Many people who are eagerly waiting for the pain to go away with their new artificial hip, jaw, teeth or even limb can secure a higher quality of life with the help of 3D printing. The personalization of health care, less painful treatment and faster recovery are opened up by personalized prostheses and medical devices.
A revolution of healthcare using 3D printing is already occurring in Lithuania. The CEO of Ortho Baltic, the first company in the Baltic countries to produce 3D printed orthopaedic implants, Gediminas Kostkevičius tells a story of a patient who suffered three endoprosthetic replacements of the same joint in a row. Every time the joint yelped within 3-5 months after surgery. Only when a 3D printed personalized medical device was implanted the patient started enjoying her life – it’s been already three years without complications.
Main challenges, prospects and the latest trends of additive manufacturing, popularly known as 3D printing, in medicine will be discussed at one of the main sessions of Life Sciences Baltics conference on 26-27 of September in Vilnius. 3D printing basically means that an object of any size or shape can be produced by adding successive layers of material in a single continuous run.
Approaching a turning point
“The future of medicine is the transition from standard solutions of medicines, medical devices and procedures to personalized medicine when medicines are created for individual patient based on genetic engineering. As well as personalized implants or single-use surgical guides are designed based on patient-specific anatomical models and manufactured with 3D printing technologies. Personalized medicine changes the way surgeons think and it is very important to continue changing that paradigm of thinking, shifting the centre of surgical treatment from the operation to the pre-surgery planning stage,” Mr Kostkevičius points out.
Personalized medicine changes the way surgeons think and it is very important to continue changing that paradigm of thinking
Instead of letting surgeons continue to twist and turn trying to solve the problem of “how to make do with what we have” now it is possible to ask them to describe the individual structural and functional properties to be implemented in a particular implant for individual patient. For surgeons this signifies greater responsibility for treatment results on one hand but better surgical accuracy and quality on the other.
“3D technology will lead to a global breakthrough in medicine when combining biocompatible materials and living cells artificial parts of the human body are manufactured. This can be expected around 2030. The use of 3D technology in orthopaedics – traumatology, facial-jaw surgery, dentistry, neurosurgery, cardiology and many other areas – is already present,” Mr Kostkevičius says.
The high end 3D printing process is complex and can be accomplished using different technologies, four of them employed by Ortho Baltic. The most common technology is called direct melting laser sintering when medicine titanium powder is spread in ultra thin (30 μm thick – that’s around two times thinner than the thinnest paper) layers and melted by laser. Similar technology – laser sintering – is used to produce disposable surgical guides and anatomical models from processible polymers. Selective laser sintering technology fuses polymers into hardened plastic in a process called photopolymerization. The fourth technology – lithography-based ceramics manufacturing – works by polymerizing ceramic materials in the same process but after forming it the object is also heated into high temperatures like any other pottery.
The CEO of Ortho Baltic marks that the 3D technology is still expensive and application of standard solutions still prevails surgeons’ thinking. Mr Kostkevičius compares situation of 3D printing in medicine to the situation in the beginning of the 20th century when only the privileged members of society drove cars while ordinary persons drove a horse and a cart. Until one well-known brand introduced the “Model T” car – the engineering miracle and the first mass automobile affordable to the working class. “Such developments are on the way to the market in patient-specific implants supply chain as well,” Mr Kostkevičius says.
Bridging business and science
However, Ortho Baltic is so convinced that 3D printing will transform medical practice that it has formed several alliances with interested academic institutions. Together with Lithuanian University of Health Sciences and three other EU universities the company is developing a special study program with focus on training doctors to use the tool for ordering patient-specific implants and do pre-surgery planning in virtual platform. The program will begin in the 2018-2019 academic year at four universities in Lithuania, Belgium, Denmark and Germany.
Last year Ortho Baltic was the first enterprise in Lithuania to introduce the industrial doctoral studies with Kaunas University of Technology. “The PhD student has an opportunity to solve scientific
uncertainties and carry out the experimental work with specific products. On the other hand, universities become better at understanding business needs and technology trends“, – Mr Kostkevičius says. Two topics are now being solved by Ortho Baltic’s industrial PhD students: the development of smart implants with diagnostic and therapeutic functionalities and the development of personalized technology for the human jaw biomechanical model.
At Life Sciences Baltics PhD student of Kaunas University of Technology and Ortho Baltic employee Maxime Maugeon will present a topic “Smart patient-specific cranial implants. Combination of 3D printing and sensorics”.
Though a standard Lithuanian business is quite reserved when talking about its investments to research and development, Ortho Baltic is a nice exception
devoting around 5% of its income to R&D. “Today Lithuanian scientists seek information about business needs and pursue their research accordingly. But Lithuanian companies should exploit scientific knowledge more. In my opinion, business lacks ambition“, – Mr Kostkevičius says.
At Ortho Baltic every seventh company’s employee works on development of new technologies and products. The multidisciplinary team consists of orthopaedics, biomechanics and mechanics engineers, physicists and medical physicists, mathematicians and IT specialists. Last year the company was awarded a grant worth €1,587 million by Horizon 2020, the European Union Framework Program for Research and Innovation. The company now uses it to develop IT solutions for the optimization of business processes. It is estimated that those new technologies will allow reduce the market price of personalized implants by more than a double.
About Ortho Baltic
Ortho Baltic specializes into medical devices for treatment of complex and rear clinical conditions. Among its production are patient-specific medical devices, surgical guides, limb prostheses, orthoses for limbs, spine and neck, orthopaedic footwear. 3D printing technologies are also used for prosthetic covers and Pre-preg orthoses. Almost all its production is exported to Benelux, Scandinavian countries, Germany, Switzerland. Ortho Baltic is one of the biggest companies of this niche market in Europe.
Integrated Optics, a startup which has developed small lasers for six years, is planning to expand the range of its products by 30% in the near future. In autumn, the enterprise will launch a new project which is aimed at developing lasers to help measure the effect of medicines on cancer cells. Evaldas Pabrėža, CEO of the startup, will announce the news and elaborate on the development in the forum Life Sciences Baltics to take place on 26-27 September in Vilnius.
