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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Photo: The Embassy of Denmark in Norway

Ministers meet at Oslo Cancer Cluster

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

The corona pandemic and international trade were on the top of the agenda when the Foreign Minister of Denmark Jeppe Kofod met with the Minister for Trade, Industry and Fisheries of Norway Iselin Nybø at Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park.

Norway and Denmark are close friends and allies, and the current corona situation has made conversations between Nordic colleagues more valuable than ever.

Export, international trade and investments will be crucial to overcoming the challenges the corona pandemic has brought to Nordic economies.

These pressing issues were discussed when the two ministers from Denmark and Norway met at Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park on 13 August 2020.

Ministers Nybø and Kofod

Ministers Nybø and Kofod discussed how to increase export from and attract international investments to the Nordic countries. Photo: The Embassy of Denmark in Norway

The starting point of the meeting was how many companies in the health industry need access to international markets and value chains to grow.

The Norwegian government are preparing an Export Action Plan. It will include several measures to help Norwegian industry come through the corona crisis.

“In the development of the Export Action Plan, the government is collaborating with both industry and financial organisations. We want to gain as much knowledge as possible about where the challenges lie and evaluate which measures are most effective,” Nybø said in a press release from the Department of Trade, Industry and Fisheries.

The Embassy of Denmark in Norway released the following statement after the meeting:

“It is important to attract foreign investments and there is a big potential in Nordic collaboration within the life science sector, since Denmark and Norway have complementary competencies in this field.”

Ketil Widerberg, general manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster, was happy to facilitate the visit and to give input to the ministers on how international collaboration helps the development of cancer treatments:

“Denmark and Norway collaborate on important research areas, including cancer. Our countries have national health data that attract international recognition. Our countries also collaborate on purchasing of developed drugs.

“The opportunity now is the collaboration on how to use our health data and collaborative efforts to better and faster approve new innovative treatments.

“This could reduce development time from 10 to 5 years, and make the Nordics a destination for health innovation.”

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Siri Lill Mannes was host for the meeting on more comprehensive cancer care in Norway, looking at both diagnostics, treatments and exercise plans.

A digital bootcamp for better cancer care

Digital bootcamp for better cancer care

Molecular diagnostics, clinical studies and exercise plans for cancer patients were three key topics raised in last week’s event.

We teamed up with Aktiv mot Kreft, Merck Norway and GSK Norway to put a spotlight on innovative cancer treatments in Norway.

Due to corona restrictions, we transformed this event (originally planned for Arendalsuka) into a digital bootcamp with short training intervals between each panel. This was livestreamed from Pusterommet at Akershus University Hospital on Wednesday 12 August 2020 at 5:00 pm.

The meeting consisted of three parts with different perspectives: diagnostics, treatments and exercise plans.

View the entire meeting via Facebook here or watch it via our YouTube channel below:

 

Warming-up to genetic testing

The warm-up session involved a discussion on how improved diagnostics can help doctors determine the best treatment for each individual patient.

Dr. Andreas Stensvold, Head of the Cancer Department at Sykehuset Østfold, talked about how he has used off-label treatments to help some of his patients.

One example is Kjetil Nerland who had already received the traditional treatment methods: surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but found they did not work for him over longer periods of time.

After going through genetic testing and detailed analysis of the tumour cells, Stensvold could offer Nerland an off-label treatment. The medicines had already been approved for a different cancer type.

“It’s not fun to have cancer, but it is fun to live longer and to not have to go through chemotherapy again,” Nerland said.

Jan Frich, vice administrative director for the South-Eastern Regional Health Authority, explained they are setting up the infrastructure for advanced molecular diagnostics.

“We need to build up the diagnostics – that is the basis for personalized medicine,” Frich said.

Professor Jan Helge Solbakk from The Centre for Medical Ethics at the University of Oslo was however critical of how little is being done to approve new cancer treatments and implement personalized medicine in Norway.

“Norwegian authorities are a little bit too scared of personalized medicine. When there is a big breakthrough or when we see great effect in one patient, they worry about the cost,” Solbakk said.

 

High-intensive discussions on clinical studies

The next panel discussed: How can Norway keep up with other countries on implementing precision medicine?

Professor Kjetil Taskén, Director of the Institute for Cancer Research at Oslo University Hospital, highlighted three things: building infrastructure for molecular cancer diagnostics, attracting more clinical studies that utilise molecular diagnostics and implementing this in regular clinical practice.

The initiative IMPRESS Norway works towards a public-private collaboration, with public financing to do a large clinical study in collaboration with several private companies. They will follow a set of guidelines to find out which cancer treatment is best for which patient.

