COLUMN. “It will soon have been one year since we began adapting how we work to reduce the spread of the virus in the community,” writes Dean Agneta Holmäng in her column. She also discusses the therapeutic oligonucleotides initiative as a large investment in the life sciences that is important not just for West Sweden, but for the entire country.
We will soon have a full year of restrictions and remote work behind us. None of us thought in March last year that we would teach, research and do other work from home as long as we have.
Even though working from home was supposed to be temporary, enough time has gone by that we can now conclude that we remain a productive faculty. Within education, we have successfully addressed the underproduction of the last few years, thanks to significant efforts by the institutes. Our scientific production has also increased. During the 2020 coronavirus year, our researchers were main authors or co-authors to just over 3000 peer reviewed scholarly articles and review articles, which was an increase by just over 13 percent compared to the previous year.
At the same time, we should not forget this year of restrictions was a difficult and trying time for many of us, even for those who needed to work full-time or part-time on campus. Our thanks and gratitude to everyone who contributed every day to ensuring that we could continue our work. The stricter restrictions from Swedish authorities have been extended, and we must be prepared to continue working remotely and staying focused on the job at hand, at least through the spring semester. At the same time, we know that vaccinations, warmer weather, and spring sun will likely help dampen the spread of virus.
Strengthen our competitiveness in the life sciences
The major initiative in research within therapeutic oligonucleotides is truly good news. The national technology platform, OligoNova Hub, will give an important boost to our region and to Sweden and even contribute internationally. Therapeutic oligonucleotides are a new principle for pharmaceuticals. These medications have already become very important for children with severe genetic diseases and, in the next step, will allow treatment of more common diseases with a new approach. In addition to therapeutic oligonucleotides potentially offering new treatments, the initiative will also promote the opening of new and extensive research infrastructures in Gothenburg, and thereby a general strengthening of our competitiveness in life sciences.
We will be able to take advantage of our close and good collaboration with the health care system
This is one of the largest privately funded initiatives ever for a medical faculty in Sweden, and I am thrilled to be involved in this during my time as dean of Sahlgrenska Academy. The inspiration for the initiative arose during a study visit to Boston close to 18 months ago, when I was there, together with several representatives from other organizations, to visit a well-functioning, large research institute within the field, RNA Therapeutics Institute. We realized at the time that we could have a similar initiative in Gothenburg and that we could take advantage of our close and good collaboration with the health care system and private industry. So, we began discussions with possible funding organizations about how we could organize this type of initiative in therapeutic oligonucleotides. The OligoNova Hub was possible after major efforts by many parties and researchers, but a special thanks goes to Claes Gustafson, professor of medical chemistry, who worked with this effort and contributed his extensive knowledge in the field. OligoNova is a national technical platform being established here in Gothenburg, in collaboration with several parties. The largest source of funding is the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and another private initiative will make a major contribution. I would like to express my warmest thanks to everyone whose dedication resulted in this major initiative.
A small community for life sciences is growing around AstraZeneca
Research funding for therapeutic oligonucleotides is being given to the University through the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular and Translational Medicine (WCMTM). OligoNova Hub will become a part of a larger national network for research and development of oligonucleotide pharmaceuticals, which also includes SciLifeLab and AstraZeneca as partners.
We are already seeing very positive developments within the life sciences in our region, where AstraZeneca’s incubator BioVentureHub is a good example. A small community for life sciences is growing around AstraZeneca, where start-ups are already in line to join. This cluster has extensive plans for such things as new researcher and student housing. This is also where GoCo Health Innovation Arena will be based, which is a new hub for collaboration within the Gothenburg region in collaboration with other platforms that are already in place.
We need a clearer picture of the financial consequences
Preparations are underway for the system stage of the Sahlgrenska Life project. The University has informed the property owner Vitartes of its decision to move forward, and after consultation with the institutes of Clinical Sciences, Medicine, Health and Care Sciences, and Odontology as well as the Biomedical Library, the Vice-Chancellor has proposed which organizations will be located in the future buildings. Many of our researchers wonder about future rental costs, and there is concern that the high cost of facilities could have negative consequences for research. I understand why these questions have been raised. We need a clearer picture of the financial consequences and of the sustainability aspects, which the University Board has highlighted in its decision to move forward with the construction process.
Dean Agneta Holmäng