Ingrida Olendraitė, a doctoral student at Cambridge University, an alumnus of Vilnius University, had little expectations that her meeting with an old acquaintance during Life Sciences Baltics will evolve to an international project together with the greatest minds in the field of virus research.
Last autumn Ms Olendraitė has participated in the Life Sciences Baltics forum for the first time. During the session of posters, she presented the topic “Polycipiviridae: a proposed new family of polycistronic picorna-like RNA viruses“. “I am strongly delighted by the fact that the forum attracted both the representatives of industrial and academic segments. I have never seen before a conference environment that is typical of industry because scientific conferences are mainly focused simply on presentations”, – says Ms Olendraitė.
More than 1.8 thousand life science experts, researchers, academics, business representatives, investors and start-ups from more than 40 countries participated at Life Sciences Baltic which took place on 26-27 September last year.
Different fields have been linked by project similarities
During two days of Life Sciences Baltics, the young researcher from Cambridge met many acquaintances from university years, including Dr Darius Kazlauskas who is a researcher at Vilnius University Life Sciences Centre. During the conversation, as usually, the colleagues shared between each other information about their occupation and areas of research that they are focused on. I. Olendraitė knew that the researcher at Vilnius University works with Eugene Koonin, a well-known US evolutionary and mathematical biology expert. During the session of posters, the student of Dr Kazlauskas had also made her presentation.
“When Darius started to talk about one project, I understood that our projects are fairly similar. We saw that knowledge of Darius of protein evolution and my scientific group’s knowledge of virology can be perfectly matched with each other”, – remembers Ms Olendraitė.
She first of all came up with an idea to invite Dr Kazlauskas to Cambridge where, during weekly meetings, presentations are made by the speakers, discussions are held, methods are reviewed, the participants are offered an opportunity to establish cooperation in the future with one or another research group. However, later, after the event, when both researchers were talking about the specific projects, Ms Olendraitė and Dr Kazlauskas agreed that Ms Olendraitė could become a part of the international project that is intended to create protein profiles for all viruses with RNA genomes, and help speed up works. E. Koonin is one of the initiators of this project.
Controlling viral diseases represents the objective of the project
“Viruses are divided into taxonomic groups that can be understood as family ties. During the project, we take a certain protein from all RNA viruses, then group them by similarity into “the children”, i.e. to a taxonomic level of the genus, and then we create so called profiles to show to what extent sequences of a certain protein vary in that group, and to what extent its structure remains clear, conservative. We will eventually place all profiles in the freely accessible database on the Internet in order the researchers could use them for their works”, – tells Ms Olendraitė.
Hundreds of hitherto hidden and unidentified viruses are discovered each year and usually researchers know nothing about such newly found viruses. Thus, the profiles developed could help in looking for new RNA viruses, and to compare, understand, and characterize them. “Nine out of ten deadliest viruses are the viruses that have RNA genomes. Vaccines have already been created against some of them, while creating vaccines for some of them is still impossible. So the general perception of viruses, their molecular biology and evolution, how they change over time, help to control such diseases and to prepare for them”, – says Ms Olendratė. Viruses that have RNA genomes and diseases caused by them include Ebola virus, rabies, HIV, flu, Dengue fever, and rotavirus.
“There is a lot of work to do because there is a very high number of viral protein types and even greater number of virus genera. There is a major challenge when it comes to deciding what similarity between “the brother” and “the sister” could serve as the basis for considering them not only as one family, but also as “the children”, i.e. as “the genus”, – explains the I. Olendraitė.
Dr Kazlauskas and Martas Krupovičius, a researcher at Louis Pasteur Institute and an alumnus of Vilnius University, work with viral proteins of more complex structures. I. Olendraitė studies RNA-dependent RNA polymerase, which is the most conservative of all proteins. This protein can be found in all RNA viruses. It is responsible for multiplication (replication) of genome and for preparation (transcription) of transcripts for protein production.
Getting out of own lab is beneficial
When working in this project, in spring Ms Olendraitė joined a group of bioinformatics at the Life Sciences Centre of Vilnius University for a month-long practice, and now she continues to do research remotely. According to the researcher, cooperation at the international level is very useful by reason of one fact alone that the principles of the daily work of researchers differ and joint projects help to better understand how different people work.
