Credit: Johan Wingborg
In recent years, techniques have been developed to treat diseases with what are known as oligonucleotide drugs, based on short DNA or RNA molecules. The Wallenberg Centre for Molecular and Translational Medicine at the University of Gothenburg has now been awarded SEK 54 million by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and SEK 48m from SciLifeLab and the University of Gothenburg, to create a national technology platform in this subject area: the OligoNova Hub.
“The rapid development of oligonucleotide drugs is due, in part, to the detailed knowledge we’ve gained about the human genome and how changes in it can give rise to disease. This knowledge makes it possible to use computers to fast-track the initial stages in development of new oligonucleotide drugs,” says Agneta Holmäng, Dean of Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.
Besides funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW) and other stakeholders, the initiative has been facilitated by the contributions of AstraZeneca in Mölndal: its unique knowhow and guidance while the OligoNova Hub is being established. The initiative is taking place in collaboration with SciLifeLab (the Science for Life Laboratory), a national research center for molecular life sciences. In the future, the OligoNova Hub will be part of SciLifeLab’s drug development platform.
“We’re proud and happy to be able to set up this Hub, which gives researchers access to cutting-edge technologies and a chance to develop their results further. I’d also like to emphasize that none of this would have been possible without strong cooperation both within the University and with numerous partners. This really is a project in which KAW and many other forces for good have worked together,” says Vice-Chancellor Eva Wiberg.
Potential for more effective treatment methods
Today, there are examples of oligonucleotide drugs that took just a few years to be developed. In contrast, in traditional drug development it takes at least five years before new drugs reach patients. With the platform now under construction, Swedish researchers will be able to further develop their scientific discoveries in the direction of new drugs. The hope is that this will lead both to more effective therapies and to future companies in a swiftly expanding part of the discipline of life science.
“Although the first oligonucleotide drugs were developed to treat unusual, genetic diseases, we’re now also seeing rapid development of new therapies against major disease groups. For example, the EU very recently approved inclisiran, the new oligonucleotide drug that’s used to lower cholesterol,” says Claes Gustafsson, Professor of Medical Chemistry at Sahlgrenska Academy.
OligoNova Hub is to be connected with a large network for research and development of oligonucleotide drugs. Establishment of this network, through a national collaboration involving the University of Gothenburg, AstraZeneca and other partners, is underway. During the buildup phase (2020/21), this initiative is being funded by Vinnova through Swelife, the strategic innovation program.
Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation
By and large, the Foundation supports basic research in medicine, technology and natural sciences. The Foundation, which is currently awarding nearly SEK 2 billion annually, is one of Europe’s largest private research funders.
SciLifeLab (Science for Life Laboratory)
The Laboratory was started in 2010 by four host universities jointly: Karolinska Institutet, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Stockholm University and Uppsala University. In 2013, SciLifeLab was awarded the status of a national research infrastructure facility, and today it operates at most major Swedish higher education institutions.