02:10pm Tuesday 12 December 2017

Taking cancer research from lab to patients

Cancer researchers in Bergen have helped to develop a new technology that could customise and improve the treatment of endometrial (uterine) cancer patients. Bergen Teknologioverføring (BTO), a company specialised in commercialising research results, helped the researchers to get their licensing structure in place.

“It is a good feeling to help along such important research that can benefit society,” says Berit Bjørnhaug, a legal adviser at BTO.

Mutations found

Lars A. Akselsen and Helga Salvesen, have developed a way to customise treatment to each patient. Now several pharmaceutical companies are looking to collaborate with them on new studies. Photo: Eirik Brekke/Bergens TidendeA couple of years ago Bergen-based researchers Helga B. Salvesen and Lars A. Akslen discovered that women with aggressive forms of endometrial cancer had elevated levels of a certain group of genetic mutations in their tumours. The research was a collaborative effort with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, all in the US.

BTO helped the researchers to establish cooperation with the US biotechnology firm OvaGene Oncology, which has now commercialised the research results in the form of a test.

Lars A. Akselsen and Helga Salvesen, have developed a way to customise treatment to each patient. Now several pharmaceutical companies are looking to collaborate with them on new studies. (Photo: Eirik Brekke/Bergens Tidende)

Sharing the rights

BTO negotiated a profitable licensing agreement with the Americans for commercial application, leaving the University of Bergen and Haukeland University Hospital with 50 per cent of the intellectual property rights.

In the agreement, the two heavyweights MIT and Harvard give BTO exclusive rights to commercialise the application on its own behalf.

Berit Bjørnhaug Photo: BTO“It’s very rare for elite international universities to give others such rights. We at BTO see it as recognition of our work and the expertise we have built up over time,” says Ms Bjørnhaug.

 Berit Bjørnhaug (Photo: BTO)

Safeguarding value

Licensing as a means to commercialisation is a relatively new challenge for Norway’s publicly funded research institutions.

“In Norway, publicly funded research institutions often used to transfer knowledge and rights to private companies – with no compensation other than perhaps promises of new contributions to fund further research,” explains Odd Reitevold, Programme Coordinator of the Research Council of Norway’s programme for Commercialisation of R&D Results (FORNY2020). “Today there is greater awareness of the need to protect the value created by publicly funded research. This is where TTOs enter the picture.”

Odd Reitevold“But in negotiations, Norway’s small, inexperienced technology transfer offices can be easy prey for a huge international corporation with a legal staff. To obtain a fairer share from the licensee, we need to shore up the TTOs’ competence, and when necessary bring in external assistance and expertise.”

Odd Reitevold

From Forskning magazine no. 4/11.

Written by:
Siw Ellen Jakobsen/Else Lie. Translation. Darren McKellep/Carol B. Eckmann

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