“I have experienced myself that stepping out of own well familiar environment and doing the same work but surrounded by different people is very useful. This not only enriches culturally but also helps acquire new skills”, – says Ms Olendratė.
The doctoral student at Cambridge University was also impressed in Vilnius by the fact that in a small community of researchers you can easily ask another colleague for help, can talk with scientists of various ranks, and can even freely access the Rector of the University.
Ms Olendraitė, however, admitted that even though a world-class scientific work is carried out every day in Lithuania, a science-filled environment can be better sensed at Cambridge University. “Cambridge offers a possibility almost every day attend at the meetings, lectures, congregations, followed by discussions. The lectures of Nobel laureates or of the representatives of their groups are organised quite often. You can choose to attend for self-education purposes at lectures on Psychology, Philosophy or Evolution for the general public. Many unofficial meetings with the colleagues are organised, and therefore we can share concerns between each other”, – tells Ms Olendraitė. She also emphasizes that the university and various scientific communities in the United Kingdom invest a lot in training and education, provide funds for conferences, traineeships.
According to Minister of Economy and Innovation Virginijus Sinkevičius, if Lithuania attracted at least 5 large-scale investment projects in the Life Sciences sector, it would become the sector’s global leader. On January 6-11, the Minister is visiting the US (JP Morgan Healthcare conference), where he is meeting with representatives of international Life Sciences companies.
“The Lithuanian Life Sciences sector grows by 20 percent yearly, and major international companies clearly see this progress. Nevertheless, Lithuania still has plenty of potential to grow further, and we only need another 5 large-scale investors to become the biggest life sciences center in the world. The Ministry has prepared a Life Sciences sector development strategy, which aims to create even better conditions for such companies. Such leading players as Thermo Fisher, Sicor Biotech, among others, are investing in new regions, thus not only creating jobs, but also significantly contributing to the development of the Life Sciences ecosystem. Therefore, the attraction of major investors is no less important than improving the business environment for the companies already operating in Lithuania, believes Sinkevicius.
The Minister of Economy and Innovation is participating in the 37th annual JP Morgan Life Sciences Week in San Francisco, where he will be meeting with potential investors. Life Sciences Week is the largest and most important event in the Life Sciences and MedTech community, with more than 400 companies and 8000 attendees and investors participating.
Lithuania has a goal for Life Sciences to yield 5 percent of GDP by 2030. Currently, the sector contributes more than 1 percent to Lithuania’s GDP, which is 6 times the EU average.
At the moment, more than 130 Life Sciences companies are operating in Lithuania, with more than 80 percent of their products being exported. Life Sciences products developed and manufactured in Lithuania are exported to more than 100 countries.
Such renowned enterprises as Moog, Teva, Thermo Fisher, Hollister, Intermedix, and Intersurgical have already established units in Lithuania.
One of the leading life sciences startup in Lithuania Oxipit has just came back from the trip to the USA. During a week-long visit to Ohio the winner of Life Sciences Baltics Pitch challenge presented the products to the potential clients: universities, hospitals, radiologists.
The chance to go to the USA was awarded to the artificial intelligence (AI) startup after it beat out nine other startups from the Baltic countries and Ukraine which presented their products or services during the Life Sciences Baltics event in September.
Naglis Ramanauskas, the representative of the winners’ team and one of the founders of the start-up, said that the organisers of the main prize of the pitch challenge contributed a lot – both while preparing for the trip to the USA and during the travel – to make the visit useful and successful. “I would like to express my gratitude to Robert Anthony, Samuel DeShazior and Ingrida Baublys, the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Lithuania in the USA: these people made great effort and were genuinely sincere trying to make our trip productive and successful,” Mr Ramanauskas noted.
How were you preparing for the visit to Akron? What was your goal and what products have you presented?, we asked Naglis Ramanauskas after the visit.
We presented our two main products designed for optimising the analysis and the description process of lung x-rays. One of them is intended for optimisation of radiologists’ work and for improvement of the accuracy of diagnostics; the other serves as an advisory tool meant to help in complicated cases and educational gadget.
We had three key objectives with regard to the visit: 1) find some users of our products – hospitals, clinics or universities which would be interested in trying our products right away and would later become our clients in the USA market; 2) find out the specificities of certification by the FDA and what any other additional challenges might be posed; 3) better understand the procedure of payment for medical services in the USA and the possibilities to sell medical diagnostic solutions. I suppose, we have achieved all these targets.
