Each year the Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine are selected by the prestigious Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. But can they pick a winner for drug development in bio-pharmaceutical projects?
“We see a lot of diverse projects within drug discovery, diagnostics, medtech and digital health coming out of a world-leading medical university that is closely linked with a university hospital,” said Lilian Wikstrom, the CEO at KI Innovations AB.
A new project emerges each week from the Karolinska ecosystem, she said, and KI Innovations has reviewed more than 1,400 academic innovations, created 40 startups and signed 35 license agreements since its start in 1996. Karolinska Institutet accounts for over 40 per cent of the medical academic research conducted in Sweden.
“In 2014 the projects we worked with attracted USD 11.7 million in external investment, and while we don’t expect we beat that with results from 2015, the pace of innovation continues strongly,” said Dr. Wikstrom.
In the last 12 months the novel science churning out of the Karolinska complex attracted a new level of interest, this time coming from a major pharmaceutical company seeking a global arrangement, rather than reviewing single projects.
In 2015 the Karolinska innovation system entered into an agreement with Johnson & Johnson Innovation to bring scientists from the company into close collaboration at the earliest stages with Karolinska researchers.
The collaboration with Johnson & Johnson Innovation is a bold convergence of shared interests that aims to take collaborative innovation to a new level with a focus on effectively forming a Nordic life science hub.
It is a non-exclusive platform deal, experimental to an extent for both parties, where Johnson & Johnson Innovation keeps an office at the KI Science Park and has a dedicated liaison located on the KI campus. Working within the KI innovation system, Johnson & Johnson Innovation progressively is building close relationships with researchers, project leaders and startups.
A couple months after the agreement was signed, KI Innovations brought in Mark Farmery to manage the alliance and serve as point person within the KI ecosystem for this collaboration.
“We are currently in quite a deep process of going through the entire portfolio, looking at projects that are emerging from research labs, evaluating specific asset-related opportunities,” he said.
His role also extends to building a close relationship with the liaisons that KI Innovations has embedded within specific research areas for oncology, neurosciences and diabetes, all of which he says are strategically interesting areas for Johnson & Johnson Innovation.
An active participant in the KI Innovations space, Johnson & Johnson Innovation is also engaged with the ecosystem through their presences, participating in conversations and attending seminars.
At BIO-Europe Spring® in Stockholm, CEO Wikstrom said KI Innovations will be meeting with interested partners with whom the Institute has already established a dialogue and that the conference creates an opportunity to renew contacts and meet face-to-face with these potential partners.
Farmery said he will be there representing up to 50 opportunities in various stages of maturity from a commercial development perspective to discuss collaboration, spin outs, or research.
“I have been on the other side of the table and know that one of the most overwhelming experiences is to have an entire opportunity portfolio presented in 30 minutes,” he observed, adding that skimming through folders to find the right projects is not the most productive way of doing business.
“I have prepared for these meetings, spoken to partners ahead of time, and handpicked projects, and will be going into discussions with a very specific agenda,” he said.