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.

Carlos de Sousa, CEO of Ultimovacs. Photo: Ultimovacs

Cancer vaccine effective for 60% of patients

Picture of Carlos de Sause, CEO of ultimovacs

60% of melanoma patients responded to universal cancer vaccine, according to new data from our member Ultimovacs.

A clinical trial against advanced melanoma (a serious form of skin cancer) has shown positive effects in 60% of all patients. The Phase I clinical trial is led by our member Ultimovacs, a Norwegian company that develops vaccines against cancer.

“These very strong and exciting data further strengthen the foundation for our broad Phase II clinical program for UV1,” said Jens Bjørheim, Chief Medical Officer at Ultimovacs.

The cancer treatment is a universal cancer vaccine called UV1 in combination with an immunotherapy drug called pembrolizumab. The results of the treatment show a 60% objective response rate in patients with advanced melanoma. This includes 30% complete responses and 30% partial responses.

The potential of immunotherapy

The reason for choosing this treatment is that immunotherapy has good effect on melanoma patients and many new combinations of immunotherapy show great potential.

Immunotherapy mobilises the cancer patient’s own immune system to identify and kill the cancer cells.

The melanoma patients often don’t have the right T cells present in their bodies to experience the full effect of the immunotherapy pembrolizumab.

T cells are part of the immune system, help to protect the body from infection and may help to fight cancer.

The cancer vaccine UV1 increases the number of the right T cells so a stronger and broader immune response can be achieved, in combination with pembrolizumab.

Accepted to ASCO

The data will be presented at a poster session at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2021 Annual Meeting – the world’s largest cancer conference – on 4-8 June. The poster presentation will also be published on Ultimovacs website.

“These data reinforce our conviction that UV1 can play a transformative role in the treatment of conditions such as malignant melanoma,” said Carlos de Sousa, CEO of Ultimovacs.

“It suggests that UV1 in combination with checkpoint inhibitors like pembrolizumab can mobilize the immune system to fight cancer. This is very encouraging for melanoma patients and for those involved with the roll-out of Ultimovacs’ broader programs in solid cancers,” de Sousa continued.

Read more in the press release from Ultimovacs.

Cancer researcher Anette Weyergang demonstrates the PCI technology to Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park

Granted PDT/PCI projects 2021

Erna Solberg visits PCI Biotech

Radforsk Investment Foundation has granted five research projects a total amount of NOK 4,95 million to further develop exciting research projects within photodynamic treatment and photochemical internalization. Cancer researcher Pål Selbo receives NOK 3,75 million for his project.

Radforsk Investment Foundation is an evergreen investor focusing on companies that develop cancer treatment.

“Radforsk has invested NOK 205 million of its profit back into cancer research at Oslo University Hospital. Of these, NOK 32 million, have gone to research in PDT/PCI. This year, we grant five projects a total of NOK 4,95 million,” says Jónas Einarsson, CEO of Radforsk Investment Foundation.

Radforsk had received a total of six applications by the deadline of 15 January 2021. The applications have been assessed by external experts.

This year, one of the projects has been awarded a total of NOK 3,75 million over three years. It is a project led by researcher Pål Selbo at the Department of Cancer Research entitled “Novel Photobiological Strategies Counteracting Tumor Immune Escape”.

“This is exciting research aiming to apply PCI technology in the field of immunotherapy. Pål has extensive experience as a researcher in the field, so it’s fun that he went all the way to the top with this application,” says Einarsson.

 Pål Kristian Selbo Project leader, Senior scientist; PhD

Pål Kristian Selbo,
Project leader, Senior scientist; PhD at Institute for Cancer Research, Oslo University Hospital. Photo: Oslo University Hospital.

“It is fantastic and very motivating to receive such great support from Radforsk. This means that I can finally realize this project,” says Pål Selbo.

The researchers who have received funding for PDT/PCI research in 2021 are:

  • Anette Weyergang
  • Beáta Grallert
  • Mouldy Sioud
  • Pål Selbo
  • Petras Juzenas


Cancer research in the field of photodynamic therapy and photochemical internalisation studies the use of light in direct cancer treatment in combination with drugs, or to deliver drugs that can treat cancer to cells or organs.

The team behind Hemispherian: (from left to right) Josipa Matić, Adam Robertson, Terezia Prikrylova, Zeno Albisser. Photo: Hemispherian

Hemispherian reaches new milestone

Our member Hemispherian closed its first funding round and appointed Masha Strømme as Chair of the Board last week.

The Norwegian pre-clinical pharmaceutical company Hemispherian closed a successful seed financing round last week.

The recently acquired funds will go to financing the company’s activities over the next year, develop its pre-clinical pipeline and take its lead product into clinical development.

The seed financing round was led by PAACS Invest and Investinor who partnered with American and British investors.

Dr Masha Strømme from PAACS Invest has also been appointed to chair the Board of Directors.

“Hemispherian’s compelling pre-clinical data sets the stage for the first epigenetic therapeutic to target the activation of the TET2 enzyme resulting in increased 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) and selective cancer cell death. We look forward to contributing to building Hemispherian and moving its promising pipeline towards the clinic,” commented Dr Masha Strømme, Chair of the Board, Hemispherian.

Hemispherian is a start-up company working on the development of a new class of cancer therapeutics, which are targeted towards some of the most aggressive kinds of cancer. One of the cancer types the company is investigating a treatment for is glioblastoma multiforme, a form of brain cancer.

Hemispherian has been a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster since 2020.

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