The CEO of the successfully developing startup Integrated Optics, which won an internship in the USA at the Pitch Challenge organised by Life Sciences Baltics six years ago, returns to the forum this year to tell about laser technology applied in the field of medicine. Two days before the forum, the Startup Masterclasses by Johnson&Johnson Innovation will take place in Vilnius again gathering around 30 life sciences startups from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. 10 best teams of startups will have a chance to pitch their ideas to investors, life sciences experts and professionals and win valuable prizes. The registration to the free of charge intensive two days training for life sciences startups from the Baltic countries is taking place till 1 July. You can register here.
In the interview below Mr. Pabrėža talks about the key to business success and why almost all startups in the laser industry can become successful.
– Could you briefly define how lasers are applied in practice?
– Our lasers belong to the products of professional segment which are not intended for the use of household but can reach homes in one or another form, for instance, in the systems of diagnostics, sorting, food quality control.
Presently, most of our products are sold to system manufacturers which work with farmers, gem production companies. Our lasers are used for separating ripe from green fruit, to identify which gem are real, and which – fake, to sort cells with alterations.
– Integrated Optics has been developed for six years. Tell us, how you came up with the idea to start producing lasers.
– Actually, the idea came to my business partner Jonas Jonuška. He thought that the principles of laser manufacturing should be slightly changed: less manual work and more process automation.
We kept in touch with Jonas as ex-colleagues. I had already quit my job when I understood that Jonas was ready to implement his idea and I offered him my assistance. We went to investors and were heard and understood.
At the time the environment for the attraction of investments was very good. We used this opportunity. When we saw that it would not be difficult to attract investment, we started developing the product putting all our personal savings in it. One year later, we managed to attract investments. It was the first start-up developed from scratch for both of us.
– It is usual in the world of start-ups that the first start-up fails. What is the secret of your success?
– I guess this depends on the field in which a startup is developed. In our field, however, this works differently. As start-ups in the laser industry are related with big investments from the outset, their developers do not give up so easily.
There is one more thing which is very important and why we didn’t stumble – we know how to solve technical problems. Everyone faces challenges of one or another sort: some people stop because they cannot find a solution, but we can.
– How has the team of the company developed in six years?
– There were two of us at the beginning. We worked for a year just the two of us. After we attracted investments, the team expanded to 5 members and now we are nearing thirty employees.
– Six years ago, you participated in startup masterclasses organised by Life Sciences Baltics and won an internship in the Akron Global Business Accelerator which is located in the US. What did you bring back after a week’s visit there?
– During the visit, we met representatives of a few companies. We visited a big hospital in Cleveland, a few companies which provide high technology ancillary services. They do not have many companies in this industry there but we found a few potential clients.
Compared to Lithuania, I think, they have much more events in this type of hubs there. So startups can exchange their ideas and communicate.
– You will give a speech in the Life Sciences Baltics Forum this September in the session about laser application in the field of medicine. What are you planning to talk about?
– I am delighted that this year Life Sciences Baltics focuses a lot on laser application in medicine. At present, Lithuania has much to say on this issue. For example, we are launching an interesting project which we are going to introduce in Life Sciences Baltics Forum. We have been developing cell sorting system which will help researchers analyse the effect of a few medicinal products on a specific type of cancer, identify every single cell and monitor how cells respond to treatment.
– Lasers is a very specific area which demands very concrete education. Do you face the shortage of specialists?
– It depends on specialty. In some fields, we face this problem, for instance, in terms of engineers. Still, it is easier for the laser industry to attract engineers because this field is fascinating. However, we are different from other laser companies because we invite people who do not have any education in physics. We train them.
– What are the plans of Integrated Optics in the near future?
– We have started developing lasers for new applications – distance measurement, 3D environment scanning. In the nearest future, we plan to increase the number of our products by at least 30 % compared to what we are producing now. We plan to select the most successful products, to grow product in Lithuania and establish agencies in the US and, maybe, in Asia.
– It is not enough to develop a product. The process of commercialisation is very important. How did you commercialise your products? How did it go?
– We declared what we were going to do from the outset. We had product visualisations and developed the entire concept. We observed what types of clients were interested in what we were offering.
I remember the time when two years later we started accepting orders. We knew we had prototypes but now there was an order. I recall that at the time we did not know how to test lasers. There were situations where the deadline was approaching to dispatch a laser and we had not tested it yet. These were bitter lessons but we improved with every new client and new order until we developed into an ISO 9001 certified company which has a highly reliable testing system.
– How is the development of a start-up in the laser field different from high technology start-ups?
– Laser market is a very convenient market in which a startup having received a million euros investment should eventually produce some kind of product. Meanwhile, in other high technology areas, such as biotechnology, pharmaceutics, an investment of a million euros and five years of research might mean only the beginning.
Lithuania is the country that has made the most rapid advancements in biotechnology over the past seven years. This is shown by the Scientific American Worldview international biotechnology ranking that was presented during the BIO International Convention in Boston.
In terms of progress in the field of biotechnology, Lithuania was ranked 16th among 54 countries in 2018. This is 19 places higher than in 2011, when Lithuania was included in the American study for the first time. The United States, Singapore, Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden maintained their positions as leaders at the top of the ranking.
Lithuania is ranked the highest among Central and Eastern European countries. Estonia holds 22nd place, Poland – 38th place, and Latvia – 41st place. “Lithuania has made many significant efforts to develop the biotechnology sector during recent decades – building a strong basic-research base first with the results to follow. Our industrial and academic collaborations have grown considerably, and biotechnology is an area where collaboration is the strongest,” Lithuanian Minister of Economy Virginijus Sinkevičius is quoted as saying in the report.
According to him, Lithuania intends to promote the development of new life sciences start-ups and spin-offs. “We believe that start-ups, especially driven from universities and research centers, can generate more innovation in the biotechnology sector,” says Mr Sinkevičius.
