Machine-learning for immunotherapy

A prestigious EU-grant will advance OncoImmunity’s machine-learning approach to develop personalized cancer immunotherapy.

The bioinformatics company OncoImmunity AS is empowering cancer immunotherapy with artificial intelligence. They use innovative software solutions to guide the discovery of neoantigen-based personalized immunotherapies and biomarkers. What does this really mean?

It means that the software they have developed helps to identify neoantigens, also known as immunogenic mutations, in a patient’s cancer cells. Cancer cells deceive the immune system by looking like healthy cells. But they still express cancer-specific markers, known as neoantigens. (See facts box for explanation.)

Enables personalized medicine
The interesting part about neoanitgens, is that every patient’s tumor expresses a unique combination. This enables truly personalized medicine to be applied, if the correct neoantigens are selected from the thousands of possible candidates in the genome of a tumor. Researchers using this technology can now solve this “needle in the haystack” challenge by analyzing a tumor genome to figure out the right cocktail of neoantigens, for each individual patient, and design a specific vaccine or cell therapy uniquely designed just for them.

Such personalzed immunotherapy can for instance boost the immune system’s response by making the immune system better able to recognize and target the patient’s unique cancer cells.

Faster bespoke treatment
OncoImmunity’s flagship software, the ImmuneProfiler™,is a unique machine learning solution that makes it easier to instantaneously see and accurately select which neoantigens will be responsive in each patient.

It thereby helps biotech companies design neoantigen-based personalized cancer vaccines and cell therapies and enables bespoke treatments to be developed faster. Additionally, the technology allows clinical researchers to select which patients will likely respond to the wide range of cancer immunotherapies currently under development in the field.

In that sense, the OncoImmunity-approach to cancer treatment is exactly in line with Oslo Cancer Cluster’s main goal: to speed up the development of new cancer treatments for the benefit of cancer patients.

Prestigious EU-grant
Horizon 2020’s SME Instrument is a grant that is tailored for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). It targets innovative businesses with international ambitions — such as OncoImmunity.

The SME Instrument has two application phases. Phase one awards the winning company 50 000 Euros based on an innovative project idea. Phase two is the actual implementation of the main project. In this phase, the applicant may receive between 1 and 2,5 million Euros.

Oncoimmunity won the phase one project last year. Then, the founders of the bioinformatics company were happy about the opportunity to refine and optimize their machine-learning framework. Their goal has always been to facilitate personalized cancer vaccine design.

Fantastic funding
Now, they have won a considerably larger grant of 2,2 Million Euros that they are going to use to fund a project titled Machine-learning Engine for the Design of personalized Vaccines in Cancer (MEDIVAC).

The SME Instrument grant provides OncoImmunity the opportunity to further customise their machine-learning framework, called the ImmuneProfiler™,for specific vaccine platforms, facilitating the design of safer and more efficacious personalised cancer vaccines.

— We applied for the SME instrument grant as it represents a fantastic funding vehicle for cutting edge, innovative projects with huge commercial potential. The call matched our ambition to position OncoImmunity as the leading supplier of neoantigen identification software in the personalised cancer vaccine market, says Dr. Richard Stratford, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of OncoImmunity.

— This opportunity will also help us establish the requisite quality assurance systems, certifications, and clinical validation with our partners, to get our software approved as a medical device in both the EU and US, says Dr. Trevor Clancy, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder of OncoImmunity.

SMEs can apply
The SME Instrument is looking for high growth- and highly innovative SMEs with global ambitions. They are developing innovative technologies that have the potential to disrupt the established value networks and existing markets.

Companies applying for the SME Instrument must meet the requirements set by the programme. Please see the SME Instrument website for more information in English or the SME Instrument webpage of Innovation Norway for more information in Norwegian.

Curious about which companies have received the SME Instrument so far? Have look at this database with an overview of all the grant receiving companies in Europe.

Want to know which Norwegian companies received grants from The European Unions research programme Horizon2020? Read this article from Innovation Norway (in Norwegian).

