Let us cooperate on precise health technologies

International cooperation is key to fulfilling our vision of making cancer treatments more precise, and giving the patients new treatments more quickly.

This opinion piece is written by Ketil Widerberg, General Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster. It was first published in the Norwegian newspaper Today’s Medicine, Dagens Medisin, 30 October 2018. 

The countries in Northern Europe have contributed to developing medical treatments that we today could not imagine living without. From the British discovery of antibiotics to the Danish development of a treatment for diabetes. Once again it is time for Northern European health innovation, this time in the field of health technology. What might the prime ministers from Northern Europe focus on when they meet in Oslo on 30 October to discuss health technology?

They might want to point out concrete and state-of-the-art initiatives from their respective countries. It could be Swedish biobanks, Finnish artificial intelligence, Danish health data, English genomics and Estonian health blockchain. These are exciting initiatives that make medicine more precise. This is particularly important when it comes to cancer because more precise treatments could save lives and limit the late effects resulting from imprecise treatment.

This opinion piece is written by Ketil Widerberg, General Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster. It was first published in the Norwegian newspaper Today’s Medicine, Dagens Medisin, 30 October 2018.

At the same time, we see the contours of serious challenges arising with more precise medicine, such as each unit becoming more expensive. Smaller patient groups also mean that it is harder to find enough patients to understand the biological processes and the consequences of new medical treatments. As the prime ministers gather in Oslo to discuss health technology and plan the road ahead, it would not be amiss for them to look back in time and find inspiration from another technological development.

Precise through cooperation
In the 1990s, the search engine Yahoo helped us to quality-assure by categorising and being precise when we needed information on the internet. Yahoo thus contributed to the internet changing the world. However, the amount of data soon became enormous and complex, and a never-ending need for resources and experts arose. The traditional categorisation to ensure quality and structure the data became an impossible task.

This is very similar to what is happening in the health field today. We are constantly collecting more data and educating an increasing number of experts. With a few exceptions, every country is now collecting their data in their own registers and using a great deal of resources on assuring the quality of the data. The countries are rightfully proud of their initiatives. In Norway, we are proud of our biobanks and our health registers, such as the Cancer Registry of Norway. At the same time, we need to ask ourselves whether this national strategy really is the smartest way forward.

Let us go back to Yahoo. Towards the end of the 1990s, some engineers in California thought differently about the internet. How about using cooperation as a quality indicator? Instead of categorising, the links between the websites could ensure data quality. This is how Google was born, and we got precision, quality and insight into data that changed the world.

There are different challenges in the health field than on the internet. Data are more sensitive and the consequences for individuals can often be more dire. At the same time, health technology, in many ways, has reached the same point as the internet faced in the 1990s.  We do not have the quantity, the methods for analysis, or the quality to fully exploit the data to gather insight, or for treatment or innovation – yet.

From Yahoo to Google level
One way in which we could tackle the health technology challenges the data present us with is through international cooperation. It is about two things: to gather enough data, and to analyse the data to provide better and more precise treatment. The initiatives so far are promising, but they lack the potential to make the leap from Yahoo to Google.

The Northern European prime ministers can probably acknowledge this. The question is: what can they do? Should they encourage smart young engineers to analyse health data instead of developing the next app? Or should they change the way the hospitals buy technology?

A step in the right direction could be to look at what works best in the other countries. At the same time, we need to avoid new initiatives merely becoming a better horse-drawn carriage. Are there initiatives in existence that are scalable internationally so that we can bring health data up to the next level together? The answer is yes, but it requires visionary initiatives that have not been done anywhere else.

Common clinical studies
An area that the prime ministers will be able to highlight is a Northern European initiative for clinical studies. Together, the countries have a large number of patients, which gives researchers and doctors a better basis in their studies to understand more and provide better treatment. Such an initiative could also use health data from the national health services collected on a daily basis in several countries, known as real world data, instead of eventual clinical studies with patients over several years. This would be both quicker and much cheaper.

The prime ministers might also agree on cooperating on Northern European genetics. For 13 years, we collaborated on mapping our genes in the international  Human Genome Project. Now we need to get together to understand genes and treat the patients. With prioritised funding, genetics will soon be a part of the everyday clinical life in England. We can learn a lot from their experience.

Artificial intelligence
Lastly, the Northern European prime ministers may wish to collaborate on artificial intelligence in the health field. Today, cancer treatment, for instance, often only works on three out of ten patients. Artificial intelligence will change how we understand diseases such as cancer and how we treat the patients. The experiences from Finland of introducing artificial intelligence will help other countries to understand where the barriers are and where help might be needed first.

