InFLAMES Corporate Corner delves into immunological drug development in collaboration with companies

Immunological drug development and immunoprofiling are in the spotlight in the 2023 first InFLAMES Flagship Corporate Corner. More than 100 registered participants are expected to attend the seminar taking place on 26 January from 12 to 16 pm in Turku at Visitor and Innovation Centre Joki.

The seminar will be chaired by Professor Riitta Lahesmaa, Director of the Turku Centre for Life Sciences. She says that the core idea of the Corporate Corner concept, promoting dialogue and co-operation between academia and industry, is a perfect fit for InFLAMES. The flagship aims to identify new drug development targets and to develop drugs in partnership with biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Representatives of these companies will now also have a voice in several Corporate Corner presentations.

Immunological medicines have been becoming more and more common in areas such as cancer treatment, where they activate the natural human immune system to fight the cancer directly. Autoimmune diseases at the other end of the spectrum, such as rheumatism, cause the immune system to become overactive, with the reactive immunotherapy aiming to control this boosted activity.

– The basic principles of the immunological medicine development are very similar to those for any medicine. However, the immune system is so central to our health that we need to ensure the new medicine does not cause adverse effects. While suppressing one part of the immune system, we may introduce a susceptibility to infections elsewhere,” Lahesmaa explains.

In addition to the challenges of drug development, InFLAMES Corporate Corner offers a view of the latest developments in immunoprofiling. Immunoprofiling refers to methods used to determine the state of the human defence system, which is in a state of flux during times of both health and sickness. For example, knowing the types of immunological cells present in cancer tissue at a given time can help in effecting the appropriate targets more precisely.

– The techniques for immunoprofiling have evolved enormously, with ever smaller samples providing more and more information. As a result, the deciding factor then becomes processing the available data and combining it with the patient profile” says Lahesmaa.

Benefits for both sides

Riitta Lahesmaa hopes that the Corporate Corner will generate networks and fresh ideas for cooperation, bringin both academia and industry genuine benefits. She mentions the new talent trained by InFLAMES research groups as one of the benefits brought to companies by academia. Top researchers leaving the campus for the business world are a key group,  for whom collaboration with the university is often a realistic option.

One such example is Reetta Virtakoivu, who works as a researcher at Orion. She has strong background in, among others, many top cancer research groups under InFLAMES. Virtakoivu will be present at the Corporate Corner to talk about the building process of Orion’s immuno-oncology drug development platform.

– I am definitely in favour of collaborations bringing university research closer to us,” says Virtakoivu.

She has enjoyed her time as researcher in a pharmaceutical company.

– I can recommend this option to others as well, although a lot depends naturally on the person themselves. If one strongly values their own research and specifically the freedom to do it as they want, it’s important to realise that working in a company necessitates a degree of compromising regarding that freedom,” says Virtakoivu.

Academic entrepreneurship is an opportunity

Manu Tamminen, Research Director and the founder of Genomill, says he and his dual role are still a relatively rare occurrence in the Turku region. Tamminen is not only an entrepreneur, but also Academy Research Fellow at the Department of Biology in University of Turku.

In Corporate Corner, he will talk about Genomill’s research and development activities, which focus on precision diagnostics of cancer. The aim of the company is to develop methods to identify DNA signals characteristic to various cancers from blood samples. This would allow unprecedented precision in monitoring the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of treatments. Very early detection and screening of cancer could also become a possibility in the future.

– It suits me well to work in both academia and the corporate world simultaneously. After my PhD I worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, where academic entrepreneurship is commonplace. I feel that there is a synergy between my work in academia and business, and I don’t mind having little free time due to these two roles.

Tamminen expects the Corporate Corner to be a great networking opportunity. He believes that joint discussions can bring out novel perspectives and ideas benefitting everyone.

In addition to researchers from Orion, Genomill and InFLAMES, the Corporate Corner will feature presentations from Auria Services, Aurlide, Misvik Biology, FICAN West, Valo Therapeutics and the Finnish Research Impact Foundation. The event culminates in a panel discussion on how to improve collaboration between university and the business world. The discussion will be led by InFLAMES Professor of Practice Timo Veromaa.