The Oslo Cancer Cluster- a new approach to accelerating cancer innovations
The initiative, which builds upon the solid foundation and tradition of cancer research and treatment in Oslo, brings together around 27 companies – from spinouts to big pharma – and organizations; they will contribute an annual amount dependent upon their size and stage of development. All conduct R&D activities at RR HF or the University of Oslo.
The OCC’s vision and action plan include:
· Getting members to work together to provide support to small biotech companies. “We will stop them making mistakes with negotiations, patents, applying for European Framework programme money and so on. We can help these companies to grow,” says Einarsson.
· Sharing information between companies and organizations in the Oslo area
· Promoting OCC internationally – for example, through activities at BIO and other key meetings
· Working with the Norwegian Government to get tax breaks and other incentives for companies
· Building a new Science Park, with incubator capacity, near the Cancer Research Centre in the Radium Hospital.
There is no doubt that OCC is setting up in the right place and at the right time. Rikshospitalet-Radiumhospitalet HF has been designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) by international validation, putting it on a par with centres such as Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Dana-Farber, and MIT, in the USA the Curie Institute in Paris and the Ludwig Institutes for Cancer Research in Brussels and London. This was a result of having all the required elements for a CCC: a research institute, a hospital, a Phase I unit and an epidemiological network, represented by the Cancer Registry of Norway.
Strong research foundation
OCC will continue to develop strong existing areas of cancer research including immunotherapy, breast cancer genomics and proteomics, cancer stem cell biology, and photodynamic therapy. For instance, Gustav Gaudernack’s group at Rikshospitalet-Radiumhospitalet HF has been focused on immunotherapy since 1990, identifying new antigen and epitope targets and developing and validating a range of cancer vaccines. This work has already led to over 20 clinical trials of both peptide and dendritic cell vaccines in pancreatic, colorectal, prostate, lung and paediatric cancers, and in malignant melanoma
Another shining example of the strength of research is Anne-Lise Børresen-Dale who heads the Department of Genetics at the Radium Hospital’s Institute for Cancer Research where there is a major focus upon breast cancer. “We want to build the whole picture from risk, early diagnosis, development, progression and treatment of the disease by taking a systems biology approach,” she says. Already, Børresen-Dale’s team has found five different molecular sub-classes of breast cancer through examination of gene expression profiles – which are molecular ‘portraits’ of the disease predicting different survival.
Companies will benefit
DiaGenic is an example of how companies can benefit from such outstanding research. They are developing a new generation of patient-friendly diagnostic tools, based on gene expression profiling using peripheral blood as the sample material, for breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease – in the first instance. “We combine traditional blood sampling with today’s advanced technologies to bring simple, cost-effective, early diagnosis to the patient,” explains Håkon Saeterøy, Chairman. Saeterøy, who is on the OCC Board, says his own company could have saved time and money if the initiative had been in place when it started up.
Relishing the challenge
Einarsson relishes the challenge of establishing the OCC: “By 2015, we want to be the most innovative cancer cluster in Europe. Already the cluster has an impressing 63 projects in clinical stage pipelines from the Norwegian members. A managing director is soon to be appointed and plans for the science park are well-advanced. We will learn more about why cancer occurs, get earlier diagnosis, better treatment, and better prognosis for patients. A foresight study by WHO predicts the total increase in number of cancer patients in the world will be about 50% by the year 2020. OCC will work hard to face this future both within Norway and internationally.”
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