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12 Dec 2017

Lithuanian scientists aim to be at the forefront of the new breakthrough in medicine

Lithuania has more than enough potential to become one of the leaders in the biotechnology field. This is the conviction of Agnė Vaitkevičienė, the head and the co-founder of the first and so far the only producer of individualised advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) in the Baltic countries. According to her, medicines developed according to the needs of each patient are the future of medicine, to which Lithuania also contributes.

Lithuania is becoming a leader in Eastern Europe

The head of Froceth says that the treatment of diseases that have, for a very long time, been considered fatal has progressed considerably in the last decade. One such disease is cancer. The breakthrough in the fight against it begins with the so-called immunotherapy, which is increasingly being applied in additional to proven methods, such as chemotherapy.

Medicines developed according to the needs of each patient are the future of medicine, to which Lithuania also contributes.

“Discussions about the treatment emerged in the 1980s but a more broad application of this approach began only in the last decade. Professionals from all over the world agree unanimously that combining immunotherapy with traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy can achieve significantly better results,” says Ms Vaitkevičienė.

Lithuanian scientists contribute to this important medical evolution. In its labs, Froceth has developed a method for modifying blood cells obtained from the patient’s body to prepare a dendritic cell preparation. It is saturated with cancer antigens and matured properly. Upon re-entering the patient’s body, the cells activate the lymphocytes that are necessary to fight against cancer. In natural conditions, dendritic cells do all of this by themselves but in the event of illness, they are prevented from doing so by the disease.

In its labs, Froceth has developed a method for modifying blood cells obtained from the patient’s body to prepare a dendritic cell preparation

“All healthy people have cells that, due to a wide range of environmental and genetic factors, can be upset and begin to act strangely. If the immune system is able to curb them, the disease does not spread. However, if the body is in a damaged or weakened state, the complications may even involve cancer. Immunotherapy helps to strengthen the human immune system, return it to its normal state, re-educate it to eradicate the cancer cells,” explains the head of Froceth.

Despite that, immunotherapy is not magical or even a suitable form of treatment for everyone. Dendritic cell therapy only cures “hard” tumour cancers. Blood cancer treatment requires other personalised tools, such as genetic engineering.

According to Jan Aleksander Krasko, the production manager of UAB Froceth, in cases where active immunotherapy, i.e. dendritic cell treatment is not enough for the patient, the situation is salvaged by another modern cancer treatment method: CIK cells (cytokine-induced killer cells). During the procedure, the lymphocytes found in the donor’s body, one of the most abundant immune cells, are isolated and separated from the remaining blood components and transformed into CIK cells. Upon entering the patient’s body, CIKs immediately travel to the tumour site and begin killing cancer cells.

“The best results are achieved by combining both therapies. It allows to take advantage of both the speed of passive therapy and the long-term effectiveness of active therapy. CIK and dendritic cells operate on very different principles but at the same time, they create a broad and complex response to cancer,” says J. A. Krasko.

Although only dendritic cell therapy is currently used in the Baltic countries, laboratories work intensively with CIKs too. Froceth scientists are hoping that Lithuanians will very soon be treated by using two different cell products. Lithuania would thus become the undisputed leader in the field of immunotherapy in the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe, and an equivalent partner to the Western medicine.

Most patients from abroad

Froceth has also opened an unrivalled adipose tissue bank in Lithuania, which operates in premises built in accordance with the requirements of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). It has been built for the treatment, storage and distribution of adipose tissue-derived stromal vascular fractional cells. Cells stored at the bank are able to restore damaged tissue functions and can be used up to 20 years after their preparation.  

Patients from other European Union and Asian countries come to Lithuania for treatment.

Ms Vaitkevičienė has no doubt that the future of medicine belongs to individualised treatment. Its most important feature is that it concentrates on specific people rather than on statistical units.

“Individualised treatment means that the cells or tissues taken are of a particular person and the lab preparations are based on his or her diagnosis. This is not chemical drugs, this is a completely new way of treatment,” says the head of Froceth.

Individualised medicine is by far the most attractive to foreign citizens. Patients from other European Union and Asian countries come to Lithuania for treatment. However, Ms Vaitkevičienė claims that Froceth does not focus exclusively on foreigners. On the contrary, Lithuania already has the conditions in place that allow to obtain such treatment services by way of exception.