We prepared for the travel by arranging targeted meetings with the institutions and people in Cleveland and Akron that might help us pursue our goals. These were administrators, researchers of hospitals and universities, representatives of business companies, manufacturers of medical products, insurance companies and the FDA consultants.
What was the response to your ideas in the USA? Have you seen any demand for your products there? Have you managed to establish sustainable relationship which might develop into a tight cooperation in the long run?
The ideas were welcomed and accepted well. The demand for radiologists in general, both in the USA and in Europe as well as all over the world, is big and has been growing; for this reason, products which help radiologists be more efficient and accurate are also in high demand. To sell an innovation, a very clear substantiation of the added value of the developed product is required; in other words, you have to illustrate the potentials of a product, to show how it might increase an entity’s income or reduce its costs. This is even more evident in the US market than in any other market. Increase of efficiency of the medical products’ market helps an entity save some money, whereas accuracy gives it a competitive advantage and reduces the costs of legal proceedings. As regards any cooperation, it is too early to state anything definitely, but we have found at least 5 potential clients who have showed a great interest in us and a desire to try our products. We hope that they might become our first clients in the US market.
What potentials do you see in entering the US market? What challenges do you face?
We have found at least 5 potential clients who have showed a great interest in us and a desire to try our products. We hope that they might become our first clients in the US market.
Although the US market is not our main priority at the moment, we view our chances as positive ones. The US market has its own specificities, you need to go through certain specific certification procedures, medical services are taxed in a manner which is different from Lithuania or Europe. Nevertheless, we are about to successfully complete the certification procedures in Europe and presume that this experience could be used for the certification procedures in the USA. During the visit, we met with the FDA consultants who readily answered all the questions we had on this issue.
Oxipit, just like many other young start-ups, has tried a number of methods of searching. How have you discovered a niche in the area of medicine? How much has the fact that you are the only one in a team with a medical education and specialization in radiology contributed to these discoveries?
It was determined by a few factors. Artificial intelligence has a huge potential of improving the quality of medical services. Products which create added value in this field not only can become successful commercial projects but can also improve the patients’ situation. This motivates us to go ahead. Besides, this market is fairly new, for this reason, there is a lot of room for new players. During my medical studies, I got deeply interested in the AI technology and started applying the AI algorithms for various medical problems merely for scientific purposes. Understanding the AI technology and facing the problems in the medical field I also saw some other fields in which the AI could be much helpful. In this way, the direction or approach of our company has gradually become clear.
This market is fairly new, for this reason, there is a lot of room for new players.
In your view, why it is worth participating in such competitions as Life Sciences Baltics Startup Pitch Challenge, hackathons and other events focusing on presentation of start-ups? How useful was the participation for you as a team and business?
It is worth participating in these events first of all for the reason of meeting people who have the same way of thinking. Our company would have not been set up, had we not met each other in one of such events, namely, in the AI hackathon organised in spring 2017 in Vilnius. For a company, participation in such competitions and events gives awareness and the possibility to make self-evaluations and prove your value to others. This, without a doubt, is important for selling your products and for attracting investments, to say nothing of direct and undisputable benefit.
Over these years, you have received a number of local and international awards. Oxipit could be titled the start-up of the year in Lithuania. What further plans do you have?
There are many plans for the next 18 months. We have some specific objectives we want to achieve in this period towards the improvement of the product and the expansion of its functionality – both by actively working in terms of business and by establishing a network of our clients.
Comment by Ingrida Baublys, Honorary Consul of Lithuania in the USA:
All visits to Akron is a gift to Lithuania. There are some finest US hospitals, research centres, consultative firms, etc. around Akron. In other words, everything what is actually hardly accessible in other cities. To get life science entrepreneurs, clusters of life science interested one has to work hard and establish relationships.
There are very well known brands and names among the life science companies in Ohio, such as Abbot, Battelle, Cardinal Health, Ethicon (Johnson & Johnson), Midmark, STERIS, also many growing companies, including Abeona Therapeutics, Enable Injections, Myonexus Therapeutics, etc.
