In the battle against cancer, Norway is on the front lines of precision cancer medicine. “Norway has competitive advantages that create a sweet spot for precision oncology,” says Michael Engsig, CEO of Nykode Therapeutics. Among these is decades of public-private collaboration.
This sweet spot clearly attracts international biopharma to Norway. While many Norwegian SMEs collaborate with the big guns, the precision medicine company grabbing the most headlines these days is Nykode, formerly Vaccibody. Nykode discovers and develops novel cancer vaccines and immunotherapies. These boost the body’s own immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells.
Nykode exemplifies the international interest in Norwegian precision cancer medicine (PCM). In the past two years, the company has signed multimillion dollar agreements with biopharma giants Regeneron and Genentech. It also collaborates in oncology with Nektar Therapeutics and with Adaptive Biotechnologies on infectious diseases.
“Our international partnerships validate the Norwegian biotech community and the quality of research and innovation taking place in Norway in this field. It’s a stamp of approval from global players.”
Nykode shares the spotlight with 10–15 innovative anti-cancer companies in Norway. These include BerGenBio, EXACT Therapeutics, Lytix Biopharma, Nordic Nanovector, PCI Biotech, Photocure, Targovax and Ultimovacs, which, like Nykode, have issued IPOs in recent years. The public listings indicate the growing investment interest in Norwegian biopharma companies.
In addition to the private sector, Norway’s anti-cancer companies get support from the Oslo Cancer Cluster, a non-profit organisation that aims to accelerate the development of new cancer diagnostics and medicines. With over 90 members, the cluster brings together Norwegian and international companies, research and financial institutions, and university hospitals.
“I’m happy that the Oslo Cancer Cluster has been established as a supporting organisation. Through collaborations like this, mature companies can help younger companies and vice versa. The cluster acts as an incubator space and facilitates public-private partnerships,” says Jannik Grodt Schmidt, Senior Advisor at Invest in Norway and Head of Life Science USA at Innovation Norway.
Out of the work in precision cancer medicine the IMPRESS-Norway clinical trial has emerged. A nationwide study, IMPRESS aims to improve public cancer care by implementing precision medicine in Norway. The clinical trial tests anti-cancer drugs for patients with advanced cancer after they have already undergone standard therapy. Both industry collaborators and healthcare partners are involved.
A form of medicine using innovative therapies tailored to the individual patient
Also called personalised medicine
In cancer, precision medicine uses specific information about a person’s tumour to:
Make a diagnosis
Determine how well treatment is working
Make a prognosis
“Ongoing collaboration is essential to our study. We work with 20 different pharma companies, including Eli Lilly, Incyte, Novartis and Roche. This allows us to bring new drugs into the pipeline and try out new diagnostic tools. In turn, the companies benefit from high-quality testing of their drugs,” says Åslaug Helland, the principal investigator and co-founder of IMPRESS-Norway.
Coordination takes place within the public sector as well. Organised into a network, all Norwegian hospitals with oncology departments are able to participate in the study and access the new knowledge it generates. A new public-private partnership, NorTrials, also aims at national participation in clinical trials.
In addition, IMPRESS-Norway has joined forces with its close neighbours, establishing the Nordic Precision Medical Trial Network with Denmark, Finland and Sweden and signing an MoU with the Drug Rediscovery Protocol (DRUP) in the Netherlands.
“This is ‘a triple win’ – for cancer patients, investigators and industry partners. We will generate and gather evidence more quickly on rare combinations of diagnosis, mutation and treatment to allow for early implementation of new cancer medicines.”
Tasken adds that CONNECT, a public-private partnership on PCM, plays a crucial role, as does InPreD, a national infrastructure of advanced precision diagnostics, and INSIGHT, which conducts research on the regulatory framework for implementing PCM in Norway.
Furthermore, he points out that public reimbursement both of diagnostics to stratify patients into trials and of drugs in stage 3 expansion cohorts in the IMPRESS trial greatly facilitates industry collaboration to document drug efficacy.
Perhaps the most important collaborator of all is the Norwegian government, which has been there from the beginning.
Jannik Grodt Schmidt
Innovation Norway & Invest in Norway
“Norway is known for its publicly funded oncology research. The government took the decision years ago to focus on anti-cancer efforts, in part through basic and applied research. This support has only strengthened over the years.”
Oslo University Hospital, an OECI-accredited Comprehensive Cancer Centre, continues to lead the research effort. The Norwegian Radium Hospital site is being developed as a focal point with new hospital buildings and a proton therapy centre, as well as the Institute for Cancer Research and Oslo Cancer Cluster on campus. Radforsk, meanwhile, facilitates anti-cancer investments from research through commercialisation.
Such national coordination might be impossible without publicly funded, universal healthcare.
Principal investigator & Co-founder
“The backbone of all our efforts is a well-functioning healthcare system. It allows us to devise a national plan and coordinate all the parties involved.”
Helland goes on to mention Biobank Norway, which facilitates access to world-class data for basic, clinical and medical research. This includes 69 health registries, notably the Cancer Registry of Norway and eight cancer sub-registries.
“Norway’s precision medicine ecosystem generates significant value for society. It also represents a significant opportunity for attracting foreign investment as well as generating future exports. This is a promising sector under development. Norway should be known for innovation and disruption in the medical field,” concludes Schmidt.
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