Building bridges: A good marriage between the industry and academia

There is no deny there is a gap between the industry and academia in all fields and disciplines. This can be reasoned by most industries being more resource efficient, and heavily reliant on strong, collaborative teamwork in comparison to academia-the kind of quickly changing, tense atmosphere that is very difficult to synthesise in academic environments.

Photo: Pixabay

This does not necessarily take away from the value of academic education where cumulative knowledge is religiously sought. Instead, it speaks of the value of both the industry and academia, the dire need to build bridges between the two.

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My postdoctoral research visit – super happy I did it!

At the Solna campus and Gården Stenbrottet, behind me is Aula Medica.

On my postdoctoral visit I spent a total of six months in the research group of Docent Carsten Daub in Karolinska Institutet. The visit was divided into two periods: spring and autumn. This way I could spend the most active time of the year in the group. Why six months? Mainly for strategic reasons. It was enough to learn new skills and properly incorporate myself into the group, and at the same time it was short enough for my family to remain at home. And why Sweden? Karolinska Institutet is a highly ranked university, but at the same time it’s close by, so I could visit my family regularly.

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Gut feeling, Part 2: Butterflies in the stomach or something serious?

Picture: Pixabay

Today, more than 56 000 patients in Finland (with 2500 new cases per year) are diagnosed with the chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. The IBD patient numbers in Europe and North America are reaching 4 million. These cases are now rising at a worrying speed here at home especially in youth, and overall in the developing countries. 

How do we as individuals and the clinicians then know if something serious is going on in the gut, or, if we are in an unusually stressful or exciting period with “butterflies in the stomach”?  Nevertheless, the increasing prevalence of various gut disorders requires a major attention from both the healthcare and research communities.

To differentiate between the many gut ailments, robust, specific, easy to perform and preferably inexpensive and non-invasive biomarkers are needed. Disease modeling and defining the cellular and molecular biology behind the diseases, are necessary to understand disease development and to identify better biomarkers.

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Gut Feeling, Part 1: The complex gut and its superheroes

Picture by Public Domain

Inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, microscopic colitis, lymphocytic colitis, collagenous colitis, leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease  – a long list of some of the different ailments and diseases that can occur in the intestine. Complications in diagnosing and treating these conditions, that often have a chronic inflammatory component, is due to that:

a) the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms are poorly known,
b) several unknown sub-diseases or disease variants likely exist,
c) the causes can be multifactorial, and,
d) the diagnostic methods are often invasive and not always diseases-specific.

So, there is a lot for us scientists to do, even if we know that the old saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” holds a lot of truth.

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Remembering the meaning of human interactions

When I was asked to write a blog with the general concept of “networking”, the first thought was excitement. After all, this year’s Summer was chock-full of InFLAMES events and networking opportunities. Which were met with great success as well I dare say! Before holidays InFLAMES summer get-together in Örö was blessed with great weather and great many wonderful participants, the InFLAMES Doctoral Module came together for the first time ever in August, and the BioCity Symposium had an all-time record of registrations.

Quite soon the original eagerness was replaced with a looming sense of dread. Sure, it’s wonderful that opportunities for people to meet each other in person are coming back after a two-year long grey lull caused by Corona, a name many were much happier associating to beer. However, how can I transform this positive progress into an interesting blog text? What exactly should I focus on?

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Do you think scientists are better than most people at critical thinking? Think again

Reijo Salonen and I had an enjoyable and lively session during our talks couple of weeks ago in Turku. His topic, “How to Successfully Fail in Drug Development” sparked a lot of interest!

Drug development is very challenging, and it starts from the beginning of the process. The striking finding is that more than 80% of results for target identification in academic laboratories are not replicated in an industry setting. Once a molecule is ready to go into man, 50% of drug candidates fail in Phase 3 clinical studies. Also, the external environment changes along the way, with competitors appearing, regulations changing, and key advocates leaving the company. 

What can be done about it? Reijo discussed several options to improve the chances including using human in vitro data as much as possible, using adaptive clinical trial designs, getting an outside review of your projects and communicating with stakeholders every step of the way. 

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Life through a mathematicians’ eye

Computational biology is an emerging approach to modelling biological systems, from molecules to cells to tissues. Not to be confused with bioinformatics, computational biology uses fundamental knowledge from mathematics, and physics to simulate and manipulate complex processes within biology.

The approach relies initially on experimental data but rapidly expands beyond exploratory research at all length scales. The major benefit is that thousands of simulations may be run to guide experimental design; consequently, reducing research costs and the unnecessary use of animal models.

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The road leading up to a world without cancer

I grew up in a scientific medical environment inspired by my father. As a Medical Advisor in Cardiology, Dermatology, and Oncology, my dad often taught me about the wonderful universe of medical and pharmaceutical sciences when I was only a five-year-old boy. This special father-son relationship tailored my intrinsic passion for science and fostered my character, amazed at the transcending works of the Creator.

In my mid-20s, I graduated in Biological Sciences and five years later, I obtained my Ph.D. in Immunology working on experimental oncology. I was supervised by Prof Luis R. Travassos, a distinguished Brazilian immunologist and mycologist that was previously trained by his good friend Prof Lloyd J. Old, at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Prof Old was mentored by the Nobel prize winner, Prof Baruj Benacerraf, and is considered today the father of modern tumor immunology.

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A Year Aboard the InFLAMES Flagship

The Academy of Finland Research Flagships each sail at the seas of their own area of expertise. Each one tries to steer clear of destructive reefs but is still sure to face calm, strong winds and even storms on their voyage. InFLAMES Flagship has now sailed the seas of immunology, immunology-based drug development and/or diagnostics for almost a year, recruiting 42 new crew members along the way. That alone is proof enough that as soon as the ropes were released from the pier, the search for stronger winds and ever faster movement towards the goal began. The end goal, developing new treatments alongside more accurate and earlier stage diagnosis methods, is what we hope to reach together with our Flagship and accompanying fleet. I believe the journey is going to be an unforgettable one.

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Of scales and trends

I’m a fan of macro figures, so the ignorance of others about the right scale of things is sometimes frustrating. For example, for some it is difficult to separate one million from one billion. On the other hand, the Americans do not make life easy by using the term billion for our milliard, and trillion for our billion. However, focusing on the linguistic nuances of numbers is not the real point here; my interest in macro figures is.

Which is why the 98-page The Pharma 1000 – Top Global Pharmaceutical Company Report by Torreya Partners, published in November 2021, was interesting to read. Torreya Partners is a global investment bank focused on the pharmaceutical industry. I still receive their reports, thanks to our previous collaborations. Nice – our collaboration, as fruitful as it was, was far from being just some cheap fun.

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