Flocking to Norway

Oslo’s cancer research community attracts international attention. Foreign companies engaged in the cancer field are flocking to Norway and Oslo to benefit from the city’s cancer research community. ‘This is a stamp of quality,’ says Ketil Widerberg, General Manager of Oslo Cancer Cluster.

This article is written by journalist Ina Vedde Fjærestad, and was published in KAPITAL 14/2014.
Oslo Cancer Cluster have kindly been allowed to translate it to English and publish it on our site.

 Several foreign companies are now showing an interest in establishing themselves in the capital to become part of Oslo Cancer Cluster. They are attracted by the close-knit environment for cancer research and development of drugs, treatment and diagnostic methods for cancer.

Major interest from abroad.
‘The fact that foreign companies are coming to Oslo is a stamp of quality for the Norwegian community and what we are developing here. It is also important in relation to developing an industry based on cancer research,’ says Widerberg of Oslo Cancer Cluster to Kapital business magazine. He does not want to reveal any names, but confirms that several foreign companies have shown an interest.

‘These are companies in the cancer field from countries such as the UK and Denmark – companies at the clinical stage,’ says Widerberg. He recently attended the world’s biggest biotechnological convention in San Diego, and says that he was surprised by the amount of interest several major companies showed in Norwegian research.

‘Several people contacted me and wanted to arrange a meeting to hear more about our work here.’
Kapital has information that the Danish company Rhovac is among the companies considering setting up in Norway. The company is at the final pre-clinical stage in the development of potential vaccines for cancer treatment.

Funding as a pull factor
Oslo Cancer Cluster was established in 2006 and currently has almost 70 members – enterprises, organisations, hospitals and universities that engage in cancer diagnostics and treatment. The cluster brings together the whole value chain in cancer treatment – everything from research institutions to hospitals, financial institutions and the big pharmaceutical companies.

The cluster is partly publically funded as a Norwegian Centre of Expertise (NCE). The overriding objective is to improve the lives of cancer patients by stimulating the development of new cancer drugs and diagnostics. The research community in Oslo has become especially well known for its expertise in immuno-oncology, a field that involves triggering the body’s own immune system in the battle against the cancer cells. This field attracts particular attention from foreign companies.

‘We are experiencing increasing interest from abroad, which is fun and a sign of recognition of our community,’ says Jónas Einarsson, CEO of the Norwegian Radium Hospital Research Foundation. He confirms that they are now working with four companies from Sweden, Denmark, the UK and Germany, respectively, some of which are considering moving their whole company to Norway.
Competitors and collaborators
The companies that choose to become Norwegian also gain access to good schemes for companies that engage in what is known as early-phase research. For example, they can apply for funding from the SkatteFunn tax relief scheme. All Norwegian companies that run research projects can apply for tax relief under this scheme.

‘Of course, the more companies that establish themselves and develop projects in this field, the better. We achieve good cluster dynamics. The companies compete for the same funding and investors, and will be competing in the same market later. At the same time, they can benefit in many ways from synergies and collaboration in the development phase,’ says Einarsson. He is often part of the delegations that present Oslo Cancer Cluster around the world.
‘Many Norwegian companies are going to the Nordic Life Science conference in Stockholm this September. We also attended the biotechnology convention in San Diego in June. We went there to look for partners in the bio-pharmaceutical field, to attract investors, and to help to market Norway as an exciting location for such companies.’

The Swedish company Pharmalink has decided to establish a subsidiary in Norway called Pharmalink Oncology. Pharmalink is engaged in speciality pharma, focusing on rare diagnoses for which they develop what is known as ‘orphan drugs’. The company currently has two products at the clinical stage, Nefecon and Busulipo, and is owned by the government investment company Investinor, Industrifonden and two of the entrepreneurs.

‘Our goal here in Oslo is to buy oncology projects where the research has come a long way and to expand our portfolio,’ said Johan Häggblad in a network meeting organised by Oslo Cancer Cluster on 20 August.

Important to the network
OncoImmunity is a company established by Richard Stratford from Britain, Trevor Clancy from Ireland and Norwegian professor Eivind Hovig. The company develops software intended to be able to assess tumour mutation and identify specific antigens in order to make it possible to use the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

‘The information obtained will help to pick the patients who will respond best to immunotherapy-based treatment. This will lead to a higher success rate at the clinical stage of the development and may spare patients unnecessary treatment.’ says Stratford.

Today, less than seven per cent of cancer drugs enter the clinical stage for the treatment that was the initial intention behind their development. ‘There is a great need for a review of and new methods in this field.’

OncoImmunity became a member of Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) in June this year. ‘We see OCC as a good forum for networking – for finding partners and potential investors.’ Stratford has lived in Norway for seven years, and has worked in the biotechnology field for most of that time. He was familiar with OCC before the company became a member. ‘The biggest advantage is the network and support OCC provides. They have a great team that has worked very actively to connect OncoImmunity to valuable contacts in research and development.’