“If a doctor finds a disease and believes that immunotherapy is the way to go, the exception approved by the Ministry of Health allows to start treating the patients. So far, not all Lithuanian doctors appreciate such exception. Some of them avoid offering their patients innovative methods until they are registered. Nevertheless, we are seeing gradual changes,” she says.

Traditional treatments will change

At the moment, advanced immunotherapy measures are applied at the same time as the traditional ones but Ms Vaitkevičienė believes that the development of the biotechnology sector will reveal new treatments that will be even more effective in treating diseases, such as cancer.

In order to develop the field of individualised therapy in Lithuania, Froceth constantly invest in research, participate in scientific projects, cooperate with Lithuanian and foreign biotechnology companies, educational institutions and other tissue banks.

“The discussions on genetic engineering are becoming increasingly more active and will fundamentally change our understanding of human health in the future. By modifying the genes, it will be possible to change the human immune system itself and prevent many diseases,” she predicts.

Froceth does not shy away from its ambitious plans to actively contribute to the transformation of these ideas into reality. However, the most important thing today is to ensure smooth cooperation of scientists both amongst themselves and with businesses.

“Nobody achieves anything alone in the biotechnology sector. Lithuania, even considering its small size, has a high enough human potential. Our scientists are spreading our name all over the world. The only thing we do need is more synergy,” believes Ms Vaitkevičienė.

Invests both in research and in the young generation of scientists

Today, one of Froceth’s main partners is the National Cancer Institute (NCI). It is with the researchers of the NCI that a project is being carried out aimed at further improving the efficiency of immunotherapy by saturating dendritic cells with the most targeted cancer antigens possible.

Froceth works together with Lithuanian educational and research institutions, university hospitals, foreign researchers from Sweden, Austria, the Czech Republic and other EU countries.

“In order to develop the field of individualised therapy in Lithuania, we constantly invest in research, participate in scientific projects, cooperate with Lithuanian and foreign biotechnology companies, educational institutions and other tissue banks. We are also very serious about the education of cell therapy specialists, their training, internships,” says Ms Vaitkevičienė.

10 Nov 2017

Why Lithuania becomes a meeting place for science, business, education and research

Established in 2008, Santara Valley is now a rapidly expanding area of business intelligence, medical and research institutions where highly qualified employees and scientists create knowledge and products of the highest quality and are able to offer them to their partners all over the world.

Annual growth of Lithuania’s life sciences industry reached 25 percent

Lithuania’s life sciences industry is now regarded as one of the most advanced in Central and Eastern Europe. It has been skyrocketing over the last two decades demonstrating 25 % annual growth within the biotechnology, pharmaceutical research and production sector. Around 90 % of the production has been exported to more than 100 countries and the most important of them are Germany, Japan and United Kingdom, United States, Israel.

Export of pharmaceuticals and medical production was growing by 34.8 % during the 2010-2016 period. Lithuania has a lot of highly qualified life sciences experts: there are 900 experts of the field per one million of local residents. This gives excellent results: annually, nine new pharmaceutical products are created and produced per one million residents.

Investments in Santara Valley for the period of 2012-2016 have generated more than 2,000 highly qualified jobs.

In order to maintain such a level, there is a search for new ways to create the best possible conditions for researchers to work, also the best ways how to apply their scientific achievements in practice.

Santara Valley brings together business and science potential

In order to bring together the potential of research and educational institutions operating in Vilnius and innovative business, the Association Santara Valley was established.

“Santara Valley now is one of the leading life sciences locations in Lithuania. It’s a technology cluster of business, research and educational institutions, a cooperation platform for entrepreneurs and researchers in the areas of biotechnology, molecular medicine and biopharmaceuticals, innovative medicine technologies, ecosystems and sustainable development, IT and clean-tech,” said Kristina Mateikienė, Managing Director of Santara Valley. “The mission of Santara Valley is to develop sustainable cooperation between business and research, allowing the implementation of joint B&R projects and commercialization of the results.”