“I think the dialogue between governmental institutions and private companies has been good so far. We are aiming to get a shift towards more public-private collaborations,” Taskén said.

The clinical study IMPRESS Norway is modelled on studies done in the USA and Netherlands. Results from the ongoing Dutch study show that if enough patients and companies are involved, it is possible to find one extra treatment option for 50% of the patients by using molecular diagnostics.

The pharmaceutical industry agrees that this is an important step towards precision medicine.

“It should be a political goal that clinical studies become part of ordinary cancer patient treatment, so that all patients who have been through treatment are offered a place in a clinical study,” Steinar Thoresen, Head of Oncology and Strategy, Merck Nordics and Netherlands, said.

Frøydis Høyem, State Secretary at the Ministry for Health and Care Services, was positive about more public-private collaboration on cancer care.

“The Norwegian government genuinely cares about cancer patients and wants to land a public-private collaboration. We need to come together, discuss this more and agree on how to take it further,” Høyem said.

 

Relaxing perspectives on exercise

How do we prepare the patient to be in the best possible shape to handle a cancer treatment? This was the key question in the last panel of the meeting.

A new initiative at Akershus University Hospital has put educating patients about coping with cancer, along with exercise and diet plans, at the forefront for all their treatments.

The results?

“We have higher patient satisfaction. They experience a higher degree of involvement, shorter waiting times and less complications,” Dr. Geir Arne Larsen, Head of Department for General and Digestive Surgery at Akershus University Hospital, said.

“It is neither high tech medicine nor resource demanding. In total, we use less resources on these patients, so the hospital’s capacity for intensive care, surgery and hospital beds can be used for other patients,” Larsen continued.

Hanne Garde is one of the patients who has been involved. She is happy she could take part in an individualised plan for diet, exercise and managing the disease, which made all the difference for her during treatment and recovery.

“It was perfect for me personally to be able to take an active role in my own treatment,” Garde said.

Yngvar Andersen, Ambassador for Aktiv mot kreft and training enthusiast, led all the exercise intervals and finished the meeting with some exercises for all the participants.

“I have seen how meaningful exercise is for many cancer patients. Life might not become longer, but it becomes a little bit better,” Andersen said.

 

Meeting participants:

  • Siri Lill Mannes, host
  • Frøydis Høyem, State Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Care Services
  • Jan Frich, vice administrative director at the Norwegian South-Eastern Regional Health Authority
  • Andreas Stensvold, oncologist and Head of the Cancer Department at Sykehuset Østfold
  • Jan Helge Solbakk, professor at the Centre for Medical Ethics at the University of Oslo
  • Kjetil Taskén, Director of the Insitute for Cancer Research at Oslo University Hospital
  • Steinar Thoresen, Head of Oncology and Strategy, Merck Nordics and Netherlands
  • Geir Arne Larsen, Head of Department for General and Digestive Surgery at Akershus University Hospital
  • Yngvar Andersen, Ambassador for Aktiv mot kreft and training enthusiast

 

Thank you to all participants and organising partners for making this meeting possible!

 

 

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Eivind Lysheim was inspired to study medical technology after a placement at Oslo University Hospital, arranged by Oslo Cancer Cluster in collaboration with Ullern Upper Secondary School.

Studying medtech with cancer patients at heart

Eivind Lysheim

Former Ullern student Eivind Lysheim has been inspired to make a difference for cancer patients

Eivind Lysheim had decided to study economics at university, until a work placement at the Norwegian Radium Hospital caught his interest in 2016, during his last year at Ullern Upper Secondary School.

The placement was arranged by Oslo Cancer Cluster and took place in the Department of Medical Physics. For an entire week Eivind was mentored by Professor Taran Paulsen Hellebust and her co-workers on medical imaging and how radiotherapy is used to treat cancer patients. The Ullern student learnt how to use the machines and how to create a theoretical treatment plan for a former patient.

“I have always been interested in the natural sciences. I felt that the combination of technology and medicine was extremely interesting. It is fascinating how you can use something that is perceived as deadly – such as gamma radiation, x-rays or high energy particles – and cure someone. When I saw the high-tech machines at the hospital, I got a little bit carried away,” Eivind said with a smile.

Eivind immediately changed his application from economics to the mathematics and physics programme with specialisation in biophysics and medical technology at NTNU in Trondheim.

Four years later, Eivind has one year left of his master’s degree and is still intent on working on technology that can improve the lives of cancer patients.

“Cancer can happen to anyone and almost everyone in Norway knows someone who has been affected by it. It is important that we develop the very best treatments for the people who get ill,” Eivind said.

Eivind got in touch with Bente Prestegård, project manager at Oslo Cancer Cluster, who helped him find a summer internship with our member Kongsberg Beam Technology. The company recently acquired funding to develop control systems for proton therapy machines.