Oslo Cancer Cluster  supports members via the EU Advisor Program in collaboration with Innovayt, making them aware of relevant EU- and H2020 funding opportunities and helping them to identify the right calls for their development phase and goals. Oslo Cancer Cluster also assists with partner searches using national and international networks and provides direct support during the grant writing and submission process.

 

Industrial precision against cancer 

Kongsberg Beam Technology wants to direct the precision technology from advanced industrial control systems to hit tumors in the human body. 

— We want to use Norwegian spearhead technology to combat cancer, Per Håvard Kleven said from the stage as he pitched the idea of his start-up at the DNB Nordic Healthcare Conference 2018.

He is the founder of the start-up company Kongsberg Beam Technology AS. As he wrote the patent application for the technology behind this start-up, he was far from the only one to explore this field. Nevertheless, the patent was granted earlier this year (2018). He was ahead of companies like Siemens and other giants.

— There is a lot of research going into radiation and all of it is focusing on increased precision, but no one is attacking the problem as fundamentally as we are.

Precision proton radiation
The method in question is proton radiation. This kind of radiation is directed towards a tumour and radiates far more precisely than x-ray radiation, the standard radiotherapy that hospitals currently use to treat cancer.

Proton radiation requires special machines. There are currently only 85 of these machines, known as proton  therapy synchrocyclotrones, in the world. Norway awaits its first proton synchrocyclotron in a couple of years. The existence of such a machine in Norway is a precondition for the business plan of Kongsberg Beam Technology.

This is one of the few proton therapy machines in use in the world today. It is the proton therapy synchrocyclotron in the Jacobson Building at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. Photo: Jonathunder/ Wikimedia Commons

The ambition of Kleven and his new board of directors is to let proton radiation follow the movements of the tumour, meaning the smallest movements of the patient as she breathes. This does not seem like much, but there is actually a lot of movement in for instance the lungs. And with vital organs closely linked to the lungs, such as the heart and the spine, it is extremely important to have a precise beam.

There is in deed a need for more precision in radiation therapy.

— The radiation that the hospitals use to treat cancer today is not precise. Healthy tissue is always damaged with radiation and this is a problem which we are attacking.

Norwegian spearhead technology
The system in question is to figure out exactly where the tumour is situated in the body, how it moves and how much radioactive energy it takes to radiate it properly.

He wants to take the principals and methods currently used in precision industries such as defence, space and oil- and gas, and apply these to radiation in cancer treatments. The aim is to obtain industrial precision to avoid damaging any healthy tissue.

Aims to develop a solution
The mechanical part of the system makes it possible to do online tracking of the cancer and synchronise the beam so that it always hits exactly on the cancer. This might not sound like it should be too difficult, but indeed it is.

— We cannot control a beam of particles with the agility and precision that is required today, but these functions will develop. We aim to develop them!

– In five years, when our project makes proton radiation reach its potential for industrial precision, my assumption is that proton radiation will take a much higher share of radio therapy in cancer treatment and that the number of proton centres will increase steeply.

According to Kleven, the testing will start soon, followed by prototyping and further testing and qualification. The goal is to have a working system by mid 2024. Kleven assumes that the future product can be installed as an add-on to exciting proton therapy synchrocyclotrones.

— Testing and remaining R&D will start as soon as the needed capital is in place, he said.

Needs more funding
The financing for the start-up so far is covered by Buskerud county, Innovation Norway, Oslofjordfondet and the Research Council of Norway. Kongsberg Beam Technology needs 93 million NOK initially, to test, develop and qualify the technology. 60 million of this sum should come from investors.

Kleven shows an estimate of a one billion NOK turn-over after a few years, in a profitable company with growth possibilities.

The new business is going to be established in Kongsberg in Norway, a town that is already well established as a hub for spin offs of the Norwegian defence industry. Kleven himself has a lifetime of experience from this sector, since he started to work in Kongsberg Weapons Factory (Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk) in 1975.

Days to partner up

Roche is looking for new partners in the innovative Norwegian life science scene. 

