EU grant promises to get triple helix PhD programme off the ground

EU grant promises to get triple helix PhD programme off the ground

A 15 million crowns contract was signed mid-April. The contract covers an EU grant to a PhD programme headed up by Lund University cancer researcher Sara Ek, seated at Medicon Village, and promises international PhD students cross pollination between the academic, clinical and industrial setting. This will bring research findings faster to market.

16 PhD students will gain an understanding of unmet needs in the clinic and learn the mindset of entrepreneurs in an upcoming PhD programme within cancer.

- The programme is unique in many ways. We will make one common call for all 16 PhD positions, and they will start their education within the programme, in essence, at the same time. These PhD students will be part of a team, solving a common research problem, finding new cancer diagnosis and treatments, explains Sara Ek, programme director of the newly established PhD programme, CanFaster, and professor in immunotechnology at the Lund University faculty of engineering.

The programme is part of CREATE Health – a translational cancer centre at Lund University, seated at Medicon Village and offers the PhD students ample opportunities to share experiences from their respective project. And this experience will be broad.

- The programme is also unique in that it is a collaboration between academia, health care and the industry, explains Sara Ek.

The idea is that the PhD students early on in their postgraduate education will get training within innovation and entrepreneurship, along with being active in the clinic or a company.

Four topics are in the programme´s limelight – genetic profiling, biomarkers, immuno-oncology* and, the tumour microenvironment. In addition, LU innovation, a hub for innovation and commercialization of research findings, is tailoring a series of entrepreneurial training.

The PhD students will start in the beginning of next year. With the recently signed contract the formalities are now in place, and Sara Ek can focus on the recruitment process and the programme´s activities.

- It will be a creative time ahead, when we discuss exactly which 16 projects will be included and also how we will handle the courses that will be offered to the students, says Sara Ek.

Hands on experience yields cross pollinating windfall

Sara Ek sees parallels between the EU programme´s aim and the mission of Medicon Village´s innovative ecosystem.

- The basic thought, in particular the triple helix mindset, is vital – to early gain an understanding of the limitations and possibilities to implement new scientific findings in the clinic. And that this demands an understanding of the exact clinical need along with the route through the industry to produce the type of products needed, Sara Ek explains.

- This type of insight is really important – that you do the right research from the start which has the chance to be scaled and de facto used, says Sara Ek.

The cross pollination between academia, the clinic and the industry will vary between the PhD projects. Collaborations with other academic labs in Sweden and internationally, along with clinics and life science companies, offers the PhD students a spot either in the clinic or at a company. A few students may even have parts of their preclinical research project in both settings, giving them an opportunity to shadow health care professionals and have an internship at a company.

- For the individual, this is about getting a very attractive postgraduate education with a wide competence. For Medicon Village and for those companies we collaborate with, this is about, in part, attracting PhD students, who can strengthen the research and bring new experiences, but also that we foster future collaborating partners, who are trained in those techniques and scientific questions that are so important for us here, Sara Ek points out.

Sara Ek is looking forward to what the programme is bringing.

- It will be exciting to not only follow the success in these 16 projects, but also follow what happens in this student group – as a whole as well as the exchange between the students. My hopes are that the programme enables recruitment of 16 highly skilled individuals from start, and also that they will get an opportunity to interact with each other and between departments and faculties in a way that might happen occasionally, but not with 16 PhD students at the same time. Perhaps this leads to new collaborations.

* Immuno-oncology focuses on therapies that improve the body's immune system, making it able to recognize and destroy cancer cells.

Who to contact

Companies interested in collaborating with a PhD student from the CanFaster programme can reach out to:

  • Sara Ek, programme director, sara [dot] ek [at] immun [dot] lth [dot] se
  • Maria Klement, research coordinator and responsible administrator, maria [dot] klement [at] immun [dot] lth [dot] se

By: Tanja Jensen, science writer, tanja [dot] jensen [at] mediconvillage [dot] se