Santara Valley is one of the most modern and effective valleys in Lithuania. Private business investment in Santara Valley for the period of 2012-2016 exceeded 100 million euros (excluding the European Union support). These investments have generated more than 2,000 highly qualified jobs.

Located in the northern part of Vilnius, Santara Valley is a home for R&D facilities of four major research institutes, medical centres and hospitals, business incubators, a number of pharmaceutical producers and private technology development centres.

Members of Santara Valley are major hospitals and successful companies

Members of Santara Valley include: VU Hospital Santaros Klinikos; Joint Innovative Medicine Centre; Joint Nature Centre; Biotechnology business incubators; Stem Cells Research Center; BIOTECHPHARMA private R&D center; MOOG Medical Devices development center and others, 35 organizations in total.

The biggest advantage of Santara Valley is that it has become a meeting place for science, business, education and research. One of the areas for successful cooperation between research and business is Centre for Innovative Medicine.

Centre for Innovative Medicine is a state funded research institution where important long-term visions of therapeutic and diagnostic strategies are being implemented and translated from fundamental science into clinically relevant knowledge and expertise. There are both an institute and an open access centre.

The institute has focused on four research topics: regeneration medicine, immunodiagnostics and immunotherapy, biopharmaceuticals and innovative healthcare services development. 15 million EUR capital investments were assigned to create modern research infrastructure. It will enable new fields of cooperation with industry: stem cells research, immunotechnology and biomarker research, biopharmaceutical research and drug development, biomedical information systems development, biomodels development and preclinical research, digital and molecular pathology.

Members of Santara Valley include 35 organizations in total.

Private companies are also successfully operating in Santara Valley. One of them is Stem Cell Research Centre (SRCR). It is a Lithuanian capital company concentrating its business to applied stem cell research, stem cell banking and regenerative medicine. Stem cell bank facility is using modern Swiss-made stem cell isolation equipment. The new and modern SCRC infrastructure has united stem cell researchers and physicians and is accelerating the development of innovative stem cell-based treatment methods and advanced therapy medicinal products. Stem Cell Research Centre is also a coordinator of stem cell and regenerative medicine cluster. This cluster brings together 11 enterprises specializing in clinical research and patient data management, bioengineering, cGMP production and stem cell research activities.

In Santara Valley, you can meet big and very well known companies too. One of them is Biotechpharma. It offers fully integrated services, starting from cell line construction and process development up to cGMP production of biopharmaceutical products. The company moved to Santara Valley in 2011 and invested 20 million euro to build a global biopharmaceutical services centre.

“One of the greatest successes of Santara Valley lies in the fact that it combines science, business and studies. This common space enables business and academic people to cooperate and find the best solutions. There are open access centres, business incubators,” said Kristina Mateikienė on the benefits of Santara Valley.

Most of the science and business representatives from Santara Valley will participate in Life Sciences Baltic 2018 forum next year. Save the date – September 26-27, 2018!

08 Nov 2017

Bridging the gap of the life sciences in the Baltics and Northern Europe

Enterprise Lithuania has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ScanBalt, leading accelerator for regional cooperation in health and bioeconomy in the Baltic Sea region, to strengthen the cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic countries. The focus of the partnership is the information exchange about life sciences sector in the region as well as the promotion of Life Sciences Baltics, the largest event dedicated to the life sciences in the Baltic region.

“An important priority for both organizations is to strengthen the cooperation, connect business and scientific competencies and enhance the potential of the region. Therefore, it is very fitting that ScanBalt Forum 2018 will take place during the Life Sciences Baltics forum in Vilnius,” – said Ms Daina Kleponė, General Manager of Enterprise Lithuania, a non-profit governmental agency which aims to drive and foster entrepreneurship and Lithuanian producers’ export and is the main organizer of Life Sciences Baltics.

Therefore, it is very fitting that ScanBalt Forum 2018 will take place during the Life Sciences Baltics forum in Vilnius

According to Ms Kleponė, the influence of ScanBalt in Lithuania has been increasing over the years with numerous projects and fostered collaborations. Northern Europe is a leading example of how promoting cooperation between business and science can catalyse numerous success stories about basic life sciences research transformed into commercial projects.