Economic impact of life sciences’ industry is seen in the entire state, as many as 81 companies of the sector are located in 88 counties of Ohio. The life sciences industry has been growing in all six regions of Ohio and has played an important role in promoting critical discoveries. For instance, Cleveland is the city in which the headquarters of the famous Cleveland Clinics is set up. The clinics operate not only in Ohio and in other US states but also abroad.
Robert Anthony, Programme Coordinator of the visit by Oxipit to the USA
I really enjoyed working with Naglis last week. He did an excellent job in representing the life science community from Lithuania. Although early in the commercialization process, Oxipit is another example of an innovative, highly motivated and leading-edge technology based company from your country trying to expand into new markets. We were quite busy with meeting throughout Northeast Ohio (Cleveland, Columbus and Akron) including discussions with universities, medical schools, hospitals, radiologists, FDA consultants, insurance companies, etc. While Lithuania has made significant progress in various life science initiatives in the US market you are still relatively unknown in the mid-West. Ohio is a key state when it comes to life sciences and would be a good fit on many levels for Lithuania to begin expanding into the overall US market, not just the East and West coast.
During the poster session of Life Sciences Baltics, the largest international life sciences forum in the Baltic countries, almost third of the posters were presented by specialists of Vilnius University Hospital Santaros Klinikos. In total, 70 scientific ideas and projects were presented to the public.
“Santaros Klinikos is not only a strong, leading medical center providing multidisciplinary high level healthcare but also a center of Biomedical science and education, developing and implementing biomedical and information technologies. The synergy between science, innovation and medical practice is one of our key strategic goals. We do our best to create conditions for developing science, clinical trials and we can be proud of our achievements. In the world, more and more attention is focused on personalized medicine and scientific initiatives in this field. Thus Life Sciences Baltics was a great opportunity for our specialists to get acquainted with foreign experience and present their own“, – says professor Danguolė Jankauskienė, Director of Medicine and Nursing at Santaros Klinikos.
On 26-27 September the Forum revealed the potential of Lithuania in life sciences sector, innovations and presented opportunities for new developments, scientific and business cooperation with international community.
“We are very happy that our colleagues from Santaros Klinikos were so active. We presented scientific research of 12 centers covering a wide range of areas, including pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, patient’s chemo-dyscalcemia, pulmonary pathology, systemic sclerosis, childhood anemia of diabetes, and others. We are proud that the posters of our institution accounted for almost third of all posters at Life Sciences Baltics. The booth at the exhibition area has gained a lot of interest as well. In addition, delegations from such countries as Israel, the United Kingdom visited the hospital. We are sure that these meetings will turn into effective collaborations”, – says Lidija Kraujalienė, specialist at Innovations and technology transfer division of Santaros Klinikos.
“The link between science, business and practice is the only way to keep pace with innovations as well as to ensure progress and most effective help. Santaros Klinikos is the first healthcare institution that conducts pre-commercial procurements that promote innovation and application to the public sector, serve public interest and help new products and services to enter the market. Our organization is actively contributing to the cooperation between science and business. The gap between science and business is still evident in Lithuania and the benefits and perspectives are enormous. For example, we have already agreed that Remis Bistras, the expert in life sciences, will visit Santaros Klinikos in October where he will meet with young doctors, researchers and others who are interested in cooperation between medicine and business and building business in medicine”, – says Lina Žiaukienė, the Head of Innovations and technology transfer division of Santaros Klinikos.
Lithuanian startup Oxipit was crowned the winner of Pitch Challenge by Johnson & Johnson Innovation winner at Life Sciences Baltics on 27 September. A startup that uses AI to diagnose cancer beat out 9 other startups in the Pitch Challenge which consisted of four minute pitches and Q&A session.
Oxipit was awarded with the mentorship at Johnson & Johnson Innovation as well as a week long visit to the Akron Biomedical Corridor in the USA. Oxipit, the winner, has developed a Deep Learning image search solution which takes an X-ray image to be written up and finds most similar cases in the hospital database without any further work required.
Alternative Plants from Latvia, using plant biotechnology to effectively produce valuable bioactive ingredients, won the legal advice package provided by Rödl & Partner as the second place winner. They establish plant stem cell cultures and use them for efficient and standardised production of ingredients for cosmetic, medical device and pharma industries.
