Photo: Moritz Knoringer, Unsplash

10 milestones from our biotech members in 2022

What a year it has been for the development of Norwegian biotech companies!

We want to recognise the accomplishments of our members this year. Many of them have reached impressive milestones and unfortunately we can’t include all. So we have selected 10 outstanding news stories. These represent both big and small companies, covering various sectors and focusing on different types of cancer therapies and diagnostics. We hope this list serves as inspiration for you and that you get to know our members a bit better.

Strategic collaboration on optimizing TCRs

Nextera set up a strategic collaboration with Zelluna Immunotherapy in March. Together they will optimize T cell receptors (TCRs), which are crucial in the development of a special type of cancer treatment called TCR-based natural killer cell therapies. Nextera is a research-based target and drug discovery company with a unique protein engineering and discovery platform – NextCore.

Read the press release

Faster development of cancer vaccines

NEC Oncoimmunity acquired VAXIMM’s neoantigen vaccine development assets in March. These assets will be used to faster develop personalized T cell cancer vaccines. NEC OncoImmunity AS is a biotechnology company that has developed a machine-learning software to enable development of personalized cancer immunotherapy, in addition to infectious disease vaccines.

Read the press release

Photo of Richard Stratford and Trevor Clancy in OncoImmunity.

Richard Stratford and Trevor Clancy, founders of NEC OncoImmunity AS, an AI driven biotechnology company. They grew the company in the Oslo Cancer Cluster ecosystem, making use of the cluster’s advice and support, and networking and partnering opportunities. The photo was taken in December 2018 outside Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

 

Artificial intelligence improves cancer prognosis

In May, DoMore Diagnostics became the first company ever to get a CE-mark for a product that utilises artificial intelligence to improve patient outcomes. The company has developed a deep learning algorithm that can give more accurate prognosis for colorectal cancer patients by analysing standard histology images.

Read the press release

The deep learning algorithm that DoMore Diagnostics is commercialising was first invented by Professor Håvard Danielsen at the Institute of Cancer Genetics and Informatics, also situated in Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. Danielsen received the King Olav V’s Cancer Research Award in 2022 for his research into artificial intelligence and cancer. Photo: ICGI

 

Alpha emitter therapy against colorectal cancer

Oncoinvent initiated a phase 2 trial for colorectal patients to be treated with their drug candidate Radspherin in August. The study will be conducted at two sites (the Radium Hospital in Norway and at Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden) and the first patient was included in August. Oncoinvent is a clinical stage company advancing alpha emitter therapy across a variety of cancers.

Read the press release

Takeda Ventures invests in TCR-NK therapies

Zelluna Immunotherapy received an investment from Takeda Ventures Inc. during the company’s financing round in August. The funds will help advance the company’s lead product. Zelluna Immunotherapy is a company pioneering the development of a new type of treatment against solid cancers called “allogeneic T cell receptor guided natural killer cell immunotherapies”.

Read the press release

Zelluna Immunotherapy have enterred several strategic collaborations this year, including with Takeda Ventures and Nextera. This photo was taken of the Zelluna Immunotherapy team at Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. Photo: Zelluna Immunotherapy

Digital platform for research collaboration

Ledidi revealed the company’s software technology will be used in UK hospitals to improve the treatment, prognosis and care of patients with breast cancer in September. It is the pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s UK branch that is offering subscription access to NHS hospitals for the cloud-based research and registry platform Ledidi Core. Ledidi is a Norwegian technology company with an end-to-end solution for health registers and research.

Read the press release

Einar Martin Aandahl, founder and CEO of Ledidi, developed the research platform because as a clinician he saw a need for simpler collaboration on data between doctors, institutions and countries. Photo: Ledidi

 

Promising results for universal cancer vaccine

Ultimovacs announced positive three-year results with 71% survival rate for patients in the first cohort of a study into metastatic malignant melanoma in October. The patients had been treated with the company’s product UV1 (a universal cancer vaccine) in combination with pembrolizumab (a checkpoint inhibitor anticancer drug). Ultimovacs is an immunotherapy company developing immune-stimulatory vaccines to treat a broad range of cancers.

Read the press release

Oncolytic peptide against melanoma

Lytix Biopharma expanded the ATLAS study to three European countries in November. ATLAS is a phase 2 combination study, treating patients with advanced melanoma with the company’s product LTX-315 (a first-in-class oncolytic molecule) and pembrolizumab (a checkpoint inhibitor anticancer drug). Lytix Biopharma is a clinical stage biotech company developing novel cancer immunotherapies.

