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International pharmaceutical breakthrough backed by public funding

A multi-billion kroner agreement on a new pain-relief medication has been signed between the Norwegian innovation company, Inven2, and the pharmaceuticals giant, Merck. Public funding has played an important role in the Norwegian researchers’ success.

The agreement confirms the vast potential of Norwegian health research. There are many outstanding researchers carrying out innovative basic and clinical research projects of high international calibre.

One of the key challenges now is to translate these important findings into commercially successful products and services of benefit to society. This is where the Research Council of Norway’s Programme for Commercialising R&D Results (FORNY 2020) comes into play.


During their clinical activities at the Center for Cancer Treatment at Sørlandet Hospital Kristiansand, physicians Svein Mjåland, Marte Grønlie Cameron and Christian Kersten discovered that the pain-relieving effects of a specific cancer medication were especially pronounced. They decided to conduct further research based on these findings.

Following the initial discovery, they spent two years testing and securing the legal rights to the medication together with the innovation company, Inven2, owned by the University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital. These negotiations recently culminated in the largest licensing agreement of its kind in Norway: a multi-billion kroner agreement with the pharmaceuticals giant, Merck.

Together, Inven2 and Sørlandet Hospital Kristiansand used case studies to document the effect of the medication and negotiated with Merck to reach the historic agreement. Their work received funding for innovation projects from the South-Eastern Norway Regional Health Authority as well as basic funding under the Research Council’s FORNY 2020 programme.

The agreement has a potential value of over NOK 3 billion and is expected to lead to significant future funding for Norwegian research groups.

According to Anne Kjersti Fahlvik, Executive Director of the Division for Innovation at the Research Council, the funding of technology transfer offices (TTOs) such as Inven2 is precisely what has enabled the FORNY 2020 programme to promote a culture for innovation targeted towards Norwegian research groups.

The agreement promises the investment of further funds into research and development, says Anne Kjersti Fahlvik. (Photo: Sverre Jarild)

“TTOs provide a vital infrastructure for innovation and represent an invaluable driver for interaction between research groups and commercial actors. The financing of TTOs under the FORNY 2020 programme has helped to create the foundation for a large number of licensing agreements and company start-ups,” explains Ms Fahlvik.


In the case of Inven2, the FORNY 2020 programme has provided substantial funding from the company’s launch in 2010, as a result of the merger between Medinnova AS and Birkeland Innovasjon AS.

Partnering with a world leader in the pharmaceuticals industry like Merck means that Inven2 and the physicians in Kristiansand are well on the road to successful commercialisation of a new medication for neuropathic pain.

“Licensing is often a good route to choose when commercialising research findings, especially within pharmaceuticals. This project is a prime example. Merck has the expertise and financial muscle to carry out the required testing and to bring the product to market all the way to the end-user – the patient,” Ms Fahlvik points out.

Since the basis here is a drug approved for cancer treatment, the researchers anticipate that the first derivative medication for severe pain could be on the market as early as six years from now.

Valuable for further research and value creation

International agreement negotiations in the field of medicine are extremely demanding and complex. In order to achieve a good outcome, it is critical to have professional innovators working closely with the research groups, both to safeguard legal rights and to negotiate the actual contracts.

“The agreement in which Inven2 has played such a significant part also promises the investment of further funds into research and development, both related to this project and to other innovation projects these research groups and Inven2 are working on,” concludes a smiling Ms Fahlvik, who adds that this will in turn lead to further value creation in Norway.


Photo: Physicians Svein Mjåland, Marte Grønlie Cameron and Christian Kersten work at the Center for Cancer Treatment at Sørlandet Hospital Kristiansand.

Source: The Research Council of Norway