Lithuania has made many significant efforts to develop the biotechnology sector during recent decades
In the ranking, 54 countries were evaluated according to seven categories: productivity, intellectual property protection, intensity, enterprise support, education/workforce, foundations (infrastructure and investment in research and development), and policy and stability.
Lithuania’s efforts to deploy biotech innovation were given the highest score on a scale from 0 to 10. In terms of the number of researchers in medical and health sciences per capita, Lithuania ranked 6th among all of the countries evaluated, and shared 13th–14th place with Taiwan/China for a business friendly environment. Lithuania secured 20th place in political stability, and shared 24th–25th place with the Czech Republic for post-secondary science graduates per capita.
Average Annual Growth of 19 Per Cent
According to Enterprise Lithuania calculations, the Lithuanian life sciences sector is growing by an average of 19 per cent annually, and the sector’s sales exceeded EUR 500 million for the first time in 2016.
“Life Sciences Baltics – an international forum which is held every two years and brings approximately 1,500 life sciences experts, researchers and businesspeople to Vilnius from over 30 countries and features 60 world-class speakers, including Nobel Prize laureates – has also contributed to Lithuania’s name as one of the most advanced life sciences hubs in Central and Eastern Europe,” says Enterprise Lithuania Managing Director Daina Kleponė.
Life Sciences Baltics has also contributed to Lithuania’s name as one of the most advanced life sciences hubs in Central and Eastern Europe
Lithuanian life sciences companies earn more than 90 per cent of their total income in foreign markets, primarily by exporting to the United States (14 per cent of the sector’s total exports in 2016), the United Kingdom (11 per cent), the Netherlands (11 per cent), and Germany (8 per cent).
The bulk of foreign exports in 2016 consisted of pharmaceutical products (46 per cent), medical devices (35.2 per cent) and enzymes, nucleic acids, and sales of heterocyclic compound producers (10.9 per cent).
Vilnius University (VU) professor Virginijus Šikšnys was awarded with the prestigious Kavli prize for his discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9, a revolutionary tool for DNA editing. The prize, which includes 1 million dollars, is rewarded every two years.
The Kavli Prize in Nanoscience will be shared between prof. V. Šikšnys and two other scientists, who also work on improving the CRISPR-Cas9 technology: Emmanuelle Charpentier from Max Planck Society, and Jennifer Doudna from University of California, Berkeley.
V. Šikšnys says that the call from the president of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, announcing that he will be awarded with the Kavli prize, was a surprise. However, the scientist thinks that this technology is worth the recognition it is currently receiving.
„A reward of this scale means quite a lot, we are very happy. This achievement of our team is also a huge praise for the whole science community in Lithuania. However, most importantly, this technology will allow us to cure the most complicated hereditary genetic diseases, find a better solution for organ transplants, as well as create plants that are immune to cold or heat. This technology will not only cure diseases or save human lives. It will open up new opportunities in various fields of life sciences, and the possibility to actually apply it in solving real-world issues is only a matter of time”, says prof. V. Šikšnys.
Revolution in Life Sciences
The latest research on genome editing, conducted by prof. V. Šikšnys and his team (Giedrius Gasiūnas and Tautvydas Karvelis), took the science community by storm.
After the team, led by one of the most famous CRISPR-Cas9 researchers in the world, discovered how this virus functions, it became clear that this is a universal method for editing genes in various organisms.
According to prof. V. Šikšnys, CRISPR-Cas9 is a type of molecular scissors that can be used to cut defective parts of the human DNA – and it means a revolution in life sciences is about to begin. V. Šikšnys has also received the prestigious Harvard’s Warren Alpert Foundation Prize for the same discovery two years ago. It is worth mentioning, that almost fifth of the Warren Alpert Prize laureates later on received a Nobel Prize.
“CRISPR-Cas9 is a breakthrough nanotool that will considerably enhance our understanding of genetic mechanisms. This great invention confers to society enormous capabilities for positive innovations,” says Arne Brataas, head of the Kavli nanoscience prize committee.
The pioneering work has unleashed global interest among scientists and the public in a field of research, revealing enormous potential to address disease-causing mutations in humans, as well as foster improvements in agriculture.
Researchers hope that this technology will allow curing AIDS, Down syndrome, and hereditary heart diseases. It is also likely to improve agriculture: the invention is already being used in the development of new plant species that are immune to draughts and other unfavourable conditions.
Winners picked by the science elite
The Kavli Prize is established in partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.
The Kavli Prize recognizes scientists for pioneering advances in human understanding of existence at its biggest, smallest, and most complex scales. Presented every two years in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience, each of three international prizes consists of 1 million US dollars.
Committees, whose members are recommended by six of the world’s most renowned science societies and academies, choose laureates. The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters appoints the three prize committees after receiving recommendations from international academies and equivalent scientific organizations: The Chinese Academy of Science, The French Academy of Sciences, The Max Planck Society (Germany), The National Academy of Sciences (US), The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and The Royal Society (UK).
The prize committees review the nominated candidates and submit their recommendations to the board of The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The President of the Academy announces the prize winners.
When Latvian startup Koatum, a winner of last Pitch Challenge at Life Sciences Baltics, was launched in 2014, Sergey Jakimov, CEO, could not imagine that after four years his company will be creating useful tools for medicine with an US company and will be planning to step firmly into the US market.
In 2016 Koatum, that offers advanced bio-active coating for medical implants, participated in a Pitch Challenge organized during Life Sciences Baltics forum. The team showed the best pitch and won one week visit to Akron accelerator, one of the leading US technology business hubs.
This year, September 24-25, Vilnius again will be full of life sciences startups from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. They will be taking part in Life Sciences Baltics 2018 Startup Masterclasses. Pitch Challenge will be held again and 10 startups teams will be chosen to pitch their ideas in front of investors, industry professionals and public. A winner will be awarded with special prizes. Registration for free of charge Startup Masterclasses is open till 1 July. You can register your life sciences startup here.
Before the forum and Masterclasses we are talking with Sergey Jakimov about med-tech startups and what advices he can give for entrepreneurs that develop products in this field.
