The Oslo Cancer Cluster, a public-private biopharmaceutical research and development initiative launched in November 2006, has been awarded Norwegian Centre of Expertise (NCE) status by the national government.

The NCE programme was launched last year with the aim of bolstering innovation and internationalisation in Norwegian research clusters, based on collaboration between industry, academic researchers and the public sector. Centred around the Radium Hospital in Oslo, already well known as a comprehensive cancer centre, the Oslo Cancer Cluster (OCC) has set itself the goal of becoming the most innovative research-based industrial centre in Europe for cancer diagnostics and treatment by 2015.

The OCC membership includes Oslo research institutes, multinational pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, AstraZeneca, MSD, GlaxoSmithKline and, most recently, Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as a growing number of internationally recognised Oslo-based companies such as Algeta, Clavis, Affitech, DiaGenic and PhotoCure. According to Ernst & Young’s Global Biotech Report 2007, Norway’s public biotech companies rank seventh in Europe by pipeline volume, with a total of 17 products in preclinical or Phase I to III development.

Moving forward

NCE status will enable the OCC to “move forward with our plans, which include building the infrastructure required to support researchers and industry by driving the establishment of dedicated investment funds and a science park,” noted Jonas Einarsson, chairman of the Cluster.

The government recognition comes with some money attached: 50 million Norwegian krone ($8.4 million) to start with, which will essentially cover administration costs. More government funding is expected in the future, while the Radium Hospital already has a substantial research budget and industry involvement will add to the pot.

Einarsson and his team were originally inspired by the success of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network in the US, which includes the Dana Farber, MD Anderson and Sloan Kettering institutes. The NCE award followed a well-received launch visit by the OCC to the US this spring.

Elements for sucess

“Oslo has all the required elements for success: research institutes, hospitals, Phase I units, an epidemiological network, represented by the Norwegian Cancer Registry, and a strong industrial base of around 25 oncology-related companies ranging from spin-outs to Big Pharma,” commented Einarsson.

“With these resources we aim to develop strong areas of cancer research including immunotherapy, breast cancer genomics and proteomics, cancer stem cell biology and photodynamic therapy, and provide the framework for their translation into new therapeutics for the benefit of cancer patients.”