Read the press release

Light cytoscopy against bladder cancer

Photocure’s partner Asieris enrolled the first patient in a phase 3 trial exploring the use of Hexvix and blue versus white light cystoscopy in patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancer in November. Hexvix is a drug that preferentially accumulates in cancer cells in the bladder, making them glow bright pink during blue light cystoscopy. This makes it easier to detect and diagnose tumours.

Read the press release

Immunotherapy against cervical cancer

Nykode Therapeutics continues to show positive results from the company’s phase 2 clinical study against cervical cancer in November. The patients in the study have received Nykode Therapeutic’s VB.10.16 (a therapeutic vaccine for the treatment of human papilloma virus-16 induced malignancies) and atezolizumab (a checkpoint inhibitor anti-cancer drug from Roche). Nykode Therapeutics is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company dedicated to the discovery and development of novel immunotherapies.

Read the press release

 

Would you like to have your company’s news story featured on our website? Please get in touch with Sofia Linden, Communications adviser at Oslo Cancer Cluster.

Professors Johanna Olweus and Karl-Johan Malmberg are both Directors of the new Centre of Excellence called Precision Immunotherapy Alliance (PRIMA).

New centre for precision immunotherapy

Immunotherapy has the potential to cure advanced cancer – now a new Centre of Excellence will look at how to tailor precise and effective treatments for patients.

Nine new Centers of Excellence have been awarded NOK 1,4 billion by the Norwegian Research Council. One of the centers will focus on precision immunotherapy and has received NOK 155 million.

Develop effective treatments

The centre is called Precision Immunotherapy Alliance (PRIMA) and is led by Johanna Olweus, M.D., Ph.D. Professor and Head of Department of Cancer Immunology, Oslo University Hospital and Karl-Johan Malmberg, M.D., Ph.D. Professor, University of Oslo. The alliance consists of in total seven research group leaders from Oslo University Hospital and the University of Oslo.

“Our center aims to identify targets and immune receptors that enable precise and effective treatment of cancer with manageable side effects, but the goal is that the therapies that will be developed can be used for many patients. The tools and technologies that we will develop based on our in-house concepts provide unique opportunities for this, in particular because of the complementary expertise of the various center partners,” commented Olweus.

A great acknowledgment

Malmberg and Olweus said the designation of the Centre of Excellence represents a great acknowledgement of the cancer research milieu in Oslo, and that it puts them in the position to make an even greater impact internationally.

“The timing to form a Centre of Excellence in precision immunotherapy is perfect. The possibilities to make breakthroughs in cancer immunotherapy research have never been bigger. The research group leaders that have joined forces in Precision Immunotherapy Alliance possess complementary expertise needed to address outstanding challenges in the field,” commented Malmberg.

Access to new therapies

Malmberg and Olweus stressed that the success of the centre relies upon collaboration with different institutions. They hope Oslo University Hospital and the University of Oslo will support them and that they can have a good dialogue with medical authorities, such as the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

“The aim is that Norwegian patients will get access to new therapies in clinical trials very early, rather than having to wait for new therapies to come from abroad. Innovation can also spur a generation of new start-ups and collaboration with existing industry, resulting in more clinical trials being attracted to Norway. We also believe that this will allow for us to attract talented researchers and clinicians who want to work with cancer immunotherapy, from Norway and abroad,” said Olweus.

Åslaug Helland, Project Leader of IMPRESS-Norway and Lars-Petter Strand, Medical Director Oncology in Eli Lilly Norway, are happy about Eli Lilly & Company joining the IMPRESS study.

Eli Lilly & Company in the IMPRESS study

Content looking woman to the left and man to the right, head shots put together

Eli Lilly & Company is now part of the national Norwegian IMPRESS study.

Eli Lilly & Company is already part of CONNECT, the national collaboration on implementing precision medicine in Norway. Now, the international pharmaceutical company is offering participants of the IMPRESS study a new and promising medicine. This is good news for cancer patients in Norway.

Read more about CONNECT on their website.

The IMPRESS study is a national clinical study looking into the effect of cancer precision medicine. Patients with advanced, incurable cancer will – through the study – get the opportunity to test new treatments for their type of cancer.

