It is International Women’s Day and and we like to highlight some of the many inspiring women in life science we have had the opportunity to meet and interview.
An academic and an entrepreneur, Dr. Sara Mangsbo, PhD, has found a way to integrate her skills and interests so that they complement and augment her passions.
The Chief Development Officer at Ultimovacs, an Oslo based cancer vaccine company with an office in Uppsala, Mangsbo is also an Associate Senior Lecturer at Uppsala University. Her specialty is Immunological Oncology, and her company is developing immunotherapies to halt cancer. Ultimovacs is developing a cancer vaccine, UV1, which is in clinical studies, and is working on other potential vaccines.
Entrepreneur of the Year
After launching her career, Mangsbo co-founded her own company, Immuneed AB, in 2014, and last year Ultimovacs purchased Immuneed’s drug development operations, providing Ultimovacs with additional immunotherapy technology. Mangsbo remains the owner of Immuneed, along with several others, and is also a member of the board.
In June 2019, her accomplishments were recognized when she won Swedish magazine Veckans affärer’s first Entrepreneur of the Year award, as part of the magazine’s 101 Super Talents program.
“We tend to describe immunology in war terms”
For Mangsbo, who earned a doctorate in clinical immunology and cancer immunotherapy, her fascination with the field was sparked by two graduate courses at McGill University in Canada, one which offered a different perspective on cancer genetics and an advanced immunology course.
“The professor made us realize that how we view things in science is impacted by the description that is given to us,” Mangsbo said. “That and the advanced immunology course created an interest to dig deeper and learn more. What fascinated me was how she [the professor] described that how we voiced science would be our hypothesized-driven research angle. For me, who was fascinated by the immune system and its complexity, I also grasped that we tend to describe immunology interactions in war terms and that this would impact our research view, and that fascinated me. Could I see it differently was the question, and would that impact how I would execute research?”
“For me, who was fascinated by the immune system and its complexity, I also grasped that we tend to describe immunology interactions in war terms and that this would impact our research view, and that fascinated me.”
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A translational research focus
Sara Mangsbo began her career in the immunoncology field as a PhD student under Professor Thomas Tötterman, with co-supervisor Professor Angelica Loskog, in the clinical immunology group at Uppsala University. The group had a strong translational research focus [research designed to improve health outcomes], she explains, and she has been pursuing immunoncology research ever since.
“From our translational initiatives we have taken CD40 agonistic therapies for oncology indications into the clinic,” Mangsbo continues. The agonistic anti-CD40 antibody or CD40L carrying viruses stimulates anti-tumor immune responses.
“Thomas and Angelica started off by designing an adenoviral virus carrying CD40 to be expressed in the tumor after intratumoral injections, this has now been evaluated for safety in bladder cancer and melanoma patients,” Mangsbo describes. “We have also performed a development program together with Alligator Bioscience where we jointly worked on an anti-CD40 therapy for intratumoral administration from the lab to the patient’s bedside. This has now been clinically evaluated for safety, both for an intratumoral and intravenous administration route.”
Mangsbo also spent time at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) in the Netherlands, starting in 2009, working on a project where the goal was to improve synthetic long peptide vaccination.
A network outside academia
While the research was rewarding, Mangsbo wanted a means to put findings into practice as quickly as possible. “When you are in academia, you can’t always move research further,” she says. “It’s hard to translate findings into clinical trials. You need to build something within the industry. There are resources that help you to build your own company; if you are curious, you can get help – I was curious. You are pursuing the unknown in academia. Business is making an impact for someone else. It was important for me to have a good grounding lesson in academia. Now I can create in academia and build something useable in the industry.”
“To grow your network outside academia was very important for me to both learn and grow as a person and entrepreneur.”
The program mentor4research, which was nationally driven by IVA, helped Mangsbo get her business off the ground. In this program, her mentor Jörgen Lönngren, gave her the opportunity to meet his network.
“To grow your network outside academia was very important for me to both learn and grow as a person and entrepreneur,” Mangsbo explained. “I was also later fortunate to receive a grant via UppsalaBIO that was a project that triggered me to start Immuneed AB. In this initially two-year program, there was an advisory board that I met with every six months and this helped me develop my knowledge in drug development. It also helped me to meet the first investors that allowed Immuneed to grow.”