Roche is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world with about 800 ongoing clinical trials. Within cancer research and development, this translates into about 500 clinical trials for many different types of cancer. Roche is a member in Oslo Cancer Cluster. 

Read more about Roche’s cancer research

As a part of Roche’s scouting for new innovative collaborations, the company arranged two partnering days in the beginning of December together with Oslo Cancer Cluster and the health cluster Norway Health Tech. Together, we welcomed start-ups, biotechs, academic researchers, clinicians, politicians, innovation agencies, students and other interested parties to a two day open meeting.

Partnering with companies 
The first day was at the at Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park and the second day was at Oslo Science Park.

Growing life sciences in Norway is important to Oslo Cancer Cluster, and the larger pharmaceutical companies’ commitment to working with local stakeholders and local companies is an essential part of the innovative developments in this field.

Such collaborations have the potential to bring more investment to Norway and provide platforms for local companies to innovate, thrive and grow. 

— What we want to do is to strengthen the collaborations and to see even more companies emerge from the exciting research going on in academia in Norway, said Jutta Heix, Head of International Affairs at Oslo Cancer Cluster. 

Partnering with academia
Professor Johanna Olweus from the Institute for Cancer Research at Oslo University Hospital was one of the speakers. She also presented the Department of Immunology and K.G. Jebsen Center for Cancer Immunotherapy for a full auditorium at Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park. 

Established back in 1954, the Institute for Cancer Research at Oslo University Hospital is certainly a well established institute and their Department of Immunology is currently involved in all the clinical trial phases.

— The scientists at the institute realise the importance of collaborating with the industry in order to get results out to the patients, Olweus said, and showed some examples of scientist-led innovations from the institute, including the Department of Cancer Immunology.  

In this story, you can read more about how science from Oslo University Hospital is turning into innovation that truly helps cancer patients.

– An idea needs to attract investors

Meet Thomas Andersson, our new Senior Advisor Business Development. How could he be of help to your startup company? 

— The most important thing I do is to get the startup companies rolling.

Thomas Andersson, the new Senior Advisor for Business Development at Oslo Cancer Cluster and Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator, looks dead serious as he makes this statement, but immediately after he lets out a smile and elaborates:

— A company needs to be investible. An idea needs to attract investors.

A lifetime of experience
Thomas holds a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Lund University in Sweden and has more than 30 years of experience from establishing, operating and funding start-ups in the life science field. He has a long background in business development in health tech startups, all the way back to the early 1980s.

— I’m that old! I went straight from my Ph.D. in biophysics into the problem-solving of business development.

In his career he has also taken on issues with patents and sales and he even bought a company that produced monoclonal antibodies with some friends and remodelled and sold it. 

— What did you learn from this journey? 

— I learned quite a lot, including the production business and the cell cultivation biotech business from the floor. I also learned how to lay out the production manufacturing facility.

See it like an investor
Thomas Andersson knows the biotech startup-scene from the investors’ point of view. He started to work at the tech transfer office of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. It was called Karolinska Innovations back then, now it is known as KI Innovations.

— We raised a lot of money there, formed 45 companies as a group and we had a fantastic time! 

After 8 years he was recruited to Lund and worked in Lund University Bio Science and tried to vacuum clean the whole university for life science innovation.

— And we did find a lot! In the end there were about 20 investment proposals and those ended up in 9 investments, of which we turned down 5 or 6. Two of them are now at the stock market. 

In total, Thomas Andersson has been involved in starting about 20 companies, of which 5 survived and are now on the stock market.

Normally, it is said that only 1 in 30 biotech startups make it. 

 

Thomas Andersson, Senior Advisor Business Development. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster

Here for you
— How did you end up here at Oslo Cancer Cluster?  

— I have had my eyes on Oslo Cancer Cluster for a while. I have liked the ideas that the cluster stands for. And I wanted to do something new in the end of my career. That is why I am here as a senior advisor now. I like it here! I am working on very interesting projects and ideas.

