Nordic countries “brand” together
Norwegian biotech in Philly
The Norwegian American
The theme for the international Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) conference in Philadelphia, June 3-6, was “It Starts with One.” One person. One idea. One company. If a problem is to be solved, one must find others doing similar research or take the idea to market. Cancer and other diseases don’t respect national borders, so neither can their cures and treatments.
An estimated 18,000 people agreed with this concept by attending the business-oriented confab.
The Nordic countries—Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland—“branded” together to create a larger presence with their own pavilion. Eighty-three Nordic companies participated—Sweden with 34, Denmark 26, Norway and Finland 11, and one from Iceland.
Hanne Mette Kristensen is special advisor of life science/health at Invest in Norway, which is part of Innovation Norway. She assembled the Nordic consortium.
“I saw the need for branding to make our industry more visible on the international scene,” she said. “Without branding, you’re kind of on your own in this circus of big companies. By having a Nordic branding, each of the companies is seen as part of something stronger and larger. They have a base in the Nordic pavilion. They can come by and have a coffee. They can prepare presentations, talk to each other, have meetings. The Nordic people can actually talk together. Being abroad is a good venue for the Nordics to meet. Often, Nordic collaborations come out of attending these conferences. The further away from the Nordics we are, the more important.”
Philadelphia was hosting for the second time in four years and was happy to promote the greater Philadelphia area—which includes the four suburban counties, northern Delaware, and southern New Jersey—as a biotech mecca. It has become known as “Cellicon Valley,” says James C. Greenwood, president & CEO of BIO, because it “is one of the fastest-growing biotech hubs in the world … for the city’s emergence as the global epicenter of gene therapy and cell therapy research.” Among the activities were tours of the greater Philadelphia ecosystem.
According to Select Greater Philadelphia, “80 percent of American pharmaceutical and biotech companies have a presence in the tri-state area; there are more than 800 life science companies; four National Cancer Institute designated cancer treatment centers; five children’s hospitals; seven medical, three pharmacy, two dental schools, one optometry and one podiatry school; 15 major health systems with more than 100 hospitals, and the seventh largest academic research and development expenditures in the nation.”
The conference was full of workshops; fireside chats; super sessions; one-on-one partnering (to find investors or partners); business forums; academic campus; domestic, international, and patient advocacy pavilions; product focus, innovation, and BioProcess zones; startup stadium (brief pitches to a panel of investor judges); 15-minute company presentations; global innovation hubs; networking; and executive training sessions.
Jutta Heix is Head of International Affairs at the Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC), a 90+ member center of expertise. Seven OCC members attended BIO. Heix also noted the attendance of Gunnveig Grødeland, from the University of Oslo, supported by SPARK Norway, who has developed a way to “rapidly produce an influenza vaccine that can counter a pandemic of seasonal influenza deaths.”
“BIO is a relevant international meeting place to follow up with existing and make new contacts relevant for the oncology start-ups and biotechs, as well as for academic innovators in the OCC to increase its international visibility,” said Heix. “Members can meet a large number of potential global partners and investors in an efficient way; meet international colleagues to discuss common challenges, learn from each other, and grow their global network. The BIO educational sessions provide insights into recent and future trends and provide relevant cases, updates, and inspiration.
“Biopharma companies need collaboration partners to advance their innovative therapeutics, diagnostics, or digital solutions towards the global market. Drug discovery and development is a highly complex process requiring expertise from very different areas startups and biotechs cannot cover themselves. Therefore, they actively collaborate with service providers, investors, regulatory and other consultants, academic medical centers, and global pharma companies to gain access to expertise, technologies, and funding needed to finally turn their inventions and assets into innovative products for patients.”
Heix ran an International Cancer Cluster showcase, where 20 companies from nine countries made brief pitches. Two OCC members, Vaccibody and Oncoinvent, presented at the showcase. “We jointly select the most innovative and interesting oncology companies from the different regions, who present,” said Heix. “The program is complemented by presentations from our sponsors: Precision for Medicine, Boehringer Ingelheim and Takeda Oncology, as well as by a presentation from the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute.”
“The purpose of the pitch, and my attendance at BIO, was to build awareness around Oncoinvent and our lead product candidate Radspherin®, with a view to potential future financing and partnering activities,” said Jan Alfheim, CEO of Oncoinvent. “The business meetings at BIO were very useful. I made some interesting connections. As a small company, it is difficult to have sufficient resources internally to handle all aspects of the development of a pharmaceutical product. As such, collaborations are essential in order to effectively bring a new product into clinical development and ultimately to market.”
Radspherin® is a radical development in the treatment of specific cancers. “Radspherin® is designed to treat a metastatic cancer in the abdominal cavity,” explained Alfheim. “The objective is to prolong the complete response that patients have after cytoreductive surgery (one of the standard therapies that is normally used in combination with chemotherapy to treat the disease). Peritoneal carcinomatosis is a metastatic cancer that has its origins from primary cancers such as ovarian, colorectal, liver, stomach, and pancreatic. Radspherin® is in preclinical development. We plan to start two clinical trials later this year, one in patients with peritoneal cancer originating from ovarian cancer, and a second study in patients with peritoneal carcinomatosis, originating from colorectal cancer.”
Kristensen further explained: “After surgery, there is often some small remains left that can’t be seen. By flushing the operational site with Radspherin®, it removes the remaining cancer cells and gives the patients a better prognosis for survival.”
Norway has much to offer in the exchange.
“We have a very good research state,” said Kristensen. “The knowledge produced from basic research can almost be seen as a natural resource. Through establishing companies and developing this further, the results of this research actually reaches the patient with new drugs, new diagnostics. We also have a very strong scientific milieu in oncology.
“Norway has a very strong tradition in oil, underwater oil technology, and fish farming. In those areas, we have set a precedent in key technologies. When we are moving into the health industry, we are a small part of a very global industry, so that new applications and ways to navigate is completely different. It is very important to understand how this industry works.
“Our products need to be commercialized to make a difference for patients. Twenty years ago, the commercialization tradition in Norway was weaker than in the other Nordic countries. That is definitely changing. Soon, we will have a greater number of new companies coming. That has been true in oncology, but now we are also seeing it in many other areas. The ecosystem is definitely expanding in Norway.”
British journalist and public relations professional Richard Hayhurst has been following the Nordics for many years. “The Scandinavian/Nordic life science sector has grown rapidly over the last five years,” he said. “There’s a longstanding tradition of the industry in the region because of a common commitment to improving health care among academics, researchers, industry, politicians, and the general population. The participation rates in biobanks and resulting medical breakthroughs are a prime example of this.
“I see a new generation of companies in Norway wanting to accelerate the process. Whereas previously companies have been more cautious, today the mood is ‘let’s not wait,’ almost from Day One. The younger entrepreneurs have lost that traditional Nordic modesty. I think the digitalization of health care offers a great opportunity. Many of the major successes in gaming, communications, and fintech in recent years have come from the region. We could see application of this expertise to the traditional health care sector both within the Nordics and with U.S. partners.”
Michael Kleiner has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 28, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.