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SEK 40 million for an innovation environment for customised stem cell treatments

Anna Falk. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman.
Anna Falk. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman.

In healthcare, treatments developed for broad patient groups are often used. This is not always an effective approach. Sweden’s innovation agency Vinnova has therefore distributed research grants to eleven Swedish innovation environments whose research aims to develop more individually adapted healthcare for patients. The stem cell researchers at the IndiCell innovation environment have been awarded a major grant for their efforts to increase the accuracy of stem cell treatments.

Congratulations, Anna Falk, coordinator of the Indicell collaborative project at Lund University! You’ve just been granted SEK 40 million, spread out over five years, for “the implementation of clinical workflows for individualised stem cell therapy”. How does it feel?

– It feels great that Vinnova wants to invest in this, and really exciting to get IndiCell up and running with our fantastic team.” Why do you think you were awarded the grant? “IndiCell is a timely project; an initiative in the field of stem cell treatments is needed in Sweden. We’ve put together a really great team, in which all sectors (academia, industry, healthcare) play important roles and all parties are essential to the implementation of the project. We worked incredibly hard on our application, and I think another important aspect is that we managed to communicate and concretise this advanced and complex area in a way that could understood, such as explaining needs and solutions for getting stem cell treatments to patients.

What does the grant mean for your research?

– It means a lot! Now the IndiCell team and I have the opportunity to get stem cell therapies to patients and to drive and develop this field both in Sweden and globally. It also means that we can recruit researchers and doctoral students for the work with stem cell therapies. Lund University is the coordinator for the innovation environment, which also includes Skåne University Hospital, SUS.

Can you describe your collaborative efforts to develop new treatments?

– We’ve established a close collaboration with SUS, which is also a partner in IndiCell and will run one of the work packages. We’re also working to strengthen the collaboration between LU and SUS in a broader perspective, too – one that not only includes stem cell treatments but also other advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs), such as gene therapy and biomaterials with cells.

What’s the first thing you’re tackling now?

– Kicking off the project, recruiting staff and growing cells!

Anna Falk and her team’s specific section of the IndiCell innovation environment focusses on reprogramming skin cells into so-called “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPS cells), i.e., cells from human tissue that are reprogrammed into stem cells and that can be used to develop various stem cell therapies. The cells can also be used to study the underlying causes of neural developmental diseases or neuropsychiatric syndromes.

– IndiCell has three main goals: to develop iPS cell therapies for Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration, to create a development pipeline for iPS cell therapies where knowledge, processes, methods, quality controls and more will be accessible in the form of documents, routines, staff and infrastructures and can then be applied to develop stem cell therapies for other diseases such as diabetes, cancer and osteoarthritis. We’re also striving to make IndiCell and Sweden an important global player in stem cell therapies. For patients, the results may mean new treatments for diseases for which treatments are rarely available today, or whose treatments aim to alleviate symptoms.

Is it possible to predict when this will happen?

– The honest answer is that we don’t know, we hope the funding for IndiCell will accelerate the process.

Stefan Jorvinge

Stefan Jovinge, Professor of Cardiology with a focus on regenerative cardiovascular medicine at Lund University and Director of Research at Skåne University Hospital comments:

“The academic centres that deliver care are now facing a paradigm shift in the field. Do they build structures for new, advanced therapies and personalised medicine or deliver traditional healthcare? Here in Sweden, it is a national question whether we can deliver the new, advanced care within the country, and if so, where it should be delivered. It will probably only be possible to provide the full extent of this care at perhaps a couple of centres in Sweden.

“At SUS in Lund, there is a long tradition of advanced cell therapy, not least in view of the trials that have previously been conducted here with treatments for Parkinson’s disease. It is therefore not surprising that Lund University and Skåne University Hospital have decided to make a joint investment in an ATMP in Lund. The region has previously committed to a multi-million kronor investment, and the work to complete the ATMP unit is in full swing. Professor Anna Falk’s and her colleagues’ work within StemTherapy is a critically crucial investment in realising this effort.

“Together with Region Skåne’s investment, the Vinnova investment has advanced Lund’s positions considerably, and we expect to be up and running in just over a year. For that reason, we have now clearly declared that one of Sweden’s ATMP centres will be located at Skåne University Hospital and Lund University.”

Facts about IndiCell

IndiCell is a collaborative project designed to enable academia, healthcare and industry actors to generate a workflow from academic stem cell research to the clinic. The project has a strong focus on individualised stem cell therapy, which is employed, e.g., in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration.

IndiCell is coordinated by Anna Falk of Lund University (LU) with co-coordinators Malin Parmar (also of LU) and Fredrik Lanner of Karolinska Institutet (KI). The project also includes other partners from LU, KI, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Skåne University Hospital, Karolinska Hospital and Biolamina, Acousort AB and MAGic BioProcessing.

Innovation Environments in Precision Health 2021

Through the “Innovation Environments in Precision Health 2021” call for proposals, Vinnova has chosen to invest in eleven innovation environments in precision health that will pave the way for more preventive, accurate and equal healthcare and help to strengthen Sweden as a life science nation. The investment from Vinnova totals SEK 323 million. The innovation environments receive grants of up to SEK 8 million per year for either two and a half or five years. Within the innovation environments, companies, care providers, universities, civil society and patients will work together to find more accurate solutions within the entire healthcare field, both in preventive care and in diagnostics and treatment.

Read more on Vinnova’s website