– Could you shortly describe what products Koatum is creating?
– Koatum does advanced bio-active coatings for medical implants. By medical implants I mean either the ones for orthopedics, dental or reconstructive surgery. Now we work mainly in orthopedic and dental sphere. By advanced I mean that we are one of the only in the industry that are doing coating combinations. We are doing very thin and flexible layers that can enhance effect of antibiotics. So we are creating drug delivery systems combined with different properties.
– Koatum was established in 2014. How it was started?
– We are a merge between the scientific and entrepreneurial team. We are the classic scheme of science based startup where we have very specific technical knowledge, people that develop our technology, and on the second half of the table we have the entrepreneurial picture that manage the company.
– You have already gotten pre-seed and seed investment. What is the most challenging while pitching your products to investors?
– I would not say that we have anything challenging. Once you pitch a live sciences startup to investors big chances are that investors are already interested in life sciences. So there is no problem of explaining the concept to them. The main thing investor would want to tackle in your pitch is a regulatory path because once you are doing medical products the regulatory path and certification is the most important part. And then you must show that you understand in what stage you are in and what you need next. Not just say ‘we need 500 thousands’ and add something obscure.
– How would you describe difference between working in med-tech sphere and other life sciences fields?
– Med-tech is good in terms of its receptiveness to innovations. The problem is the regulatory path. So once you deal with that, hospitals, clinics, manufactures, patients will be quite eager to try solutions that would advance their experience and enhance their lives.
It is very capital intensive industry. So you need a lot of money to go forward. And it is also time consuming industry which means that if you are doing more or less sophisticated medical project
you cannot claim that it will be in the market in one year. It is just physically impossible.
– Do you think competition for investors’ money is at a high level in life sciences field?
– I think every sphere of med-tech or bio-engineering has certain competition towards money. On the other hand, with the recent developments, especially with the EU funded national programs, I think that there is plenty of money. You just need to know where to search.
– Two years ago you took part in Life Sciences Baltics Masterclasses for startups. What did these classes give to you?
– We had a very good coach that told us about developing idea, how to present it to investors and other useful things.
For us the Pitch Challenge benefited as the tool to adjust of our pitch to the expectations of the public. We already had a number exploration programs so we already had our message ready. All we needed was another look. We had it and it was useful.
– You won the challenge and got to visit one of US accelerators. What did it give to Koatum?
– We went to Akron accelerator for a week. Akron is a hub for med-tech and engineering sciences. This was the first ‘US capital’ for rubber. So all rubber industry evolved from Akron. After that they switched to med-tech and engineering. Akron has one of the largest integrated hospital networks in the US. There we met a lot of contacts. With one of the contacts we are starting to develop a new product. The visit was beneficial and a new project was an argument for us to go raising again for capital.
– What advice could you give for other Baltic startups that are working in life sciences field?
– The advice is very simple – try to validate your product as fast as you can. By validating I mean not validate clinically but get reputable source from industry saying that if this would exist as a product it would be beneficial. By having this it opens doors for the first capital. Investors understand that if you are not in advanced stage you do not have money to get the product ready so they will not ask for it. They will ask for a thing that actually does not need a lot of money. And it is an industrial opinion.
– What are Koatum plans in the near future?
– Now we are finishing the next investment round. Our next milestone is to get into the US market in dental sector. When we settle with it, we will go to orthopedics. One more piece of advice for startups would be to understand that you will not have enough money to cover many spheres. So pick one and stick to it.
Would you like to volunteer at an international conference? We need you to make the Life Sciences Baltics 2018 conference a success!
We are looking for active & initiative volunteers to join the team during Life Sciences Baltics 2018, who can help us with:
Coordinating programme activities
Greeting and assisting delegates
Several other interesting tasks
When: 26-27th of September 2018.
As a student-volunteer you will get a unique opportunity to expand your international network while getting a behind-the-scenes perspective on a large-scale event. As a volunteer you would develop valuable organizational skills and in addition we can offer you:
A welcome-reception with the conference participants
Free participation in conference sessions of your choice while you are not at work
Flexible working schedule
Food while you work
A simple introduction to the conference topic
A certificate and a recommendation letter
All volunteers will receive a support from the conference volunteer-coordinators prior to the conference.
This autumn the largest life sciences event in the Baltic countries Life Sciences Baltics will bring together around 30 life sciences startups from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Early stage startups will be offered two days free of charge entrepreneurship training and top ten of them will have an opportunity to pitch their business ideas to investors and the public.
“Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia feature a great concentration of talents, convenient accessibility for innovations and well-developed research infrastructure. Most of life science startups founded in the Baltic countries are equipped with immeasurable enthusiasm. They just need a little push to become a commercial success and to scale globally”, – says Ms Daina Kleponė, the Managing Director of Enterprise Lithuania, the non profit governmental agency that is the main organizer of the biannual forum Life Sciences Baltics which will be held on September 26-27 in Vilnius.
Ms Kleponė invites all Baltics life sciences startups with revolutionary ideas to make most of the opportunity provided by Life Sciences Baltics to understand how to properly employ business aspects of a startup and maximize the prosperity of their products.
During Life Sciences Baltics Startup Masterclasses startups will learn the best ways to optimize their business models and to approach potential investors. A best pitched startup of the Pitch Challenge will be awarded with a mentorship provided by the main masterclasses sponsor Johnson & Johnson Innovation, a network of science and business experts who collaborate with innovators to accelerate transformative science into healthcare solutions. The winning team will also have a one-week training and collaboration visit to Akron Biomedical Corridor, the International Hub of BioMedical Innovation in the US.
The Life Sciences Baltics Startup Masterclasses is a traditional part of the biannual Life Sciences Baltics event which also offers a wonderful opportunity to gain knowledge of trending insights and the latest research in life sciences. The forum acts as a platform for networking, exchanging ideas and making connections with more than 1,500 participants, investors, professionals and other startups.
