It is only a few hundred meters between the cancer lab at Medicinareberget and the Department of Oncology at Sahlgrenska – where the patients are. Thanks to the covered footbridge over the street, it is possible to hide from the rain all the way. Still, the distance is too far for oncologist Lars Ny.
Lars Ny remembers it as it was yesterday. On a Wednesday at the end of February 2012, a group of researchers and doctors focusing on malignant melanoma gathered. Every now and then, in the university’s conference room on the Medical hill, the participants did not understand the significance of the meeting. But it would not just be the start of a whole new approach to research and patients. It would also increase the chances of survival for people with widespread skin cancer.
As for Kent Persson in Landvetter.
Kent’s story has been told several times in the media. How the metastases in the lungs, among other places, shrank and disappeared completely when he was given the opportunity to test the new pioneering form of treatment immunotherapy.
And we’ll return to him and how his white blood cells fought the tumors.
Went from the meeting too early
But first we must mention that everything was cracking there in the conference room in February 2012 – already after an hour.
– My colleague and I felt that we had to leave to handle our summer schedule. We missed the most important briefing, says Lars Ny about an unconscious wrong prioritization that could have been fatal.
– But another colleague realized that I should also take part in this, and arranged a new meeting a few weeks later.
These conversations were the start of what is called a translational approach to cancer research in Gothenburg, and what was then organized in the Sahlgrenska Translational Melanoma Group (“SATMEG”).
Research at the university became more directly linked to research close to the care and treatment of hospital patients.
“Pulls the curtain apart”
The meeting at Medicinareberget came about more or less by coincidence. Some researchers and doctors met to see if there were any common issues to discuss.
But coincidence came to change a lot. And if coincidence is given a push, the chances of good things developing increase.
This is one of the most important points Lars Ny wants to convey. People who meet unplanned across borders can think new thoughts together.
– I want to pull the curtain apart so that all stakeholders can see each other and meet in new constellations, he says and describes his vision of Sahlgrenska Life’s function as a cluster environment for translational research.
Then, in February 2012, translational research was already a well-established international concept. But the cancer researchers in Gothenburg who worked with malignant melanoma had not started working that way in a more developed way.
– There were still no clearly open doors between academic research and healthcare. The worlds did not meet in a natural way, says Lars Ny.
A couple of years later, the new treatment method immunotherapy had its breakthrough as a fourth and equally important treatment method as surgery, radiation therapy and cytotoxic drugs, for many tumor groups. It extended the life of the cancer patient Kent Persson.
He had to try a treatment that was not yet approved for use in ordinary care. What is usually called a clinical study or trial.
Kent Persson himself has told about how he went from being terminally ill to being declared healthy in seven months. After just one month, all the tumors had shrunk and several were completely gone.
If we start from the patient’s perspective, will care be better if, as you say, the worlds meet?
– It will be more natural for all patients to participate in research in this way, through clinical studies. They will notice that. You will have increased access to the most modern cancer treatment, because it is offered mainly in clinical studies.
An advantage for the patient?
– Those who have participated in our clinical studies often highlight the benefits for the individual. You get security and almost optimal care. A doctor and a nurse with continuity and long-term individualized planning with examination times and follow-up visits. Because that’s how the studies are structured.
– This is how you wish it would be for all patients. But that is not the case.
Could the number of studies increase through Sahlgrenska Life, and more patients get this benefit?
– I believe so. There are many good examples. Kent is not the only example of how participation in a clinical study completely changes the conditions of life.
Had Kent had this chance to live much longer, if you and your team had not had this way of working?
– He and many other patients would definitely not have been allowed to participate if we had not been so involved in clinical and translational research.
Lars Ny points out that the translational approach has become a matter of course in medical university regions and research clusters around the world. In the vicinity of western Sweden, the Oslo Cancer Cluster is an example.
– There they are very close to each other with preclinical research, labs, clinical studies and patient contacts. The experiences from there are very interesting for us.
– But you also see it in the Öresund region, in Copenhagen they have come a long way, and around Europe and in North America. All the major American cancer hospitals work in this way, says Lars Ny.
His expectations of Sahlgrenska Life are very clear. It is about proximity and stimulating interaction between the various actors that contribute to research results and new treatment methods.
But it is not only the already functioning networks and personal contacts that would benefit.
– These bridges between the Medical hill (Medicinareberget) and the care here at the hospital have significantly improved the accessibility. I see Sahlgrenska Life as an extension of these contact paths, so that more people can reach each other in an easier way. You meet in a natural way in everyday life.
About Lars Ny
Senior lecturer in immunooncology at the University of Gothenburg. Chief physician and associate professor at the Department of Oncology and active at Sahlgrenska Center for Cancer Research, which is at the forefront of immunotherapy as a new form of treatment for cancer.
Medically responsible for the clinical trial unit with phase-1 at the Department of Oncology.
Background as a research physician at AstraZeneca and manager at Gothia Forum.