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The new frontier in cancer innovation

Bjørn Klem and Ketil Widerberg

Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) Innovation Park and Incubator plans to expand by 50 000 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?

“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.”

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 long-term 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.

“The recent corona pandemic has proven the importance of both international collaboration and regional sustainability, from development of tests to treatments.”

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.

The goal of the OCC Incubator is to reduce the development of new cancer treatments from 10 to 5 years.

By Bjørn Klem, General Manager Oslo Cancer Cluster Incubator and Ketil Widerberg, General Manager, Oslo Cancer Cluster. Photo: Stig Jarnes