Winners of previous Life Sciences Baltics Pitch Challenges include Integrated Optics, a Vilnius-based laser technology company, Ferentis, a company producing biomimetic peptides and peptide-based scaffolds for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications, and Koatum, a Latvian company with an aim to introduce its unique know-how to the industry of medical body implants.
The Life Sciences Baltics startups masterclasses will take place in Vilnius, Lithuania, on September 24-25, two days before the biannual Life Sciences Baltics forum organized for the fourth time. Register now: https://lsb2018.com/startup-masterclasses/
Brian K. Kobilka, MD, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology and Hélène Irwin Fagan Chair in Cardiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on G-protein-coupled receptors, will be the keynote speaker at the Life Sciences Baltics conference to be held in Vilnius, Lithuania on September 26-27, 2018.
“We are very honoured to welcome a gifted scientist whose work inspires important developments in pharmaceuticals. It has taken extraordinary passion and commitment of Prof. Kobilka’s part in moving forward. Nobel Laureate Kobilka’s scientific journey can both inspire the talented scientists in our own country and encourage businesses to more actively cooperate with the scientific community and look for innovative solutions together,” said Daina Kleponė, the Managing Director of Enterprise Lithuania, which is organising Life Sciences Baltics for the fourth time.
Brain Kobilka shared the 2012 Nobel Chemistry Prize with Robert Lefkowitz, MD, his former mentor and a professor of medicine and of biochemistry at Duke University. After joining the Lefkowitz laboratory in the 1984, Prof. Kobilka focused on learning more about the epinephrine receptor, also known as the beta-adrenergic receptor. He was able to isolate the gene that codes for the b-adrenergic receptor. This research helped the scientists to realize that there is a whole family of receptors that look alike and function in the same manner.
Around 1,000 receptors known as G-protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, have been identified to date. GPCRs float in a cell’s surface membrane and their primary function is to transmit signals from the outside world to the cellular interior. The receptors bind to the specific signals, such as a hormone or neurotransmitter, and this interaction causes their shape to change. Many new signal molecules – G proteins – are released in the cell’s interior finally resulting in changing of cell function.
GPCRs play a central role in the normal functioning of cells and they are also the targets for about 40 percent of drugs. In 2011 Prof. Kobilka was able to recreate the spatial structures of GPCRs which is a critical step toward understanding how to control them. These results opened up major opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to develop even more effective drugs. Now that they knew how the structures of different GPRC look, the pharmaceutical companies could start working on the identification of agents that only targeted the required G proteins. Most drugs hit several GPCRs at once leading to undesirable side effects.
Prof. Kobilka was born in Minnesota, where he graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He earned his medical degree at the Yale University School of Medicine. In 1980’s he conducted his Nobel Prize-awarded research together with R. Lefkowitz. He also defended his doctoral thesis under Robert Lefkowitz. He has been employed at Stanford University since 1989.
In September the Life Sciences Baltics event will welcome around 1,500 life science experts from all over the world. It is the largest of its kind life science event in the Baltics and the Nordics. Over 30 recognized speakers from the United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Israel, Norway and other countries will share their insights on the latest trends in the life science sector, including 3D printing, immune-oncology challenges, stem cells developments, personalized medicine, laser applications in medicine, e-health solutions and many more.
Life Sciences Baltics team just got back from an inspiring two days long Baltic Roadshow in Riga and Tallinn where opportunities of Life Sciences Baltics were presented to Latvian and Estonian life sciences companies, cluster, public and academic institutions. Each Baltic country has a unique selling point and strengthen the Baltics as an emerging life sciences hub. Lithuania is a leader in biotechnology sector – around 30 percent of life sciences companies develop biotech based products. Latvians have a long-standing tradition of manufacturing pharmaceuticals and Estonia leads in e-health solutions and genetics research.
Daina Kleponė, the Managing Director of Enterprise Lithuania, introduced the opportunities for the companies in the event. „The forum in Vilnius is an excellent opportunity to strengthen the cooperation of all three Baltic countries in the field of life sciences and contribute to the world-wide awareness about emerging life sciences scene in the Baltics. We are looking forward to the active participation of Latvian and Estonian companies and institutions,“ says Ms Kleponė while introducing the Life Sciences Baltics in Riga and Tallinn.
The events in Latvian and Estonian capitals were attended by the representatives of the Latvian Investment and Development in Latvia, Connected Health Cluster in Estonia, Estonian Investment Agency, InBio OÜ, Biosan, Cellin Technologies LLC, Dzintars, Inpharmtis, Riga Stradins university Public Health Institute, University of Latvia.
In September more than 1,500 of life sciences professionals will flock to Vilnius, bouncing in and out of the conference sessions and joining colleagues for the networking in the Life Sciences Baltics, the largest bi-annual life science event in the Baltic countries.
The Forum taking place on 26-27 September is also great for rubbing elbows with the investors, academic and governmental institutions that drive the industry.
“The most important thing is to make connections and catch up with people in person. During the two days event an opportunity is offered to get access to pretty much anyone and smaller companies have a great chance of a shot at a meeting with would-be partners,” says Ms Kleponė.
Roughly 1,500 B2B meetings will take place with a possibility of every connection to snowball into profitable deal.
Life Sciences Baltics dedicates part of the event to exhibitors who showcase their products, ideas and services. This year around 70 companies are expected to be splayed across Litexpo, the largest exhibition centre in the Baltic countries.
The Life Sciences Baltics forum serves as a sort of a barometer for the potential of the life sciences in the Baltics. Compared to the first event held in 2012, the number of participants increased by two times.
The Baltic countries are more than ready to take their life sciences sector to the next level and position themselves as a go to destination for international companies. Save the dates: 26-27 September 2018!
Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, is rapidly stepping into the limelight of healtchare innovations. Lithuanian University of Health Sciences was approved as EIT Health hub within the EIT Regional Innovation Scheme 2018. The application was submitted in cooperation with Kaunas University of Technology, several dozens of public and private sector institutions provided support to LSMU.
What does it mean?
EIT Health is one of the largest healthcare innovation communities in the world. More than 130 organizations – universities, academic, healthcare and science institutions, businesses and other representatives of private and public sector are working together to develop healthcare improvement solutions that contribute to a healthier life and people’s well-being in Europe.