“We are proud to be a partner of Life Sciences Baltics which has grown into one of the most important events in our region. The organisation of ScanBalt Forum 2018 together with Life Sciences Baltics is a great opportunity for our members, clients and projects,” – said Mr Jaanus Pikani, Chairman of ScanBalt.

Baltic countries are an emerging hub of life sciences in the region. With 22 % annual sector growth, Lithuania is the fastest growing life sciences industry in the EU, Latvia’s pharmaceutical industry is increasing at fasts rates as well. Estonia’s life sciences sector is mainly geared towards genetics and digital solutions for healthcare. A biannual Life Sciences Baltics forum will take place in Vilnius on September 26-27, 2018. With the aim to introduce the Baltics life sciences scene to the world, the meeting point for life sciences trend-setters is expected to attract more than 1,500 participants from 30 countries.

30 Oct 2017

Lithuania and Japan: a close cooperation continues in earnest

More than 50 meetings with prospective partners from Japan, Belgium, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Finland, France were held during BioJapan 2017 exhibition and the partnering event for the global biotechnology industry, on October 11-13.

“Japan is one of the most important export destinations for Lithuanian life sciences industry. Japanese appreciate our products and achievements in biotechnology, biomedicine, pharmacy, laser technologies. The aim of our visit was to pitch Lithuanian companies producing life sciences research products and services, present the country’s potential in the sector,” said Ms Daina Kleponė, General Manager of Enterprise Lithuania, a non-profit governmental agency which aims to drive and foster entrepreneurship and Lithuanian producers’ export and is the main organizer of Life Sciences Baltics.

The representatives of Enterprise Lithuania discussed strengthening cooperation with top organizations of life sciences in Japan. During the meetings with representatives of Japan regenerative medicine association FIRM, Japan Bioindustry Association, Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development the views on opportunities for Lithuanian companies and universities were exchanged. A large Japanese delegation is expected to visit the Life Sciences Baltics, the largest event for life sciences in the Baltic region, as all the partners were invited to take part in the Forum.

“Japan is one of the most important export destinations for Lithuanian life sciences industry,” – Ms Kleponė said.

“The visit in Japan demonstrated the enormous potential for the cooperation between Lithuanian and Japanese scientists. The life sciences growth in Lithuania is based on well-developed research and development as well as educational systems with approximately 10,000 students studying health and life sciences and more than 22,000 researchers involved in developing innovative solutions in the fields of drugs, medical devices, genetic engineering, etc. Lithuania should aim to continuously foster this cooperation with joint internships and scientific research projects, which in turn would serve Lithuanian scientists as the opportunity to observe the newest technologies and innovations,” – Ms Kleponė said.

During a week in Japan Ms Kleponė with the Lithuanian delegation under the leadership of Aurelijus Veryga, the Lithuanian Minister of Health, visited various Japanese science and health care institutions and held meetings with top level executives. Just like Japan, Lithuania is interested in international cooperation in the most relevant life sciences fields: age-related diseases, regenerative medicine, laser technologies in medical devices, technological solutions for healthcare. These topics will be covered in Life Sciences Baltics 2018 where more than 1,300 participants from around 40 countries are expected.

Enterprise Lithuania aims to strengthen Lithuanian life sciences ecosystem by cooperating with leading countries on the global scene. In Japan Lithuania is well known for the laser industry and laser products which are used in medicine and science. Lithuania is the only Baltic country to showcase and present the sector at the BioJapan 2017.

26 Jul 2017

The Lithuanian life sciences sector: the potential is there, but it needs help to grow

Opportunities to export services and products, joint projects with foreign partners, sharing of experience and learning from the leaders in the sector – that is what the path to success should be for the Lithuanian life sciences sector.

Two Enterprise Lithuania representatives – Donata Mauricaitė,  Head of Life Sciences Industry and Gytis Morkūnas, Director of Entrepreneurship Department – were convinced of this once again when they attended the BIO International Convention 2017 in San Diego, California.

“The aim of our trip was to showcase the Lithuanian life sciences sector, form a positive national economic image, and introduce Lithuanian companies that provide products and services to the life sciences sector (biotechnology, biomedicine, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, laser technologies, etc.) as well as educational institutions that are capable of providing research services to businesses. We were pleased that Mindaugas Sinkevičius, Minister of Economy also attended the BIO International Convention this year – the active participation of high-ranking officials is crucial for the presentation of Lithuania’s potential at international events,” said D. Mauricaitė.

