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When the future of advanced biologics gathered in Matfors

In a small village, some hours north of Stockholm, a competence center and innovation hub for advanced biologics was inaugurated on the 27th of September. This did not pass unnoticed; quite the opposite.

A total of 130 people travelled from near and far to this place, the village of Matfors, to watch the Swedish Minister of Enterprise, Ebba Busch, cut the DNA-coded ribbon with a CRISPR-scissor. The whole ceremony was embedded in a three-day conference about the future of advanced biologics, gathering international frontrunners in the field, ranging from BioNTech, Moderna, Mendus Therapeutics and Strike Pharma, to name a few.

 

A total of 130 people travelled from near and far to Matfors. Photo: Sofia Dahlberg

 

Let’s take a few steps back and recall why this innovation hub came about in the first place. In October 2021, the Swedish Government directed its innovation agency, Vinnova, to establish an innovation hub to enable manufacturing of advanced biologics. NorthX Biologics, at that point recently acquired by Flerie Invest, was selected for the task. Consequently, at a press conference on 15th October 2021, the shared plans to build this capability were announced by the former Minister of Enterprise, together with the Flerie Invest President, Thomas Eldered, and Vinnova’s Director General, Darja Isaksson.

In October 2021, the Swedish Government directed its innovation agency, Vinnova, to establish an innovation hub to enable manufacturing of advanced biologics.”

Since then, infrastructure and equipment has come together in record time, including a merger with the CTM unit previously owned by Valneva Sweden. With a personalized medicine platform, the hub is now ready to support projects spanning from pre-clinical stage projects to commercial, GMP-stage projects.

Even before Ms Busch came to cut the ribbon, groundbreaking innovative projects were passing through the small northern village with the funny name that Americans sprain their tongue trying to pronounce (“Did you say Mad Foes?”). Notable among the projects are those of Swedish companies Abera Therapeutics and Toleranzia, but also Geneos Therapeutics, based in Philadelphia, USA. The common denominator is their need for early-stage process development, formed accordingly with everything that is required to be able to scale up further on. That, in essence, summarizes the rational for building up an innovation support infrastructure in a milieu where there is already late stage, GMP expertise. Funneling the learnings and know-how from commercial stage projects to the flora of young companies, thus avoiding costly mistakes in a similar way is Testa Center with its proximity to Cytiva, CCRM at GoCo, and newly launched Cellerator at Novo Nordisk.

Attention was directed to the collective efforts needed to push advanced biologics towards a brighter future, and how the Nordics, by coming together in a collaborative spirit, could gain global attention to the critical mass of ATMP know-how in our corner of the world.”

Fast forwarding to the inauguration, where these “infrastructure siblings” of the Nordic ATMP system all joined in, attention was directed to the collective efforts needed to push advanced biologics towards a brighter future, and how the Nordics, by coming together in a collaborative spirit, could gain global attention to the critical mass of ATMP know-how in our corner of the world. The attention is on the rise, but it does not come without effort.

 

The whole ceremony was embedded in a 3-day conference about the future of advanced biologics. Photo: Sofia Dahlberg

 

One of the inauguration speakers, Holger Kissel, Senior Vice President Scientific Alliances at BioNTech, shared how he was “blown away” by the learnings he had gained about cell and gene therapy in Sweden. This included both visiting the NorthX Innovation Hub and joining the study visits arranged to the clinical and academic frontrunners, including Precision Medicine Center at Karolinska, the Karolinska Comprehensive Cancer Center, Bioclinicum at new Karolinska Hospital, as well as AdBIOPRO, Competence Center for Advanced Bioproduction and GeneNova at Royal institute of Technology. With professors such as Johan Rockberg, Anna Wedell, Stephan Mielke, Mathias Uhlén and Matti Sällberg all engaged in humbly showcasing their astonishing work, the entire group of international delegates were deeply impressed. Ultimately, we need the sharpest minds to know about our infrastructures and research for these assets to be used at full potential. Awareness is key.

One of the participants traveling far to join in was Andreas Dirnagl, based in New York and Senior Advisor Healthcare at DNB, who were a partner to the conference, together with Boston-based Back Bay Life Sciences. As he opened up the evening festivities, arranged in downtown Sundsvall (or Svall, as the locals call it), he voiced this need for awareness-raising about Nordic ATMP capabilities from a patient perspective.

If the ATMP expertise found in this remote place called the Nordics can support them on this endeavor, the winners would be found at workplaces, in schools and around kitchen tables in homes all over the world.”

Maybe the founder and CEO of Geneos Therapeutics illustrated this most effectively as he was moving the crowd with his patient-centric speech. As a company enrolled in developing personalized therapeutic cancer vaccines, their ultimate goal is to impact the standard of care for cancer patients and thus improve the lives of as many patients as possible. If the ATMP expertise found in this remote place called the Nordics can support them on this endeavor, the winners would be found at workplaces, in schools and around kitchen tables in homes all over the world.

 

Peter Boman, Head of Operations, NorthX Biologics, Ambassador of the US to Sweden, Erik D. Ramanathan, Janet Hoogstraate, CEO, NorthX Biologics, Marianne Drain, Foreign service officer US embassy to Sweden, and Thomas Beck, VP Quality NorthX Biologics. Photo: Sofia Dahlberg

 

What’s next?

As part of the big gathering in Matfors, a series of workshops were conducted addressing the million-dollar question on how to collaborate in spite of competition – a topic relevant for the infrastructures gathering as well as for the cell and gene therapy companies attending. This delicate balance is not in any way easy to strike, but there was a joint call to action to market the Nordics as the go-to place for ATMP. With this common ground identified, the follow up work from the conference has just begun. Look out for The Matfors Agreement! 

Voices on Nordic ATMP

Jonathan Gertler Back Bay Life Science Advisors

Jonathan Gertler, CEO and Managing Partner, Back Bay Life Sciences Advisors

“The Nordics have the complete approach to growing a biopharma ecosystem; innovative science and then the full range of support for manufacturing, clinical development, strategic financing, and pharma expertise, spread out among large and small companies. Nordic companies have been at the cutting edge of the ATMP space not only in these attributes but in forming international collaborations to advance the clinical delivery of these critical therapeutics.”

Dr. Rosenberg's lab-Anna Pasetto

Anna Pasetto, Director, Center for Advanced Cell Therapy, Oslo University Hospital

“It is exciting to see so many initiatives being developed in the Nordics for ATMPs. We should strive to stay connected, foster collaborations, and share resources and expertise to make our geographic area even more attractive globally.”

Photo: Chia-Chi “Charlie” Chang

thomas-hr-carlsen

Thomas Hassing Ronöe Carlsen, CEO, Novo Nordisk Foundation Cellerator

It was a great pleasure to join the conference. Besides covering highly relevant subjects and challenges within cell and gene therapy, the event created a valuable setting for connecting the CGT infrastructures across the Nordic countries. All of which are important aspects of advancing the Nordic CGT ecosystem and securing optimal support for the development of novel therapies for patients in need.”

jr-strike-pharma

Johan Rockberg, Professor, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and AdBIOPRO

It is really amazing to see the Nordic competence and capacity in advanced bioproduction come together like this! I think we know that we have excellent knowhow to share in biotechnology overall, but putting the expertise into great manufacturing practice in  innovation hubs will help make  important progress in bringing ATMPs to patients and markets. Working well together between academia and industry has a long tradition here, and these efforts are proof of these collaborative spirits.”

Photo: Strike Pharma

Author

This article was originally written by Helena Strigård, Senior Advisor, NorthX Biologics, for NLS magazine No 04 2023, out November 2023.

Featured photos: Sofia Dahlberg

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