The LSMU encourages students, researchers and other researchers to take advantage of the opportunities offered by EIT HEALTH to finance and develop ideas, networking and other activities. The aim is to make healthcare innovations made in Lithuania become known internationally and attract foreign investments to develop them.
The LSMU students have already submitted the first applications for a variety of ideas: from the aim to develop innovative food production technologies to the development of medical devices, and the application of information solutions to the health care system.
Having a groundbreaking scientific idea and innovative product is not enough to establish and develop a successful startup. Thus visionary ideas should be supported by deeper understanding of business models, cooperation with investors or patent applications. Advises from more experienced entrepreneurs are vital.
Life Sciences Baltics, the largest bi-annual life sciences forum in the Baltics, welcomes startups from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The Life Sciences Baltics 2018 Startup Masterclasses will be held two days before the event on 25-25 of September. It is a two-day long intensive training course tailored for life sciences experts building biotech, devices or digital health products.
Two free tickets to the forum taking place on 26-27 of September in Vilnius, a pitch competition and lots of networking opportunities are available for registered startups.
Life Sciences Baltics 2018 Startup Masterclasses will include lectures from the experienced entrepreneurs in the field plus guidance to help participants work more effectively on their own implementation projects. 10 best startups will have a chance to pitch their ideas on Life Sciences Baltics stage.
The startup program is a free of charge wonderful opportunity for startups hit the ground running and develop their brilliant innovations into profitable and groundbreaking businesses.
Utter a longer vowel ‘a’ as well as the sentence ‘the north wind and the sun were arguing one day which one of them was stronger’ into your phone and the mobile app Voice Screen will assess potential voice issues and help diagnose disease early on. Developed by scientists from the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU), the product is the first of its kind. Meanwhile, a non-invasive intracranial pressure meter developed by Professor Arminas Ragauskas of the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) is already being used by scientists at NASA.
“It’s a great time for innovation in the field of health right now because the life sciences are getting a lot of attention in Lithuania,” says Laima Matusevičienė, head of the Development Department at LSMU. According to data provided by LSMU, interest in the development of medical innovation has grown more than threefold in the business sector over the past three years. Robertas Armonaitis of the KTU National Innovation and Business Centre says young business is also being encouraged. Over the past five years, of the 67 start-ups founded by KTU, eight are actively involved in developing medical technology. There are now several KTU subdivisions working in the field of biomedical innovation: the Biomedical Engineering Institute, the Health Telematics Science Institute, the Professor Kazimieras Baršauskas Ultrasound Research Institute and the Institute of Material Science. In Santaka Valley, KTU has entered into a collaborative relationship with Kaunas Science and Technology Park.
There are now several KTU subdivisions working in the field of biomedical innovation: the Biomedical Engineering Institute, the Health Telematics Science Institute, the Professor Kazimieras Baršauskas Ultrasound Research Institute and the Institute of Material Science. In Santaka Valley, KTU has entered into a collaborative relationship with Kaunas Science and Technology Park.
If the goal is to produce a surge in innovation, an idea with potential or an innovative product needs to find its investor – either in Lithuania or abroad – with as much ease as possible. This exact goal was set by OPEN R&D Lithuania, an open-access network for research and development that has brought together 14 national universities, 13 national research institutes, seven science and technology parks as well as 25 open-access centres. As the largest innovation infrastructure, service and competence network in the Baltic states, it facilitates the meeting of Lithuanian researchers developing advanced technologies and entrepreneurs from Lithuania and beyond, encouraging their cooperation.
From medical devices to implants
LSMU is the largest Lithuanian university in the field of biomedicine and one of the founders of the Kaunas Clinics and the Kaunas Clinical Hospital. The head of the Development Department at LSMU, Laima Matusevičienė, emphasises that a synergy between research, academic studies and clinical practice is crucial – the specialised clinics operating under the LSMU Faculty of Medicine and the Kaunas Clinics cover almost all areas of medicine. Some of the physicians working there are also LSMU scientists and researchers. They have first-hand experience of the needs in healthcare and can propose various innovative solutions that can be applied in the sector: from IT solutions and software to implants, prostheses and new or improved medical devices.
LSMU is the largest Lithuanian university in the field of biomedicine and one of the founders of the Kaunas Clinics and the Kaunas Clinical Hospital.
For example, in 2017, Professor Virgilijus Ulozas’ group collaborated with a partner in the business sector to create the mobile app Voice Screen. The team used clinical data collected by the LSMU – voice recordings of patients admitted to the Ear, Nose and Throat Disease Clinic. Around 10% of the population suffer from afflictions of the voice or hoarseness. The causes of these afflictions are not always common colds or vocal fatigue after intense use of the vocal chords. Various voice disorders can be caused by benign or malignant tumours in the larynx, and hoarseness is often an early symptom of throat cancer. iOs product users can download the Voice Screen app from the App Store and use the app to conduct an automatic analysis of their voice, calculating an acoustic quality index based on six different vocal parameters. The app allows the objective measurement of possible changes in the voice and provides appropriate recommendations.
“In the field of IT, many other ideas are also being developed. Businesses are helping researchers create software for identifying, for example, skin tumours, tracking various states of pregnancy or diseases such as diabetes. An app installed on a smart watch or any other smart device will allow the wearer to track changes in the body and follow recommendations to take their medication or visit the doctor,” explains Matusevičienė.
Another direction LSMU innovation is heading in is the development of medical equipment. For example, under the leadership of Professor Vytautas Jašinskas, researchers at the Eye Disease Clinic have developed a device for fixing the position of a submerged intraocular lens in the eye during cataract surgery that makes attaching the intraocular lens to the iris a more simple procedure and thus ensures a higher success rate for surgical intervention. A patent application has already been submitted and the team is currently negotiating possibilities for product commercialisation with a foreign company.