Our new Senior Advisor Business Development is present in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator nearly every week although he still lives in Lund, Sweden, on a farm in the woods where he can be practical and hands-on with hardwood and fly fishing.

— My door is open to people in the cluster and incubator with projects and ideas. I have a network that can help them and I have the experience of how investors, scientists and other actors can value a company. And being a Swede in the Norwegian system; I am basically here also to encourage you to think differently.

 

Interested in more funding opportunities for your company?

Check out our Access to Capital-page. 

 

T-cells and the Nobel Price

What does the Nobel Prize have to do with cancer research in Oslo Cancer Cluster?

This year the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer. This was a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options.

A statement from the Nobel committee hailed the accomplishments of Allison and Honjo as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.”

This principle, the idea behind much of the immunotherapy we see developing today, is shared by several of our Oslo Cancer Cluster members, including Oslo University Hospital and the biotech start-up Zelluna.

– This year’s Nobel Price winners have contributed to giving new forms of immunotherapy treatments to patients, resulting in improved treatments to cancer types that previously had poor treatment alternatives, especially in combination with other cancer therapies, said doctor Else Marit Inderberg as a comment to the price.

She leads the immunomonitoring unit of the Department of Cellular Therapy at Oslo University Hospital. The unit is present in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator with a translational research lab.

Inderberg has been studying and working with T-cells since 1999, first within allergies and astma, before she was drawn to cancer research and new cancer therapies in 2001.

So, what is a T-cell?
T-cells have the capacity to kill cancer cells. These T-cells are a subtype of white blood cells and play a central role in cell-mediated immunity. They are deployed to fight infections and cancer, but malignant cells can elude them by taking advantage of a switch – a molecule – on the T-cell called an immune checkpoint. Cancer cells can lock onto those checkpoints, crippling the T-cells and preventing them from fighting the disease.

The drugs based on the work of Nobel Prize winners Allison and Honjo belong to a class called checkpoint inhibitors – the same immune checkpoint that we find on T-cells. Drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors can physically block the checkpoint, which frees the immune system to attack the cancer.

Group leaders Else Marit Inderberg and Sébastien Wälchli often work in one of the cell labs in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. Photo: Christopher Olssøn

 

– We work on other ways of activating the immune system, but in several clinical trials we combine cancer vaccines or other therapies with the immune-modulating antibody, the checkpoint inhibitors, which the Nobel Price winners developed, Inderberg explained.

Inderberg and her team of researchers in the translational research lab in Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator use the results from the Nobel Price winners’ research in their own research in order to develop their own therapy and learn more about the mechanisms behind the immune cells’ attack on the cancer cells and the cancer cells’ defence against the immune system.

– This Nobel Prize is very inspiring for the entire field and it contributes to making this kind of research more visible, Else Marit Inderberg added.

– Our challenge now is to make new forms of cancer therapies available for a large number of patients and find ways to identify patient groups who can truly benefit from new therapies – and not patients who will not benefit. Immunotherapy also has some side effects, and it is important that we keep working on these aspects of the therapy as well.

From research to company
Most of the activity of the translational research lab in Oslo relies on the use of a database of patient samples called the biobank. This specific biobank represents an inestimable source of information about the patients’ response to immunological treatments over the years. Furthermore, the patient material can be reanalysed and therapeutic molecules isolated. This is the basis of the Oslo Cancer Cluster member start-up company Zelluna.

 

Want to know more about Zelluna and the research they are spun out of?

This is a story about their beginning.

Curious about new research from the Department of Cellular Therapy in Oslo?

More on their webpage.

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

Listen to this podcast by ScienceTalk. 

Prestigious partnership for Vaccibody

Oslo Cancer Cluster member Vaccibody is entering into a clinical collaboration with the American biopharmaceutical company Nektar Therapeutics.

The aim of the collaboration is to explore positive effects from the combination of Vaccibody’s personalized cancer vaccine VB10.NEO and Nektar Therapeutics cancer drug NKTR-214. Pre-clinical results of the combination are very positive and the collaboration will mark the start of a clinical trial stage.