Oslo Cancer Cluster’s vision is to make cancer treatment more precise and provide new treatments more quickly to the patients. We see that international cooperation is key to obtaining this goal. As a result, we could also discover diseases more quickly and reduce the costs of the national health services. We hope the Northern European prime ministers will delve into these issues when they meet to discuss the health technologies of the future here with us.

By Ketil Widerberg, General Manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster.

Meet our new members – Part One

We are proud to introduce Oslo Cancer Cluster’s new members. This is the first part of two stories about our new members.

You can find the second part HERE.

On the 24th of August, Oslo Cancer Cluster hosted a summer party with the intention of getting to know their newest members in an informative and fun setting. The party started with a heartfelt welcome and speech held by Oslo Cancer Cluster’s General Manager Ketil Widerberg and intensive mingling amongst guests. After the welcome was in order, each member stood up, in turn, to introduce their amazing work.

Of the 14 new members we have so far this year, here’s an introduction to those who primarily work in the area of biotechnology.

Precision Oncology
Precision Oncology is a specialty contract research organization (CRO) that provides clinical research services. The company primarily provides application of metrics-driven project management to perfect oncology drug development.

As for their inspiration and reasoning for joining the Oslo Cancer Cluster roster of members, Andrea Cotton-Berry, head of Strategic operations at Precision Oncology, responds:

– What really inspires us at Precision Oncology, is matching the right drug to the right patient, by using biomarkers for patient identification and stratification; a true personalized medicine approach, to find more efficient treatments for patients with advanced cancers. We are looking forward to bringing our team of oncology development experts to contribute to the Oslo Cancer Cluster mission and initiatives, especially advancing immuno-oncology research.

Personalis
Personalis is a leading preciscion medicine company focused on advancing next generation sequencing based services for immuno-oncology. The company is mainly focused on producing the most accurate genetic sequence from each sample set, and using analytics and privately owned content to draw reliable and accurate biomedical interpretations of the data.

In regards to current and future inspiration, Erin Newburn, Senior Manager and Field Applications Scientist at Personalis, comments:

– We aspire to utilize next-generation sequencing as a multi-dimensional platform for bio-marker discovery across cancer therapeutics, as well as throughout developmental stages.

iNANOD
iNANOD is a nanotechnology based anti-cancer drug developing company established in 2016. Their goal is to increase efficacy of anti-cancer drugs and to reduce side-effects for cancer patients as well as maximizing the patients longevity. They aim to become a pharmaceutical company for anti-cancer nanomedicines in the near future.

As for expectations and reasoning for joining Oslo Cancer Cluster, Nalinava Sengupta, CEO and Co-Founder of iNANOD shares his view:

– We think our project – to develop cancer nano-medicine – fits best with Oslo Cancer Cluster. In the incubator we get in touch with other similar firms who have achieved milestones in cancer drug delivery. We expect synergistic knowledge transfer within the incubator network, as well as various kinds of help from the cancer research related entrepreneurial ecosystem developed at Oslo Cancer Cluster. This also helps with business developmental aspects and project application writing.

Norgenotech
Norgenotech is a start-up company that originated from the EU project COMICS that aimed at improving production methods for analysis of DNA damage and repair. Norgenotech mainly assesses genotoxicity, or property of chemical agents that damage the genetic information within a cell, as well as drugs. The company also participates in research projects and developing tools for measuring DNA integrity in patients.

Eisai
Eisai AB originates from a global company in Japan that is active in the manufacturing and marketing of pharmaceutical drugs, pharmaceutical production systems, and over-the-counter drugs. Eisai AB, that will be joining the Oslo Cancer Cluster roster of members, is the sales subsidiary of Eisai Company.

Immunitrack
Immunitrack is a startup company with capabilities in production and studies of protein molecules central to the adaptive immune system in humans in order to develop new therapeutics. Their mission is to provide the research community with tools to redesign or select drug candidates at the early stage of research and development, but also to provide reagents to monitor leading drug candidates effect on patient’s immune system.

Nacamed
Nacamed‘s goal is to produce nanoparticles of silicon material for targeted drug delivery of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and diagnostics to kill cancer cells. By using silicon nanoparticles in cases such as therapy, the particles are biodegradable which entails a clean delivery without any side-effects as they completely disappear and dissolve from the body.

Arctic Pharma
Arctic Pharma is a privately held startup biotech company founded in 2012 that primarily focuses on developing innovative anti-cancer drugs. They do this by exploiting cancer cells and their peculiar features, or more specifically, by targeting key enzymes that are upregulated, or have been increased in terms of stimulus with inhibitors designed at Arctic Pharma. Essentially, their main mission is to become a leader in designing cancer therapies that are both environmentally friendly and have few side effects.