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.