A seed to a possible collaboration: The conference “Focus on Cancer Collaboration”

A seed to a possible collaboration: The conference “Focus on Cancer Collaboration”

On the fourth of February the seventh edition of the conference “Focus on Cancer Collaboration” was held at Medicon Village in Lund. Due to the pandemic the conference was in a digital format this year with only a few speakers present at the science park. Yet with about roughly 120 participants listening and interactively participating behind their screens it was still a day where eager participation, fruitful discussions and interesting presentations prevailed.

The conference, which is a collaboration between Medicon Village, LU Innovation, Create Health and Lund University Cancer Center, has been a successful and sought-after forum and platform for promoting collaboration on cancer research.

- Medicon Village initiated these meetings with the purpose to establish a forum where people from the different worlds can meet. These meetings serve as a planted seed for a possible future collaboration, says Anette Orheim, Communications Director at Medicon Village.

To raise “worldwide awareness, improving education and catalyzing personal, collective and government action” the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), an international NGO set up in 1933 to beat cancer, created “World Cancer Day”. It is set to the fourth of February each year and this year it happened at the same day as “Focus on Cancer Collaboration”.

The conference attracted a large group of cancer experts within the field of both academia, clinicians and business.

- The purpose of our digital day was to try to bridge the gap between these three entities and increase the collaboration between them but also try to intensify the collaboration across the general cancer research field, explains Ass. Prof Chris Madsen, Research team manager at Cancer and matrix remodelling, at the Division of Translational Cancer Research, Lund University Cancer Center at Medicon Village, Lund University and participator in the project group for “Focus on Cancer Collaboration”.

It is said today that “one in three” Swedes will develop cancer in their lifetime. That number is likely to increase over the next couple of years to the amount that every other Swede will get cancer. Globally, the number of people who get, or are expected to get, cancer over the next few years is also a very severe and troubling figure. It is therefore especially important how the science world, within all the entities of the triple helix model, i.e. within the world of academia, business and clinicians/the public health sector/government, can collaborate in order to alleviate, combat and cure one of the most lethal diseases in the world.

Due to this and in the spirit of the “World Cancer Day” one of the world’s most famous and highly renowned cancer scientists was invited to give the keynote speech at the conference. Professor Douglas Hanahan, of the EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) in Switzerland, has written the famous publications on the “Hallmarks of Cancer”. His relentless work on understanding the importance of the tumor microenvironment (TME) and his reviews on the aforementioned publications, have been cited by numerous scientists in the world. Professor Hanahan’s talk was on how pharmacological agents affect signaling pathways involved in increasing cAMP and stimulating autophagy associated cell death. His more recent work is focused on co-targeting autophagy associated programmed cells dead and anti-angiogenesis in combination with reprogramming the tumor promoting inflammatory response to circumvent some of the resistance mechanisms to the individual therapies to achieve an improved clinical efficacy.

The lecture was well attended digitally and stimulated a number of questions and debate among the cancer scientists present. Prof Hanahan has been a longstanding collaborator with Lund through the L2 Bridge program, including Profs. Pietras, Borg and Borrebaeck located at Medicon Village, supported by Mats Paulsson Foundations and Cancera Foundation.

- By virtue of complementary insights, expertise, and resources, the collaboration between EPFL (Hanahan and Cathrin Brisken labs) and Lund (Pietras and Borg labs) is making exciting progress in elucidating mechanisms of human breast cancer, and other cancers, with the exciting possibility to translate this new knowledge into innovative new therapies. The broader Lund-Lausanne collaboration involving as well CHUV (Coukos lab) and Lund (Borrebaeck) is shaping the important frontier of cancer immunotherapy.

When asked about what he thinks are the central qualities to a good collaboration Prof Hanahan answered:

- Collegiality, complementarity of expertise, and a commitment to regular communications and interactions to maintain momentum and drive progress.

Aside from it being the “World Cancer Day” at the day of the conference, it was also the one-year anniversary of the Lund University Cancer Centre (LUCC). For this year’s “Focus on Cancer Collaboration” there was a new item on the conference program, “Challenges”, developed by LUCC and LU Innovation. In order to promote and to facilitate for an eventual amplified collaborative relation in cancer research between the three entitites of the triple helix – the academic world, the world of industry and the public health sector/clinicians – a workshop-like forum or interactive platform for discussing topics in cancer research was created.

These “Challenges” as they were called, served as a seed for a possible future collaboration. LUCC's different strategic networks within cancer research formed eight different paths where the discussions were carried out, and was moderated by representatives from the network.

The outcome of these Challenges was positive. Many participants said that they appreciated the forum and to be able to talk to colleagues working across the different fields. One participant expressed the following:

- I mean now I have more contacts, so if I'm in the future ever in need to discuss something for a future project with say, someone working in cancer diagnostics, I can now more easily get in contact with that person. It is only one phone call away now!

Presenting "the Challenges" was Professor Kristian Pietras, from the Department of Translational Cancer Research and Director of the LUCC, together with Cecilia Jädert, Business developer at LU Innovation. Cecilia Jädert was overall happy with the Challenges and the results of the conference. Participating in the Challenges was also Åsa Dahm, CEO of the Peritus Clinic. Commenting on the experience of this she said:
- We had discussions with urological malignancies participants that was interesting!

Since future collaboration is central to the conference, she also expressed what she think is central to a good collaboration. With the example of the Peritus Clinic, which only started in September of last year, she commented:
-It is unbelievably crucial for a researcher to be close to a clinic when conducting clinical trials; to get tissue samples, to get blood, and to be able to take part of the technical parameters from all the equipment that we can generate here, this means that you can find a huge number of collaboration areas for the different types of research.

Dr. Lao Saal, Co-Founder and CEO of SAGA Diagnostics and Associate Professor and Head, Translational Oncogenomics Unit, Division of Oncology, Lund University Cancer Center at Medicon Village was one of the presenters at the conference. He has been a participant of the conference several times.

- I think that Medicon Village does a really good job of hosting different kind of events, and “Focus on Cancer Collaboration” is one of them. If it weren’t for the pandemic there is usually a handful of networking events here every year. Some of them are very cancer-focused and others are more general life science events. But I think that part of the environment that makes Medicon Village work is that people are physically close by and there are a lot of occasions to meet and interact; such as going to the same cafeteria, the same conferences, and other events. I think part of what holds Medicon Village together are the gatherings like the conference “Focus on Cancer Collaboration”.


Written by: Felix Borrebaeck

Medicon Village Innovation AB