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Concerted effort to develop personalised medicine

The Nordic POP project is looking to change this. “Our goal is to develop pharmaceutical products and technological solutions of the future, where personalised medical treatment is the common link,” says Professor Ingunn Tho of the Nordic POP project and the University of Oslo School of Pharmacy.

The Nordic POP (Patient Oriented Products) project was allocated NOK 42 million under NordForsk’s Nordic University Hubs call for proposals in 2017, in addition to NOK 84 million from the universities. The project involves ten Nordic university groups working with pharmaceutical research and development of medicines. Another five universities in Estonia, Poland and northern Germany are affiliated with the consortium.

“Research of this kind of requires many advanced instruments, and it is impossible for one group to carry out everything,” explains Professor Tho. “So in this collaboration, each group brings its unique expertise and infrastructure to the project to maximise the benefit. Even though the Nordic region comprises several countries, it is a relatively small geographic area with short distances between our universities. With support from NordForsk we researchers can easily and cheaply travel to a partner to learn or conduct certain parts of the research activity there.”

Pharmaceutical science is a broad field and the Nordic POP project applies an interdisciplinary approach combining biology, medicine, chemistry, physics and technology in order to develop new knowledge and new products.

“We have structured the research into six thematic work packages,” she adds (products, technology, barriers, analysis, high-resolution analysis/synchrotron and modelling), “but there are definite interactions between the work packages and many of the researchers and research projects work across multiple areas.”

Professor Tho believes a key argument for a Nordic focus on precisely this field is that there are already strong research groups with wide-ranging expertise in several Nordic countries. The Nordic POP project seeks to build on this platform and has high ambitions for promoting the Nordic region as a competency centre for patient-oriented products in the near future.

“We have ambitious goals in many areas – in terms of acquiring new knowledge and publishing in highly ranked scientific journals, developing innovative products and technologies that can foster entrepreneurship, and not least training young researchers by giving them the chance to learn from the best as well as developing talented researchers who can succeed in the context of the ERC (European Research Council).”

Professor Tho points out that the Nordic POP project offers significant Nordic added value by bringing together a unique combination of cross-disciplinary competence and infrastructure, and that the distribution of tasks across national borders will greatly benefit the Nordic research community.

“The Nordic pharmaceuticals industry will also benefit from a large-scale exchange of skilled candidates for positions between the countries, and another of our goals is to encourage the academic environments to interact more with the Nordic pharmaceuticals industry. In addition, the groups become better known, and we are looking to increase the mobility of researchers who leave academia after completing their Ph.D. degrees.”

The core Nordic POP members knew each other before the project and there have been a number of collaborative efforts across the Nordic countries, but Professor Tho says these were mostly based on individuals. The funding from NordForsk has opened up new opportunities.

“Without question, the support from NordForsk puts us in a position to think within a larger framework and realise new ideas. It gives young researchers a completely unique opportunity to learn from many experienced researchers and to build a network that reaches far beyond the individual institution. Without the NordForsk support, we would not be able to offer so many exciting workshops and seminars or support researcher mobility in nearly the same way,” Professor Tho says enthusiastically. “The NordForsk funding gives us a real boost and we aim to take full advantage of the opportunities it affords.”


Maria Nilsson

Maria Nilsson

Special Adviser