The BIO International Convention 2017 was also a good opportunity to see how the life sciences sector is doing in other countries – what problems companies and scientists face and how these problems are addressed. One such opportunity was the international delegations session organised by the International Affairs Division of the BIO International Convention. During the session, foreign delegations shared their experiences on how life sciences are promoted in different countries and what the most effective measures are for this.

“The problems mentioned by other countries during the meeting – insufficient state funding, high competition, complicated procedures for the development of a product or service and its launch into the market – are also relevant to the development of the Lithuanian life sciences sector. All of the countries that attended the international session stressed the importance of the state in forming clusters or other life sciences communities and representing them abroad – strong clusters formed of enterprises, educational institutions and international companies would make it easier to position the potential of the countries,” said D. Mauricaitė.

According to D. Mauricaitė, the comments and suggestions made by other sector representatives on the creation of a common ecosystem should be reflected in further steps for developing the sector, both domestically and abroad.

“Lithuania can learn a lot from its colleagues in Germany, Belgium or even Luxembourg, where companies, institutions and universities in the life sciences are concentrated in one organisation. This helps to ensure high-quality representation of the sector both locally and internationally. I think that in the future, we might see changes like this in Lithuania as well,” she said.

At other meetings that took place during the event, discussions were held about opportunities for Lithuanian companies and universities to provide services, export products, and participate in joint projects managed by the European Commission, which are among the most relevant for representatives of this sector.

“This trip once again clearly demonstrated that Lithuanians have to participate in events like this, because it is the contacts that are made here that become cooperation agreements that open the export gateway for our life sciences sector. During the BIO International Convention 2017, Enterprise Lithuania representatives used the BIO One-on-One Partnering platform to arrange more than 20 individual meetings, and also met with numerous colleagues and potential partners by visiting their booths,” stated D. Mauricaitė.

Of particular success were the meetings with representatives of the German and French clusters with whom agreements on cooperation in the field of life sciences were signed; it is also important to mention the meetings with US life sciences representatives from the BIO International Convention and MassBIO, where possibilities were discussed for initiating joint projects and increasing awareness in the United States of Lithuanian science and business achievements.

According to D. Mauricaitė, another important goal for the trip to the US was to present the international Life Sciences Baltics 2018 forum (LSB2018) set to take place next September to the target audience attending the conference, as well as to establish contacts with potential LSB 2018 partners and American Lithuanians working in the life sciences sector who could contribute to the forum’s publicity. Already being held for the fourth time, this event has acted as a springboard for numerous representatives of the Lithuanian life sciences sector.

30 Jun 2017

Article by Lithuanian scientists in the most prestigious magazine „Science“

One of the most prestigious magazines „Science“ published an article „A cyclic oligonucleotide signaling pathway in Type III CRISPR-Cas systems“ by Lithuanian scientists Miglė Kazlauskienė, Georgij Kostiuk, Česlovas Venclovas, Gintautas Tamulaitis ir Virginijus Šikšnys from Vilnius University Life Science Center Institute of Biotechnology.

This is the first time for Lithuanian scientists to be recognized by the magazine which is hosting the most advanced and significant scientific ideas in the world. „Science“ publishes on average only 7% of all submissions. The very fact of publication proves once again that Lithuanian scientists are on the verge of the most advanced scientific discoveries of global importance and impact.

Prof. V. Šikšnys and the team have been working on CRISPR-Cas systems for a number of years. Type III CRISPR-Cas systems in prokaryotes provide immunity against invading nucleic acids through the coordinated degradation of transcriptionally-active DNA and its transcripts by the Csm effector complex.

Scientific discovery has been recognized by international business community for its potential in transferring into technologies for further commercialization: Vilnius University and US company „DuPont Pioneer“ in May, 2017 announced about the patent registration in US.

We will meet these scientists at the bi-annual forum „Life Sciences Baltic 2018“ in Vilnius, an established and recognized location in world life science and business for trend-setters.