At the LSMU Faculty of Dentistry and Clinic of Maxillofacial Surgery, a team led by Professor Gintaras Juodžbalis has created a tool for observing changes in the width of alveoli after tooth extraction. This tool means that the patient does not have to go through the process of getting a CT scan, decreasing radiation exposure and leading to better observation results. The instrument is not damaging to the patient, produces accurate results and is easy to use.
LSMU scientists under the leadership of Professor Ingrida Ulozienė partnered with Professor Vaidotas Marozas’ team from KTU to produce a mobile virtual reality system for testing the subjective visual vertical. The technology is designed to diagnose patients with complaints of dizziness and assess cases of vestibular function (balance perception) disorder. This advanced and substantially more accurate diagnostic system is comprised of a virtual reality headset for the patient as well as a hand tracking device, the physician’s device for controlling the diagnostic session and a remote physician’s device for collecting and analysing diagnostic data. The test does not require a dark room as previous technology did, and the equipment is easy to transport, making it possible to diagnose the patient wherever they may be.
Scientists led by Professor Arimantas Tamašauskas from the LSMU Neuroscience Institute and the Neurosurgery Clinic teamed up with the Kaunas-based company Baltic Orthoservice to develop next generation custom implants with integrated sensors that allow specialists to observe changes in the patient’s condition in real time.
LSMU has all the possibilities it needs to conduct pre-clinical trials and clinical trials with human subjects due to its collaborative relationship with the Kaunas Clinics and the Kaunas Clinical Hospital. It is often the case that companies contact LSMU about ideas for developing medical devices, dietary supplements and other functional food products. LSMU can offer them a complete trial cycle: from molecular trials and animal trials to all stages of clinical trials on human subjects.
“We are constantly fielding various enquiries from companies,” – says head of the LSMU Development Department, Laima Matusevičienė, “Currently, developing all kinds of health-related devices and equipment is very popular both in the global market among established manufacturers and among young startups. To entrepreneurs who have ideas in this field, we recommend getting in touch with LSMU researchers at the earliest possible stage because if you don’t have the specific knowledge necessary for your endeavour, things can get complicated and maybe even veer off into the pointless. You need to know when to measure or assess certain human parameters and when to measure and assess others. Poorly selected criteria will then have to be replaced and that can mean great financial losses.”
LSMU can offer a complete trial cycle: from molecular trials and animal trials to all stages of clinical trials on human subjects.
Also acting as an intermediary between science and business is the KTU National Innovation and Business Centre – it specialises in commercialising scientific inventions and involving businesses in scientific projects. The manager of technology transfer projects at KTU, Robertas Armonaitis is responsible for commercialising the fruits of the university’s research and represents several KTU subdivisions involved in the development of biomedical technology. He refers to the example of Professor Vaidotas Marozas, who closely collaborates with researchers from LSMU, Vilnius University and the business sector to create various technologies for observing human health conditions. They will aid doctors in making more accurate assessments of secondary thromboembolic stroke risk and warn patients undergoing haemodialysis about life-threatening conditions. The technology is based on non-invasive sensor systems that do not disrupt the patient’s life and smart biosignal processing.
The Health Telematics Science Institute, led by Professor Ragauskas, developed the first non-invasive intracranial pressure meter in the world. VittaMed, the company that was founded for the purpose of developing the product, has attracted 10 million dollars in investment funding over the past several years. Patented in the USA and the EU, the technology caught the attention of scientists and researchers at NASA. This unique Lithuanian-made device is now used to conduct intracranial pressure tests on astronauts and neurological patients.
In yet another KTU subdivision, the Professor Kazimieras Baršauskas Ultrasound Research Institute, the focus of professor Renaldas Raišutis’ team of scientists is the field of non-invasive ultrasound testing. Ultrasound is used to examine various tissue structures and damage. In the area of interdisciplinary research, the team works with a group of dermatologists led by Professor Skaidra Valiukevičienė from LSMU on developing innovative technology for the purpose of automatically identifying and assessing skin as well as surface tissue tumours, and with a group of pharmacologists led by Professor Vilma Petrikaitė on developing ultrasound technology for effectively injecting anticancer drugs into tumour-damaged cell formations.
“The technology Professor Raišutis develops is also relevant to Lithuanian businesses. He is in charge of a joint technology development project driven by KTU and Softneta, a company that specialises in software and technology for operating rooms,” – elaborates Armonaitis.
The KTU Material Science Institute, headed by Professor Sigitas Tamulevičius, develops nanocomposite coatings with silver nanoparticles which have antimicrobial properties. In cooperation with scientists from LSMU, the coating technology was used to create the prototype for a smart band-aid.
Startups target foreign markets
One of the directions the KTU National Innovation and Business Centre is focusing its efforts on is the development of young business and mentorship for startups. Medical technology is one of the top priorities for developing young business. For example, the company Fidens, founded by KTU student Mantas Venslauskas PhD and based in the Kaunas Science and Technology Park, has partnered with LSMU to develop several products related to improving blood circulation.
“One version of the device is dedicated to reducing hand tremors for patients suffering from essential tremor, the other is dedicated to reducing rheumatoid arthritis-induced morning stiffness,” explains Venslauskas, “The first stages of development began during my doctoral studies, and once Fidens was founded, we developed the final prototype for the ViLim Ball. Clinical trials will begin late February to early March, and then we will proceed to getting the medical device certified.”
For patients suffering from asthma, help comes in the shape of Breath Count, a device developed by Segfoltas – another company headed by a KTU student, this time Povilas Sidaravičius. The palm-sized lung function monitor allows the patient to monitor their condition and avoid asthma attacks. Data received from the patient exhaling into the device is transferred via a wire free connection to the patient’s smart phone and then processed by the app. This data is also useful to the patient’s attending physician.
The founder of Abili dr. Aurelijus Domeika develops innovative equipment for testing and training balancing ability as well as movement. One such piece of equipment, the Abili Balance Trainer, is an unstable platform designed for use as a tool in training and rehabilitation. It also works as a preventive instrument, reducing the risk of falling in older patients as well as lower back pain. The Trainer’s accompanying app, Abili Balance Analyzer, will guide users through the training process and allow them to test the level of their balancing ability. Abili equipment is already being used by innovative kinesiotherapists and Olympians. The Lithuanian product is also being used to test and train athletes abroad.