The clinical trials will include patients with head and neck cancer and initially involve 10 patients.

What is Nektar?
Nektar Therapeutics is not just any company when it comes to immunotherapy. At Nasdaq their market value is set as high as 10 billion dollars.

– For a year now, Nektar might be the most talked about company within immunotherapy and this winter they landed the largest deal of its kind with Bristol Meyers-Squibb (BMS), says Agnete Fredriksen, President and Chief Scientific Officer, in an interview with Norwegian newspaper Finansavisen.

Help more patients
BMS and Nektar started collaborating on the development of the immunotherapy drug NKTR-214, the same drug that is part of the collaboration with Vaccibody, with a potential worth of 3.6 billion dollars.

– That they want to work with us is a nice validation of Vaccibody and makes us able to help even more cancer patients. We hope the combination of our products will lead to even better treatments, Agnete Fredriksen says to Finansavisen.

More about Vaccibody’s cancer vaccine

Nektar and Vaccibody each will maintain ownership of their own compounds in the clinical collaboration, and the two companies will jointly own clinical data that relate to the combination of their respective technologies. Under the terms of the agreement and following the completion of the pilot study, the two companies will evaluate if they will take the partnership to the next stage.

American tech and Norwegian health data

Combining country scale population data with world class computer systems and algorithms will push the boundaries of precision medicine.

This is a story about the unique American-Norwegian collaboration that combines the best health data with the most powerful computers in a pioneer project run by Cancer Registry of Norway and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Data to screen cancer 
The ongoing project was initiated after a talk on tech between the General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster and a Senior Scientist from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Some months later, in San Francisco, a meeting room was filled with some of the world’s best minds on cancer and technology. The Norwegians knew cancer and the Americans knew computing. The outcome was unknown. 

They identified a concrete challenge. Can we see patterns in data to screen cancer more precisely?

The quest resulted in a successful cooperation between Lawrence Livermore and the Cancer Registry in January 2016 where a team from the Cancer Registry started the first project on cervical cancer. If successful, they would potentially identify and screen high risk patients earlier and leave the low risk patients unburdened. 

Now there are two ongoing projects, one on cervical cancer and one on multitask learning for cancer. The goal is to make predictions more accurate and improve precision medicine. 

– If successful we can potentially identify and screen high risk earlier and leave the low risk unburdened. The individual and social impact of such a strategy is significant. This may be the reason why Joe Biden mentioned details from this project at a UN Assembly last year, Widerberg said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden led the American cancer initiative known as the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel. Two years ago, when the collaborative project between Norway and the USA had just started, the Blue Ribbon Panel released a report describing ten transformative research recommendations for achieving the Cancer Moonshot’s ambitious goal of making a decade’s worth of progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in just 5 years.

One of the ten recommendations was to expand use of proven cancer prevention and early detection strategies.

The major research questions
– One of the major research questions right now is How do we design the optimal screening programs? Another is how to actually take advantage of the registry data that we have, said Giske Ursin, Director of the Cancer Registry of Norway.

In Norway, and similarly in the other Nordic countries, we have registries on various diseases, pregnancy/births, vaccinations, work history/unemployment, income and much more. We have data sets dating from the 1950s. That is unique in the world. 

– If you look at enough data, you can find interesting links that can be explored in the clinical world or elsewhere. For instance; how do other diseases affect cancer diseases? We need international expertise to cover areas we are not experts on ourselves, she said, showing a picture of one of the super computers at Lawrence Livermore.

Cancer and national security
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a national security laboratory and part of the U.S Department of Energy. The laboratory has over 5000 employees, of which at least half are engineers and researchers.

– We have the mandate from the government to push the forefront on subjects like bio security. Precision medicine is alined with the bio security mission, but it is even more relevant to the super computing research mandate. What are the next types of problems that will move this forward? Biomedical data complexity. That is why we are in this, Ana Paula de Oliveira Sales from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said in her presentation. 

Some ingredients of the project on cervical cancer is to improve cancer outcome prediction by combining disparate cancer types. The preliminary results are encouraging.

