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Immunology – a Pillar in Norway’s Life Science Innovation

Norway is home to impressive research environments that produce groundbreaking work in several areas. One of the strongholds lies within the field of immunology.

This is an area where Norway truly has a long tradition, a scientific and industrial track record, and the potential to become a driving force not just for groundbreaking research but also for research-driven innovation and pharmaceutical development in the Nordic region. The Norwegian government recently launched a roadmap for the health industry and made the decision to increase drug manufacturing. Immunology should be chosen as the first national pillar within this national initiative, an initiative with Nordic growth possibilities.

A distinctive Norwegian research community

Our immune system shields us from dangerous infections every day. A properly functioning immune system, underpins the very essence of our existence. Molecular and digital tools have given us the opportunity to increasingly understand the mechanisms in detail, and how they can be explored to prevent, identify, and treat disease. This ranges from infectious and auto-immune diseases to immuno-oncology. The development of COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example of how understanding our immune defense systems and applying new technologies can protect us from severe disease, and how new modes of collaboration, including private-public partnership, can increase development speed and time to market.

The Laboratory of Adaptive Immunity and Homeostasis at Oslo University Hospital and University of Oslo, led by Professor Jan Terje Andersen, has contributed to 75 innovations, holds 15 patent families, and has established 60 partnerships with industry players, including product sales, collaborations, and patent licenses.”

The Laboratory of Adaptive Immunity and Homeostasis at Oslo University Hospital and University of Oslo, led by Professor Jan Terje Andersen, has contributed to 75 innovations, holds 15 patent families, and has established 60 partnerships with industry players, including product sales, collaborations, and patent licenses. This group of researchers focus on gaining an in-depth understanding of immunological processes and what goes wrong when the immune system fails to protect us.

Understanding these fine-tuned processes could pave the way for innovative medical technologies than can be used in the design of new therapeutics. They’re using advanced molecular, cellular and digital tools to understand immunology at a genetic level, and to engineer proteins with tailored binding and transport properties, which could prove invaluable in treating a range of diseases.

Research That Benefits Patients and Society

One standout feature of this research community is its focus on how its findings can be applied. While their core work is curiosity-driven basic research, they always have an eye on how their scientific discoveries can be used. This research is closely connected to innovation, which requires active dialogue and planning with stakeholders in the life science ecosystem as well as biotech and pharmaceutical companies. This collaboration is key to turning fundamental research findings into new and improved drug and vaccine development technologies, and has already tied Nordic bonds.

The possibilities within immunology are vast. In Norway, Nykode’s technology platform is linked to cancer vaccines, with numerous clinical trials underway, as well as research into autoimmune diseases. Another company that has emerged from Oslo’s research community is Authera. They are developing a technology platform that can predict how various designed molecules, such as antibodies, will behave in the human body, allowing for the creation of tailored medicines. This technology platform can be applied in various medical fields. Both companies have established collaborations with leading international industry actors.

Norway and the Nordic region are well-positioned to be part of this exciting development and must also take measures to facilitate production for the global market.”

RNA- and DNA-based vaccines were a focus during the pandemic, due to the speed of development, but the area also comes with its own challenges. The use of antibodies in medicines is already widespread. In 2020, 11 of the top 20 best-selling drugs globally were so-called monoclonal antibodies. Over 160 antibodies are approved and available on the market, with most introduced in the last five years. This is just the beginning. More than 1000 antibody candidates are tested in clinical trials, and thousands of companies are working in this area. Norway and the Nordic region are well-positioned to be part of this exciting development and must also take measures to facilitate production for the global market.

Opportunities through Nordic cooperation

The pharmaceutical industry in other Nordic countries is more substantial and mature than in Norway. However, together these nations can cover the entire pharmaceutical production chain, from research and development to testing and manufacturing.

Recently, the Norwegian government launched a roadmap for the health industry, aiming to promote and strengthen the health industry through 12 priority areas and 41 measures. This includes efforts to increase the capacity for drug manufacturing. The Industrial Development Corporation of Norway, the Research Council of Norway, and Innovation Norway were tasked with assessing possible approaches to this endeavor, with a focus on vaccine production and biopharmaceuticals.

By building sub-initiatives, a national center for manufacturing will take shape. In our view, immunology is the logical starting point for this initiative, and it will have ripple effects on other fields that rely on similar expertise.”

The conclusion was that this national effort should be closely linked to the broader Nordic region. By building sub-initiatives, a national center for manufacturing will take shape. In our view, immunology is the logical starting point for this initiative, and it will have ripple effects on other fields that rely on similar expertise.

Success in this venture relies on tight coordination with our neighboring Nordic countries, where complementary infrastructure and expertise can be harnessed, offering mutual benefits.

 

This column was originally written by Hanne Mette Dyrlie Kristensen, CEO, The Life Science Cluster and Jan Terje Andersen, Professor Biomedical innovation, University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital, CoE Precision Immunotherapy Alliance (PRIMA), for NLS magazine No 04 2023, out November 2023

 

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