The development journeys are unique
Besides the usual challenges of starting a company – finding startup funding, building up the laboratory, assembling a team that includes employees who have good customer skills – Mangsbo and her team had to learn to navigate the complicated paths of getting new pharmaceuticals to trials and the market.
Initially one of Immuneed’s tasks was to craft a plan to enable a product to go to the clinic and to identify and recruit the right persons to enable the project to go through the clinical path required for a drug development project.
“The druggability is so much more than the target and drug interaction; it is about formulation, administration, indication, scalable production, regulatory requirements, and the development journeys are unique,” Mangsbo noted. “This comes along with delivering products on time and with the quality that the customer expects. Later comes the work of scaling up the business and marketing initiatives along with international business expansion.”
As Immuneed also has a service business in advanced immunotoxicology assessments, Sara learned about the product/customer part as well.
Maintain our global competitive edge
Sweden has a valuable network of people with their own experiences in drug development who can provide assistance to newcomers to the trade. These are people who have advanced from their previous roles in drug development carried out at Pharmacia and AstraZeneca back in the day.
“I also hope that Sweden can grow and strengthen its competence to support more companies in the field of biologics to maintain that global competitive edge in drug development,” she adds.
The Nordic countries are fortunate to have strengths in various areas of life sciences, says Mangsbo.
“One strong initiative in Sweden right now is a combined umbrella and basket-trial initiative, named MEGALiT, as a joint alliance between several University hospitals in Sweden. This includes U-CAN, pharma companies and GMS (Genomic Medicine Sweden), and is coordinated from Uppsala.”
“Denmark has been strong in the immunocology field. Sweden has a history of building strong pharmaceutical companies. There is strong knowledge from the network of people in Sweden. In Norway, we have seen the buildup of an important cancer cluster initiative; they are clustering academia, hospital and industry, possibly facilitated by a more centralized oncology treatment journey that is present in Norway. In Sweden we can see a more decentralized treatment journey for the cancer patient. However, one strong initiative in Sweden right now is a combined umbrella and basket-trial initiative, named MEGALiT, as a joint alliance between several University hospitals in Sweden. This includes U-CAN, pharma companies and GMS (Genomic Medicine Sweden), and is coordinated from Uppsala. In addition Sweden has a strong drug development and discovery platform (DDD) at SciLife and Testa center, now celebrating 1 year, to spur the academic and industry knowledge in biologics drug development and production.”
Sweden has also been very accomplished in the field of small molecular drug development, according to Mangsbo, who hopes Sweden can now be as strong in competence in the field of biologics.
“I hope that we will see transformations around innovation and that we can overcome some of the challenges.”
“I hope that we will see transformations around innovation and that we can overcome some of the challenges [of working with other entities] so that researchers can join forces, not only with universities and companies, but also with hospitals and make use of the knowledge there.”
Educating future generations
Mangsbo enjoys contributing to the future knowledge base through her teaching. “I also think that it is important, being a part of another person’s future and helping them understand immunology and biology and drugs,” she says.
“We need to build a strong life science sector, or we won’t be competitive. I know I can generate that interest by communicating those things in a better way. I have a deep interest in my subject, and I can communicate that to my students and hopefully that leads to their interest as well.”
With all Mangsbo has to do, she does enjoy her downtime, much of which is spent hanging around with her two daughters, ages 5 and 7, riding bicycles and exploring the nature near their home in Uppsala. She also enjoys the nature in Bergslagen, and spends time in a house near Ludvika, exploring the nature around there.
“I want to maintain that energy to bring innovation to people.”
Continuing to educate future generations and bring promising drugs to market are among Mangbo’s long-term career goals.
“I hope that I still can use my energy to teach others, that I can be a pillar in bringing strategies to treatment. I hope my work will eventually result in a drug being approved. I hope I can see that my work brings something to patients. I want to maintain that energy to bring innovation to people,” Sara Mangsbo concludes.
This interview was originally published in Issue 04 2019 of Nordic Life Science magazine