“Among medtech students in Norway, proton therapy is probably the most popular area to work in. Everyone dreams about getting a job in this field. This internship has really been like hitting the jackpot for me,” Eivind said.

Kongsberg Beam Technology is developing a system called MAMA-K, which is short for Multi‑Array Multi-Axis Cancer Combat Machine. The machine treats the tumour with a number of simultaneous proton beams and is especially adapted for more mobile tumours, and it can be added to both existing and new proton machines.

Eivind has spent the summer doing research in the offices belonging to Semcon, who is one of Kongsberg Beam Technology’s partners.

Norway is in the process of building its first two proton centres, at Oslo University Hospital and at Haukeland University Hospital. Many medtech students are eager to work at these centres to develop cancer treatments. Moreover, the technology used in proton machines is an intriguing area of research constantly in development, which makes it highly attractive for new students.

“If I can work with proton therapy, I can look forward to a very exciting and varied career, because the field is always changing and you have to continually learn new things,” Eivind said.

Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, leading a debate on health data during EHiN 2019. Photo: Ard Jongsma / Still Words Photography

The IT-revolution in oncology

This article was first published in Teknisk Ukeblad in Norwegian on 23 June 2020. Scroll down for a version in Norwegian.

EHiN, E-Health in Norway, is Norway’s largest conference on the digitalization of the health sector. Save the date 10-11 November 2020!

“At EHiN you will meet the key players of the health sector, politicians and decision-makers,” said Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster.

EHiN has proven to be an important arena to gather the industry, the public sector and the research environment around the digitalization of the health sector.

“During two days, we will learn from one another and share knowledge about technological solutions to benefit the health service and individual patients. This creates a basis for further collaboration,” Widerberg said.

Oslo Cancer Cluster is a non-profit member organization that connects public and private key players in cancer research and a Norwegian Centre of Expertise since 2009. Oslo Cancer Cluster is a collaboration partner in EHiN.

Artificial intelligence changes cancer treatments

Digitalisation is a central area in cancer research and the advent of precision medicine demands that different academic disciplines work closely together. Using artificial intelligence will be important to develop new treatments.

“Artificial intelligence will change how we treat cancer. It is about understanding cancer. The same way that a microscope can show us what cells look like, AI can help us to discover patterns we never would have seen otherwise.

“This makes it possible to give patients personalized treatments because we can identify how the patient will react to the treatment. Eventually, modern machine learning systems will make the treatments even better.

“The goal is to give the right treatment to the right patient at the right time,” Widerberg explained.

The IT-revolution in the oncology field is also of great interest to the tech industry. It is about handling enormous amounts of health data through storage, analysis, machine learning, pattern detection and secure connections between different data sources.

“Personalized medicine, genetics and the use of health data is quickly developing into one of the most important areas in digital health.”
Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster.

“EHiN wishes in collaboration with Oslo Cancer Cluster to build Norway as an important international hub in the area of e-health,” Widerberg said.

The programme for EHiN 2020 is currently under development. Information about the venue and ticket sales will be announced at a later date. Please visit the official EHiN website for updates on how corona affects EHiN 2020.

 


IT-REVOLUSJON PÅ ONKOLOGIFELTET

EHiN, EHelse i Norge, er Norges største konferanse om digitalisering i helsesektoren. – Merk deg datoene 10. og 11. november allerede nå.

På EHiN møter du de fremste aktørene i helsesektoren, politikere og beslutningstakere, sier Ketil Widerberg, daglig leder i Oslo Cancer Cluster.
EHiN har vist seg å være en viktig arena for å samle næringsliv, offentlig sektor og forskning rundt digitalisering av helsesektoren.

– I to dager i  skal vi lære av hverandre og dele kunnskap om teknologiløsninger til det beste for helsevesen og enkeltpasienter. Det skaper grobunn for videre samarbeid, poengterer Widerberg.

Han forteller at Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) er en non-profit medlemsorganisasjon som samler offentlige og private aktører innen kreftforskning, og et Norwegian Centre of Expertise. OCC er samarbeidspartner i EHiN.

Presisjonsmedisin

Presisjonsmedisin krever ifølge Widerberg at forskjellige fag-grener jobber tett sammen, og digitalisering er et sentralt område innenfor kreft. Han trekker frem betydningen av kunstig intelligens (AI).

– AI vil endre kreftbehandlingen. Det handler om å forstå kreften. På samme måte som mikroskopet tar oss helt ned på cellenivå, vil AI hjelpe oss til å se et mønster vi aldri ellers ville oppdaget. Dette gjør det mulig å gi pasienter individbasert behandling – nettopp fordi vi kan se et mønster på hvordan pasienten reagerer på behandlingen. Etter hvert vil moderne selvlærende datasystemer gjøre behandlingsmetodene bedre.
Målet er å gi den rette behandlingen til den rette pasienten til rett tid, forklarer Widerberg.