With the “OPEN R&D Lithuania” brand
“Lithuania is a small, but big opportunities country. In order to increase awareness about our work as well as our competitiveness, and to present Lithuania as an attractive and dynamic region in the market of research, technology and innovation, we created the “OPEN R&D Lithuania” brand to represent our country’s scientific potential. It allows our universities and institutes to gain greater visibility as members of the same network in the international context,” says “OPEN R&D” Lithuania facilitator Martynas Survilas, responsible for running the Contact Centre.
Founded in 2014, the “OPEN R&D Lithuania” network is coordinated by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA). Members of the network – universities, scientific research institutes, science and technology parks and open-access centres – provide more than 2.5 thousand different services in the fields of engineering, IT, biomedicine and biotechnology, material science, physics and chemical technology, natural resources and agriculture. They are involved in developing new products based on the very latest scientific research. Employees of member organisations are given access to available equipment. Training events and professional consultation is provided to address all aspects of scientific research, development and transfer of technology and innovation. New technology is created and existing technology is developed further. Research, experiments, analysis and various measurements are conducted. Prototypes are developed and manufactured.
Last year, in order to make it easier for businesses to find their way through the myriad R&D services available and to select what best suits their needs, MITA set up the “OPEN R&D Lithuania” Contact Centre. It helps companies find the shortest route to a suitable research partner, gather information about where they can order the services they need and set up individual meetings. An emailed enquiry is enough to solicit an answer as to where a business should refer to next. The contact centre will help businesses get in touch with the right people and, if necessary, get them interested and convince them to become partners.
On 2-4th March Santaka Valley hosted 218 software developers, engineers, designers, health-tech enthusiasts and other creative people for the 11th hackathon of the annual Hacker Games series. After 48 hours of mingling, idea pitching, team forming and intensive product-developing a total of 45 projects were brought to life.
Please meet the best healthcare track projects that took Hacker Games: Kaunas by storm!
First place and 1000 EUR and Invitation to a two-day Life Sciences Baltics Startups Masterclasses was won by StrokeBGone. The team created a platform for stroke treatment using kinesiotherapy methods in virtual reality.
Second place and 400 EUR from Society of Innovative Medicine was awarded to Oculodiagnostics whose invention utilized eye tracking to diagnose PD, autism and even depression.
Flight tickets to the selected destination from ADEO WEB were received by Scarlet as the team was nominated for being the most Creative team in all tracks. Scarlet built an ergonomic chair to treat serious back pain.
In Health track a total of 8 projects were pitched; 3 of them took prizewinning places.
Human genomic DNA consists of more than 3 billion base pairs that could be visualised as letters which encode information. If any one letter is modified, a person falls ill. If we want to help a person recover, we should cut out “bad” DNA letters and replace them with the “good” ones in order to restore the functioning of normal biological processes. However, this technology is sophisticated and not easy to control; it requires particularly accurate tools – kind of DNA scissors. Scientists have been searching for ways to make these scissors as accurate as possible so that the process of cutting and replacement of DNA sequences is made easier and simpler.
“With our previous tools, it was either impossible or very difficult or very costly. Our technology enables the use of Cas9 proteins as molecular scissors, whereas DNA is recognised by the RNA molecule. After we modify it, we can refer the protein exactly where we want it to be. This technology will particularly accelerate and cheapen the DNA cutting processes,” says Dr. Giedrius Gasiūnas, a scientist at the Institute of Biotechnology of Vilnius University.
The gene editing technology which he developed together with his colleagues Prof. Dr. Virginijus Šikšnys, Dr. Tomas Šinkūnas and Dr. Tautvydas Karvelis has caused a great stir in the scientific community. It opens an opportunity to cure genetic diseases, i.e. target at the particular spot of genome which causes an illness and rectify it.
“Our ultimate aim is to help a person recover or alleviate his condition. Currently, people who are ill with genetic diseases might only combat their effects or alleviate the symptoms, instead of eliminating their causes. This technology will do it,” says Dr. Gasiūnas.
According to him, the new technology opens a way to other scientific research as well. Human genome contains around 20,000 protein-coding genes. However, we still lack knowledge of them. If we are able to turn off, turn on or relocate proteins, we could understand their functioning and better know their mechanisms.
“There has been quite a stir among scientists when they found out that theoretically we can not only cure genetic diseases, but also edit human embryos. The scientific community has been organising conferences on ethical and regulatory issues and has been discussing whether people have the right to do this and if yes, in what cases,” adds Dr. Gasiūnas.
The technology developed by Lithuanians might also be applied in agriculture. As we know, humankind seeks to discover more effective plant species that require fewer fertilizers or chemicals. The process of derivation of new species has so far been quite long and mutations have been random, whereas the new technology would enable their purposeful formation without any unnecessary modifications.
“In other words, no additional DNA would be inserted in the cell. At present, the United States of America have approved and the European Commission has been discussing the fact that such plants are not considered to be genetically modified. Their DNA would remain the same, yet their nutrient profiles would considerably improve and they would require fewer fertilizers or chemicals,” explains the scientist.
Scientists are hesitant to forecast how quickly these technologies will be applied in practice. Adaptation, in particular for curing diseases, is a very long process, since all medications have to pass through several phases of clinical trials.
“A lot depends on the success of these technologies. Clinical trials have already been started in the USA and China, where these technologies are applied in the treatment of certain types of blood cancer. When these technologies are applied in Lithuania will depend on their development and, certainly, their price and availability,” says Dr. Gasiūnas.
The scientists of the Institute of Biotechnology of Vilnius University – Dr. Gasiūnas, Prof. Dr. Šikšnys, Dr. Šinkūnas and Dr. Karvelis – have been nominated and awarded the Lithuanian Science Award for the cycle of works CRISPR-Cas System Research: From the Bacterial Defence System to the Gene Editing Technology.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.