The jury of Pitch Challenge consisted of Roberta Rudokienė, Head of Startup Lithuania, Remis Bistras, CEO of ThermoPharma, Anthony Gemmel, Senior Director at EMEA Network New Ventures & Transactions of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, prof. Chris Lowe, Director of Cambridge Academy of Therapeutic Sciences (CATS), Jereon Verheyen, Co-Founder of Semarion, Dr. Michal Wlodarski, Principal at Cambridge Innovation Consulting Ltd, Tomas Andriuškevičius, Partner at Practica VC.
Pitch Challenge by Johnson & Johnson Innovation took place in the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Hall at the Life Sciences Baltics exhibition area, where 10 startups from Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine were pitching for the main prizes.
10 best life sciences startups were selected during the Startup Masterclasses by Johnson & Johnson Innovation that was held on 24-25 September in Vilnius. In total, 26 startups from the Baltics, Belarus and Ukraine participated in the masterclasses specially designed for the life sciences startups.
Startup Masterclasses and Pitch Challenge is a traditional part of the Life Sciences Baltics event happening for the 4th time already. The Life Sciences Baltics forum acts as a platform for networking, exchanging ideas and making connections with more than 1,900 participants, investors, professionals, world-known speakers, international companies 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.
Lithuania has been gradually becoming one of the high tech centres in the region – the country has defined a goal to become the most attractive European country for the development of the life sciences sector by 2030. On 26 September, during Life Sciences Baltics, the largest international life sciences forum in the Baltic countries, Lithuanian Minister of Economy Virginijus Sinkevičius presented perspectives for the development of the Lithuanian life sciences industry.
The annual growth of the Lithuanian life sciences sector is approx. 19 per cent, which is one of the most rapid growth paces across the European Union. 90 per cent of Lithuanian biotechnological and pharmaceutical products as well as medical devices are exported to more than one hundred states, including the USA, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Japan.
“Lithuania has a huge potential of life sciences, because we have a well-developed infrastructure – universities and research centres, a growing industry, many scientists; we have also attracted significant foreign investments, whereas the conditions for establishing business are favourable, thus the development of this sector is a natural strategic direction. Today the Lithuanian life sciences sector creates 1 per cent of gross domestic product, yet the future outlook is 5 per cent in ten years. The sector creates high added value and its productivity already now more than twice exceeds the overall national labour productivity,” says Minister of Economy Virginijus Sinkevičius.
Lithuania can make use of its unique competitive advantages of pharmaceutical and biotechnological business which are provided by research and study institutions conducting significant research, as well as highly qualified specialists, whereas the fields of biotechnology and medical devices haven’t yet used the startup potential.
Lithuania is also unique for its synergic possibilities to relate the engineering industry with a long-standing tradition and biomedicine. This is evident from laser companies which develop laser technologies that are applied in the field of medicine.
According to the estimates of analysts of Enterprise Lithuania, the Lithuanian life sciences sector employs almost 5 000 specialists. 43 per cent of all sector companies are the developers of medical devices, 28 per cent are biotechnology companies, 16 per cent are research and development companies, and 13 per cent are pharmacy companies.
“We are an educated and enterprising country and we have to seek that a bigger number of our companies develop niche products and provide specialised solutions, thus contributing to significant innovations in the fields of pharmaceutical manufacturing and biotechnology. Our country’s market size is obviously one of the key limiting factors; therefore, it is worthwhile for the life sciences companies that establish and operate in Lithuania to search for possibilities to become involved in separate stages of pharmaceutical product development, create and sell intermediate technologies and provide global companies with various biotechnologies,” says Daina Kleponė, Managing Director of Enterprise Lithuania that organises the largest life sciences forum in the Baltic countries for the fourth time.
The Life Sciences Baltics Forum, which takes place on 26–27 September in Vilnius, has attracted more than 1 800 participants from over 30 countries of the world. The Forum consists of an international scientific conference, an exhibition of the life sciences sector, business meetings and a training session for startups. Entrance to the exhibition, in which almost 70 companies and organisations from over 15 countries present their products and services, is free of charge.
One of the most exciting parts of Life Sciences Baltics have already started! On 24-25 September 26 startups from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine learned many things in the Life Sciences Baltics Startup Masterclasses presented by Johnson & Johnson Innovation. During the Pitch Battle 10 promising and inspiring life sciences startups will be given a stage to showcase their ideas.