You can read more about the research projects of Cancer Registry of Norway on their website.

Break down barriers
John-Arne Røttingen, CEO of the Research Council of Norway, gave a talk on how collaborations between the Nordic countries and other countries are important for population based clinical research and health research.

– Personalized medicine is full of promise and we want to contribute to this progress, but we cannot do this only with our data. We have to collaborate with other countries and with different fields of research, he said.

One important country in that respect is of course the USA.

Kenneth J. Braithwaite, U.S Ambassador to Norway, talked about the opportunities with the Norwegian databases in a meeting in the Oslo Cancer Cluster innovation park 20 September 2018.

— I have learned the past few years that data is king, and we need to wrap our arms around this. I think there is a responsibility from the governments to begin to break down the barriers and truly find a cure to cancer. That’s what we are up against, said U.S. Ambassador to Norway Kenneth J. Braithwaite, who is Rear Admiral of United States Navy (Retired).

— As we say in the Navy, full speed ahead!

Ultimovacs acquires Immuneed

The Norwegian biotech company Ultimovacs acquires the immunotherapy technology business of the Swedish company Immuneed AB. 

The complementary technologies of the two companies provide a unique platform for development of novel vaccine solutions for treatment and possibly prevention of cancer.

The acquired business has been named Ultimovacs AB and is now a fully-owned Swedish subsidiary of  Oslo Cancer Cluster member Ultimovacs AS. The business is located in Uppsala and has two employees.

— In Ultimovacs, we have been looking for an adjuvant technology that can further improve cancer vaccines. Simultaneously, Immuneed has been searching for a peptide based vaccine platform for further testing of their technology. This is a perfect match, says Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen, CEO of Ultimovacs, in a press release.

Bought for NOK 50.4 million
The purchase price of the technology business of Immuneed AB was NOK 50.4 million, corresponding to SEK 54.5 million, which was paid partly in cash and partly in shares in Ultimovacs AS. Following the transaction, Immuneed AB holds 5.4% of the shares in Ultimovacs AS.

Ultimovacs is a Norwegian pharmaceutical company developing novel immunotherapies against cancer. The lead product candidate is a peptide-based vaccine inducing a specific T cell response against the universal cancer antigen telomerase. This vaccine is called UV1 and is currently in clinical testing in the US.

Read more about the technology of Ultimovacs.

Immuneed has developed technology named the TET-platform™ that can complement the cancer vaccine under development by Ultimovacs. The TET-platform™ addresses the general challenge of so called “adjuvants” that enhance the desired response of the immune system to a vaccine. It makes it possible to incorporate adjuvant and the vaccine itself into one molecule.

When using the technology from Immuneed, the antibodies formed by a previous vaccine can function as adjuvant for a new vaccine. This principle is general and can be applied as an adjuvant for many different vaccines. The principle and the technology have been successfully validated in different pre-clinical models.

Read more about the merger in the press release issued by Ultimovacs.

PCI Biotech with new research collaboration

PCI Biotech is initiating a scientific collaboration with Bavarian Nordic to boost their cancer treatment technology.

Oslo Cancer Cluster member PCI Biotech has announced that it is initiating a preclinical research collaboration with Bavarian Nordic, a clinical stage biopharmaceutical corporation focused on developing state-of-the-art cancer immunotherapies and vaccines for infectious diseases.

The two collaborators will be exploring synergies between their two technologies to further enhance the effect of treatments of cancer and infectious diseases.

Exploring possibilities
In brief, the collaborators will evaluate technology compatibility and synergy based on in vivo studies. The companies will evaluate results achieved from this research collaboration and then explore the potential for a further partnership.

CEO of PCI Biotech Per Walday says this regarding this fresh collaboration:

— I’m very pleased to announce another research agreement with a key player within the field of immunotherapies, which is the second collaboration initiated this year. We believe that the PCI technology has the potential to play a role in the realization of several new therapeutic treatments, and we look forward to exploring synergies with Bavarian Nordic’s unique and innovative technologies

Get to know our new chairman

CEO of Ultimovacs Øyvind Kongstun Arnesen is the new chairman of Oslo Cancer Cluster. Get to know the guy!