IT-revolusjonen på onkologifeltet har også stor interesse for IT-bransjen. Det handler blant annet om å håndtere enorme mengder helsedata gjennom lagring, analyse, maskinlæring, mønstergjenkjenning og sikker kobling av forskjellige datakilder.

– Persontilpasset medisin, genetikk og bruk av helsedata utvikler seg snart til et av de viktigste områdene innen digital helse, sier Ketil Widerberg, daglig leder i Oslo Cancer Cluster.

– EHiN ønsker i samarbeid med OCC å bygge Norge som en viktig internasjonal hub på området e-helse, avslutter Widerberg.

Følg med på ehin.no hvordan koronaviruset påvirker EHiN 2020.

Christine Wergeland Sørbye, CEO of Oslo Science City, is happy to welcome Oslo Cancer Cluster as a member of the new innovation district. Photo: Oslo Science City

Oslo Cancer Cluster becomes a member of Oslo Science City

How can we solve societal challenges, such as cancer, by creating a power centre for innovation in Oslo? This is the key question Oslo Science City – the first innovation district in Norway – hopes to answer.

The ambition of Oslo Science City is to become a world leading innovation district that contributes to research excellence, jobs creation, the green shift and sustainable economic development.

“We intend to develop a vibrant city area where people meet to innovate and explore what we still don’t understand,” said Christine Wergeland Sørbye, CEO of Oslo Science City.

In order to achieve this, Oslo Science City’s strategy is to facilitate cooperation between leading research groups, students, businesses and the public sector. Key actors in the district, including the City of Oslo, Oslo University Hospital and the University of Oslo, are now working together to facilitate the development of the area.

“We will develop a powerhouse for innovation, research and business, and a good place to live,” said Wergeland Sørbye.

Oslo Cancer Cluster joined Oslo Science City in June 2020 to contribute to boosting innovation in this knowledge-intensive area.

”Innovation thrives where there are hard problems that need to be solved,” said Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster.

“Cancer is one of the major societal challenges we face today. For over a decade, Oslo Cancer Cluster has worked tirelessly to enable researchers and investors, private companies and public hospitals to work closer together to solve this challenge. We have succeeded in some first steps, now is the time to get to the next level. Utilizing the potential in immunology and digitalisation with Oslo Science City will be key to achieve this.”

Ketil Widerberg, daglig leder, OCC

Ketil Widerberg, general manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster, sees the potential of connecting immunology and digitalisation in the future innovation district. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster / Stig Jarnes

Wergeland Sørbye is happy to welcome Oslo Cancer Cluster as an active partner in developing Oslo Science City:

“Oslo Cancer Cluster has unique competencies and a long track record, and we are looking forward to learn from you! Together with the University of Oslo, SINTEF, Oslo University Hospital, the City of Oslo and our other members, Oslo Cancer Cluster will play an important role in realizing the potential for innovation, new jobs and value creation. It is important, and it will be fun!”

Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, the Oslo University Hospital research building and Norwegian Radium Hospital are located in the new innovation district Oslo Science City.

Oslo Cancer Cluster Innovation Park, the Oslo University Hospital research building and Norwegian Radium Hospital are located in the new innovation district Oslo Science City. Photo: Oslo Cancer Cluster / Christian Tandberg

A vibrant area to live, work, play

There are many innovation districts around the world, yet there is no fixed recipe for how successful innovation districts are developed.

“Developing such an area could be described more as an art than science.” Wergeland Sørbye said.

“However, research highlights the need for certain key functions. For example, you need strong anchor institutions that attract other actors, such as a university or university hospital, and you need to facilitate the cooperation based on trust between the different organizations and stakeholders in the area. Many do this by establishing a joint membership organization, which is what we did with Oslo Science City.”

Furthermore, it is essential to develop a multifunctional area with a critical mass of knowledge-intensive businesses. The ideal innovation district is a vibrant place where people can “live, work and play”, with services and cultural functions. It must also be easy to move around in the area, on foot, bike or public transportation.

“A key lesson from other innovation districts is the importance of adapting to the local context,” Wergeland Sørbye said.

However, no one has previously developed innovation districts in Norway. This makes it valuable to learn from international examples. Some innovation districts that have provided inspiration in the endeavour to develop Oslo Science City are Stockholm Science City, Copenhagen Science City, White City in London and Kendal Square in Boston.

Please follow the Oslo Science City official website for further updates on the development of the innovation district.