Save the date – September 26-27, 2018!

The article: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2017/06/28/science.aao0100

Prof. V. Šikšnys

E. Kurauskas photo.

21 Jun 2017

Memorandum of Understanding with German partners brings Life Sciences Baltic to the new level

Enterprise Lithuania has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Berlin Partner for Technologies.

„This is a new step forward to strengthen cooperation between Lithuania and Germany in life sciences. Our partnerships which is now confirmed by the official signatures opens even more wide opportunities for our scientists and entrepreneurs, accelerates new projects and facilitates impactful results“, says Donata Mauricaite, Life sciences development manager at Enterprise Lithuania.

The partnership agreement evolves from the long-standing tradition of exchanging delegations, events, experts. In 2016 Lithuanian Embassy in Germany and President‘s office arranged high-level life science days in Berlin. The focus of the event was to explore specific opportunities where two countries can effectively join forces and collaborate. In 2017 Lithuanian delegation participated at Bionnale 2017, organized by Berlin Partner for Technology. Both Lithuania and Germany have committed to meet at Life Sciences Baltics 2018 forum in Vilnius.

Germany is an important partner for Lithuania, a priority market for our business and science, therefore our Government leaders, key scientists and top representatives of business community dedicate effort and hard work to establish long-term relationship, to create a sustainable partnership for mutual benefit.

Memorandum of Understanding has been signed in San Diego (USA) where Lithuanian delegation under the leadership of Mindaugas Sinkevičius, Minister of Economy, is participating at one of the largest life sciences summits in the world BIO International Convention 2017.

Berlin Partner for Technology mission is to ensure support to business and science institutions, to foster knowledge transfer and business development. The agency is a unique and for Lithuania an extremely valuable example of successful public and private partnership. Results demonstrated so far are impressive: close ties with national and regional governmental institutions, over 270 enterprises, development of innovations and establishment of new businesses with facilitated favorable ecosystem in Berlin.

20 May 2017

Lithuania is spreading the message about an ambition to take the leading role in life sciences

Today Lithuania‘s potential and opportunities for partnership and growth were presented in Germany at BIONNALE, which is the largest networking event for life sciences and healthcare industries in the German capital region. BIONNALE 2017 focuses on biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical technology. In these areas Lithuanian science and businesses can be a valuable contributor and partner, and this was highly acknowledged by our German colleagues, who expressed their commitment to join us at Life Sciences Baltic forum on September 28 – 29, 2018 in Vilnius, organized by Enterprise Lithuania. Rugile Andziukeviciute, Vice-minister of Economy, had extensive discussions with „Berlin Partner“, Germany‘s premier location for healthcare industries and important partner for Lithuania. Potential agreement between Lithuania and Germany will focus on actual steps of collaboration in science, business development and communications through joined effort and mutual support.

18 May 2017

Lithuania presents life sciences and business potential in „Kowledge for Growth“, Belgium

Lithuanian life sciences delegation is continuing its intensive meeting and sector promotion trip across Europe and on May 18 R. Andziukeviciute – Buze, Vice-minister Economy, and other members of the delegation joined the policy makers and businessmen from numerous countries at „Knowledge for Growth“ conference in Belgium.

This high-level networking event attracts decision makers from biotech, pharma and medtech as well as investors, universities, topnotch research institutes, policymakers and competence providers.

The forum in Ghent is focusing on the impact of large data  generation on R&D and business in life sciences. Certainly Lithuania has a lot to offer as a valuable member of life sciences community and the leading country in the region.

Lithuania’s life sciences industry has been skyrocketing over the last two decades and is now regarded as one of the most advanced in Central and Eastern Europe, demonstrating 22% annual growth within the biotechnology and pharmaceutical research and production sector, and around 90% of the production being exported. The success of Lithuanian biotechnology industry starts with the well-developed educational system involving 17 academic institutions and 15 most competent R&D centers. With the pool of 18 000 researchers and specialists and almost 200 companies operating in the life sciences area, the country is on the fast track of becoming one of the top high tech innovation centers in Europe. In the period of 2011-2016 the amount of employees in the sector increased by 25%. To support this, 400 mln EUR investments into five research valleys is secured by the Government of Lithuania.