An Oslo born family man who likes the outdoors, and took the jump from hospital work to entrepreneurship by the way of the health industry.  Remarkably, before all this he dazzled the audience at the National Theatre beside such greats as actor Per Aabel.

Tell us about your professional background!

– I started studying medicine in Oslo. Close to my graduation I got involved in a large meningococcal vaccine trial involving 170 000 people at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. It was my first involvement with clinical trials. I found the work both fun and rewarding and learned a lot from all the follow-up the trial demanded.

Internship in Lofoten
An internship as a Physician in Lofoten in the north of Norway followed. It culminated in a position as municipal medical officer in Flakstad municipality in Lofoten and at the surgery department in Lofoten (then Gravdal) Hospital.

– A position I held for six years. I now moved back to Oslo and took up a position as clinical trial manager in Astra (before Astra and Zeneca merged) were I among other things was responsible for a large clinical trial on beta blockers in heart failure. After that I decided to work as a clinician again and started at AHUS as an orthopedic surgeon and moved on to Ullevål University Hospital.

– Part of my job was to be an investigator in several clinical trials documenting efficacy and safety of new oral anticoagulants and improved procedures in orthopedic surgery. My last position as a clinician was as consultant surgeon at the Ullevål pediatric orthopedic department.

After many years as a clinician Kongstun Arnesen took the jump into the health industry.

– My first job was Medical Director in Bristol-Myers Squibb. One of my tasks was to discuss participation in one of the first trials with ipilimumab (a cancer drug with the trade name Yervoy) at the Radium Hospital. There I was also introduced to professor Gustav Gaudernack and his work with a cancer vaccine. Now, this history has made a full circle where I now am working with a combination of an improved version of this vaccine – and ipilimumab.

First employee of Ultimovacs
Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) closed their office in Oslo, and Arnesen moved to the German company Boehringer Ingelheim. First as Medical Director for Norway and later as Head of Clinical Operations Nordic.

– I stayed there until 2012 when I became the first employee of Ultimovacs.

Read more about Ultimovacs

– I also think we were the first to move into Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator. I remember we had to store all the belongings in the garage because they were still finishing our office space.

How do you think your CV can be beneficial for you as chairman?

– I know Oslo Cancer Cluster very well as a member. And from different types of organizations: As a clinician, as a start-up, as part of a pharmaceutical company. I have been through collaboration with many of the other members and have a good overview of the organization.

How will you combine your work as CEO at Ultimovacs and Chairman?

– I don’t see many problems. Of course, I must be aware of who I’m representing, but I don’t see many potential conflicts. We have mutual beneficial interests. I would like to add that I was surprised when I was proposed as a candidate for the position as Chairman at OCC. It is an organization I like and respect very much.

What ambitions do you have on behalf of Oslo Cancer Cluster?

– We need to fulfill the expectations the members have for us, and I have some ideas on how OCC can expand its role of contributing to improved cancer research. But I think I will have a special focus on clinical trials. The importance of clinical trials in general and the importance of getting more of them to Norway.

The childhood actor
What do you do when not working with cancer?

– I’m an outdoors man! I go hunting and fishing when I can. I have an old cabin in Rendalen. As most surgeons I like to work with my hands, I fix and build. And of course, I have a large family. Four children that are my own, two step sons and I’m the grandfather of three soon to be five grandkids. There goes most of my spare time! But that’s a good thing.

Anything most people do not know about you?

– I was a childhood actor at our National Theatre for seven years. Among other things I played Rasmus in  “Rasmus på Loffen” by Astrid Lindgren. For all of the seven years I was there, I was acting in different plays with many of Norway’s most renowned actors, such as Per Aabel.

How did this happen?

– Back in the days they didn’t do official auditions the way they would have done today. It was my PE teacher that had some connection to the theatre and he brought the whole class in for an audition for Rasmus. I seriously considered becoming an actor before going to medical school.