10 finalists will present startup in the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Hall on the second day of the Life Sciences Baltics event with a pitch to an audience of international investors, media and of course, the jury. They all compete for the exciting prizes – mentorship at Johnson & Johnson innovation, visit to the US Akron Biomedical Corridor and legal advice provided by Rödl & Partner.
This year life sciences startups showed significantly higher interest in applying to participate in the Startup Masterclasses by Johnson & Johnson Innovation. Not surprisingly, as in the Baltics life sciences startups have been contributing more and more to the overall industry dynamism in recent years.
Without further ado, here are all the announced startups to compete at the Pitch Challenge:
Over recent several years 7–8 life sciences spin-offs and startups have been establishing in Lithuania annually. They are developing pharmaceutical and biotechnological products of high added value as well as medical devices. The survey of life sciences companies conducted by Enterprise Lithuania in summer revealed that the development of promising companies of this sector largely depends on sufficient financing in every stage of business development.
“Within a very short time Lithuania managed to significantly develop the business of pharmaceutical and biotechnological products as well as medical devices – the annual growth pace of the turnover of life sciences companies reach averagely 19 per cent, and 90 per cent of products are exported to more than 100 countries. Yet sustainable development of the sector will be only guaranteed by a more mature ecosystem of risk and private capital market, since the survey shows that companies most often financially rely on their private capital and depend on EU funding programmes,” says Daina Kleponė, General Manager of Enterprise Lithuania.
According to her, life sciences startups are fundamentally different from all other technology startups. It takes around 8-10 years to develop the products and capital investments are much higher as well. Practically all startups of life sciences commercialize research results and the different stages of the product development require different competences: scientific, product development, and entrepreneurship. In order to stimulate the creation of life sciences in Lithuania, for this type of startups, we must first of all ensure sustainable funding and the personal mentoring in necessary fields – science, business and other”, – says Ms. Kleponė.
Agnė Vaitkevičienė, the founder and CEO of Froceth, the only company in the Baltic countries that produces advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) customized to individual patients, says that scientists mainly establish biotechnological business in Lithuania today and they find it difficult to prepare and present their ideas to business. “Cooperation between business and science has to be more active. Significant investment is needed for the development of a biotechnological company; therefore, business has to understand how these precious ideas have to be turned into profit. High risk is usually related to improper assessment of the product itself, market analysis and simply the lack of knowledge and competencies in cooperation between scientists and entrepreneurs. It is particularly difficult to find funding sources in the early stages of business development,” says Ms. Vaitkevičienė.
According to her, Lithuania pays particular attention to the creation of as favourable conditions for the development of the life sciences sector as possible; however, more effort has to be exerted for the development of applied science, incubator, startup acceleration programmes and funding of companies at an early stage.
About one-third of risk capital in Europe is invested into life sciences related companies, yet sector companies slackly provide investment offers to risk capital funds in Lithuania. Risk capital company Practica Capital has so far invested in digital businesses related to medicine and life sciences: Softneta which develops a specialised medical software that improves the quality of patient care, a healthy lifestyle company OME Health, and the system of registration of doctor’s appointment “My Doctor”.
“We have been open to making investments into life sciences companies and we would like to have more such opportunities, yet we simply get too few offers. Within several coming years, Lithuania should feel an increased supply of risk capital from both local funds and those from neighbouring countries. It seems that the main limiting factor for risk capital funds to become involved in this sector is more associated with the number of life sciences teams, the ambitions to monetize their talent and the resulting need for funding,” says Tomas Andriuškevičius, the partner of Practica Capital.
The international Life Sciences Baltics forum, organised by Enterprise Lithuania, especially focuses on young companies and startups of the sector. Special training for life sciences startups from the Baltic states, Ukraine and Belarus is held in Vilnius on 24–25 September. The participating startups are acquainted with the basics of business model development and funding sources and are also taught to introduce their ideas to business and investors.
