge and capital, and encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration, which is essential for cancer innovation,” Widerberg commented.

A new data factory

The budget for digitalisation will be doubled next year: NOK 1,5 billion is set aside. NOK 56,2 million will be used for Norwegian participation in the Digital Europe Programme, which will give Norwegian businesses access to skills and resources in the areas of artificial intelligence, supercomputers, IT security and advanced digital competency.

Another NOK 16 million goes to the creation of a “Data Factory”, which will be set up by The Agency for Digitalisation in cooperation with Digital Norway. The Data Factory will provide services that will help small companies to develop business ideas and create value from data.

At the same time, the newly established Health Analysis Platform, which will make it easier for scientists to conduct research on health data, gains another NOK 35 million.

“There is a massive unleashed potential in Norwegian health data, to create value for both industry and patients. Important hurdles and opportunities are addressed; however, we see the need for even more efforts to understand and treat illnesses like cancer better in the future. With the help of digital tools, we can develop new cancer medicines in 5 instead of 10 years,” Widerberg commented.

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Bjørn Klem, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, and Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, jointly present their vision for the future of cancer innovation. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster/Stig Jarnes

The new frontier in cancer innovation

Ketil Widerberg and Bjørn Klem

This column was originally published in the Nordic Life Science magazine (September 2020 Issue).

Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) Innovation Park and Incubator plans to expand by 5o ooo m² in the coming years. The goal is to create an international innovation hub in cancer. Why? Because personalized medicine is changing cancer innovation.

The Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg had great expectations when she opened OCC Innovation Park in July 2015, including a 5 000 m² Incubator, situated next to the Oslo University Hospital. The goal was to accelerate the development of new cancer treatments.

With world-class researchers in-house, Jónas Einarsson, CEO of Radforsk, investing in cancer biotechs, and one thousand noisy high school students in the same building, what could go wrong? Possibly everything.

At the time of opening, lab inventory and equipment were missing and only a few lease agreements were signed. More importantly, would scientists, investors and students be viewed as weird outcasts or would an attrac­tive innovation platform be created?

The idea is simple; the OCC Incubator helps entrepreneurs to quality check research ideas, to recruit competent people to board and management roles, and to fund projects. One example is Ultimovacs that started working back-to-back with academics in the OCC Incubator lab to develop cancer vaccines. The company is today listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange with an estimated value of NOK 1.3 billion.

Siva, the governmental infrastruc­ture for innovation, has been essential in making this a success. Their long­term commitment as owner and their support for start-up services has helped start-ups reach the next phase. Kongs­berg Beam Technology, for example, recently attracted NOK 27 million from the Norwegian Research Council and private investors to develop real-time cancer radiation steering systems.

The OCC Incubator was awarded the Siva Innovation Prize in 2017 and is frequently listed among the top 20 innovation hubs in Europe. The start-ups in the OCC Incubator have raised more than NOK 5 bil­lion in equity and treated hundreds of patients since its opening.

The Norwegian Prime Minister’s expectations on both job creation and cancer care are certainly being fulfilled.

So why strive for more? Because precision medicine is changing the world and digital oncology is the new frontier.

From personalized vaccines to cell therapy, medicines are increasingly developed for smaller patient groups. However, government systems for approvals and sharing of data go painfully slow, while global technology companies’ efforts in health fail repeatedly. The recent corona pan­demic has proven the importance of both international collaboration and regional sustainability, from develop­ment of tests to treatments.

It is time to join forces in the Nordics!

Real-world data and artificial intelligence will shorten develop­ment times and reduce costs for new cancer treatments. The OCC Incubator will provide labs and infrastructure next to patients, clinicians and researchers to help achieve this.

Our goal is to reduce the develop­ment of new cancer treatments from 10 to 5 years.

 

Written by: Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, and Bjørn Klem, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator

 

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Welcome first-year students

This article was first published in Norwegian on our School Collaboration website.

The school collaboration days were a little bit different this year, but we are still incredibly happy to see all the Ullern students back at school.

The corona pandemic dampened the spirit of the school collaboration days this year. This is usually when the first-year students at Ullern Upper Secondary School get to visit the different institutions and companies that are located in Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park together with the school. However, the traditional lecture with Jónas Einarsson, one of the founding fathers of the Innovation Park, was still held.

Jónas Einarsson is the CEO of Radforsk, an early stage evergreen fund that invests in and develops cancer companies. The fund is also behind Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, which houses Ullern Upper Secondary School.

“I will tell you a little about the history behind the Norwegian Radium Hospital, cancer and cancer treatments, but first I have to talk a little about Covid-19 and the pandemic that we are all in the middle of,” Einarsson began his speech for the first-year students.

He continued by explaining that a corona vaccine may be available in 2021, but that it will take time before everyone receives the vaccine and for the whole population to gain immunity so that everything can go back to normal again.

“This has a big effect on young people in particular, but you are very smart. Just make sure to stay away from rave parties in caves,” Einarsson said and the students smiled.

Then, Einarsson told the story of how modern cancer treatment came into being when Marie Curie discovered the potential of radium to destroy cancer tumours, and how the Norwegian doctors Heyerdahl and Huitfeldt worked tirelessly for almost 20 years to establish the Norwegian Radium Hospital, which opened in 1932. Right next to it, Ullern Upper Secondary had recently opened its doors, so the school and the hospital have a long history as neighbours.

“In 2015, we opened Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and the neighbourhood became even closer. The school collaboration project between the school and the members of Oslo Cancer Cluster was established already in 2009, when we knew that we would move in together,” Einarsson said.

The rest, as they say, is history, but the corona pandemic has put a damper on the collaboration. Due to the current disease prevention in place, the usual placements have been cancelled and the close collaboration between students and researchers needs to be adapted. Exactly how this will take shape during the autumn of 2020, no one knows yet, but lectures and video conferences will serve as replacements.

Read more about what the school’s first-years usually do during the Collaboration Days.

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