Finding new and effective forms of treatment

The goal of the IMPRESS study is to test whether so-called off-label medications can be effective on new patient groups, based on their type of cancer and genetic mutations (molecular profile). This means that the participants of the study are testing out medications approved for the treatment of other diseases to fight their specific cancer disease. In other words, it’s not the type of cancer, but the genes that determine which medicine the patient receives.

“Impress is an important study for Norwegian researchers, not to mention for Norwegian cancer patients,” said Lars-Petter Strand, Medical Director Oncology in Eli Lilly Norway, in a press release from the company.

The intention is to find effective forms of treatment adapted to each individual’s cancer – a form of precision medicine. CONNECTs partner, Eli Lilly & Company, is now offering the participants of the study a new medication. This is great news for all the participants.

Up to 24 patients

Eli Lilly & Company is giving up to 24 participants the opportunity to try out the lung cancer medication Selpercatinib, sold under the product name Retsevmo. In previous studies, this medication has shown very good effects.

In order to treat as many patients as possible, access to medication is crucial. A wider range of medications to test contributes to more patients being able to receive treatment. Eli Lilly & Company’s support for IMPRESS is therefore of great importance.

“We are thrilled that Lilly supports IMPRESS Norway! We are seeing very good effects from the use of Selperkatinib through the completed studies, and we are pleased to be able to offer this medication to the patients participating in the IMPRESS study,” said Åslaug Helland Nasjonal, Project Leader for IMPRESS-Norway, in the press release.

In the same press release, Lars-Petter Strand emphasizes the importance of the IMPRESS study.

“Impress is an important study for Norwegian researchers, not to mention for Norwegian cancer patients, where the benefit and risk of tumor agnostic-targeted treatment will be investigated,” Strand said, and added:

“IMPRESS also emphasizes the importance of the hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry having an open dialogue about data and research, in order to contribute to the best possible treatment for Norwegian cancer patients.”

The laboratory where Bergenbio develops new treatments. Photographer: Nils Olav Mevatne

Cancer treatment helped corona patients

Picture of work in the lab

Ventilator-free survival is improved for more than 50% of corona patients, by a Norwegian cancer medicine from our member Bergenbio.

A drug produced by the Norwegian biotech company Bergenbio can be effective against serious corona disease. The drug was originally developed to treat cancer and has been in clinical testing since the beginning of the pandemic.

A recent clinical trial showed that fewer hospitalised corona patients needed to go on a ventilator after receiving the medicine. The results were presented in a press release from Bergenbio last week.

During the clinical trial, 58 hospitalised covid-19 patients in India and South Africa received the drug. The patients had a less complicated hospital stay and less need for ventilator treatment.

Ventilator-free survival was increased for more than half of the patients. Ventilator-free survival means surviving to day 29 without admission to intensive care unit and need for ventilator-assisted breathing.

“The potential of bemcentinib to increase the rate of ventilator-free survival in more than 50% of hospitalised COVID-19 patients is very encouraging,” Richard Godfrey, Chief Executive Officer of BerGenBio, commented.

The trial also showed the drug has the same effect on mutations of the coronavirus.

Need for covid-19 treatments

There is still a large unmet need for effective treatments of covid-19. Seriously ill covid-19 patients end up hospitalised in intensive care units (ICU) and may need to be put on ventilators.

“The greatest challenge faced by hospitals worldwide is an unmanageable demand for ICU capacity and ventilator support for COVID-19 patients,” Professor emeritus Stener Kvinnsland MD PhD, Director of BerGenBio and former Chair of Norwegian Korona Commission, commented.

“For the foreseeable future, in spite of recent progress with vaccinations, there remains a substantial global need for effective treatments for COVID-19 patients that offers survival benefit and relief for intensive care demand on hospitals,” Kvinnsland continued.

A Norwegian invention

Bergenbio is a Norwegian biotech company with a research team based in Bergen and a clinical development team based in Oxford.

The company has identified a protein called AXL that exists on the surface of cells. The AXL protein plays an important role when the immune system fails. It keeps cells resistant to treatment and can conceal cells from the body’s immune system.

Bergenbio has developed a drug that turns off the AXL signals, which makes treatment more effective as the immune system can be activated.

The drug was developed as a cancer treatment and was in phase 2 of clinical testing when it was selected for the ACCORD programme, a large clinical study against covid-19.