“The fields of biotechnology and medical engineering open up great opportunities for the establishment of startups which offer niche services to bigger companies and develop innovative technologies or products to be subsequently transferred to international players of the sector. The bigger companies also tend to acquire a startup. The programme is aimed not only at helping to improve, but also at creating opportunities to be noticed by international investors. Only with a greater diversity of instruments we may expect that innovative startups will grow and significantly contribute to the development of the life sciences sector in Lithuania,” says Ms. Kleponė, General Manager of Enterprise Lithuania.
On 27 September, the second day of the Life Sciences Baltics Forum, the best ten startups will introduce themselves to investors as well as Lithuanian and foreign business and science representatives. Startups which present the best idea in the competition of business ideas “Pitch Challenge” will be awarded special prizes: mentorship at the main sponsor of the training programme Johnson & Johnson Innovation, one-week training and cooperation visit to the US biomedical cluster Akron Biomedical Corridor, and legal consultations by Rödl & Partner.
The Life Sciences Baltics Forum, to be held on 26–27 September, will include an international scientific conference, an exhibition of the life sciences sector, a programme for startups and business meetings.
On 26–27 September, Vilnius will turn into the international centre of life sciences. The Life Sciences Baltics forum – the largest in the Baltic countries and most rapidly growing forum in the Nordic Europe – will invite experts of its field to learn about the latest scientific trends and discoveries and to establish contacts with representatives of companies and organisations from the Baltics and other countries.
‘Lithuania has made a huge progress in the field of life sciences in recent years. Investments into scientific infrastructure, internationally-recognised discoveries made by our scientists and successful development of businesses show that we are on the right path to progress. We hope that Life Sciences Baltics organised for the fourth time will make the name of Lithuania, as the country of life sciences, even better known worldwide and contribute to success of the Lithuanian companies engaged in life science and the science itself’, said Daina Kleponė, Managing Director of forum organiser Enterprise Lithuania.
Focus on partnerships between business and science
Academic, business and government delegations from Japan, Israel, the United Kingdom, China, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Latvia, Estonia will be present at Life Sciences Baltics. They will have the opportunity to network with Lithuanian companies, universities and to discuss the perspectives of future partnerships.
‘The export of Lithuanian life sciences companies has almost tripled over the course of seven years. By attracting a large number of potential business partners to Lithuania, we are aiming to expand Lithuania’s horizons beyond national borders. Our life sciences products and services have already made their way to the USA, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany markets so we hope to exploit this potential further’, said Ms Kleponė.
Among the international companies that will come to Vilnius is a full service global Clinical Research Organisation Clintec, Intertek Pharmaceutical Services supplying pharmaceutical contract laboratory services, regulatory guidance and supply chain assurance, one of the largest Baltic and Nordic companies in the field of clinical research Medfiles, a global solution provider to biologics manufacturing industry Asahi Kasei Bioprocess, a contract research laboratory Citoxlab, Japanese food and chemical corporation Ajinomoto, World Courier supplying logistic services to pharmaceutical companies and others.
Special attention will be paid to the life sciences startups from the Baltic and surrounding countries. Enterprise Lithuania together with Johnson & Johnson Innovation is organizing two-day specialized training for life sciences startups. After masterclasses, 10 best startups will present their products and services in front of foreign investors at the Pitch Challenge.
The forum will be attended by renowned scientists from the USA, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Israel, Estonia and the United Kingdom. About 1,500 biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical devices will attend the Life Sciences Baltics forum.
From genetic diseases to personalized medicine
The forum will be opened on 26 September with the speech of Nobel laureate Brian Kobilka. In 2012, Professor of Stanford University was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors, GPCR. Thanks to his studies, one of the largest protein groups in human body was discovered, while the recreated spatial structure of G-protein-coupled receptors opens possibilities for pharmaceutical companies to develop more effective medicines.
The attention of this year’s Life Science Baltics scientific conference will be focused on the most relevant news and technologies in researches for improving human health, easing patient’s condition and achieving more effective diagnosis and treatment. Speakers of over 60 various fields will talk about genetic diseases, immuno-oncology, application of 3D printing technology and lasers in medicine, stem cells, personalised medicine and digital health.
The global star of orthopaedics, President of Hiroshima University, Japan, Mr. Mitsuo Ochi, inventor of a special technique for restoring injured knee cartilage, will be among the speakers. Pursuing minimum invasive procedure for a patient, the professor decided to use a magnet to control the course of the procedure. Starting from 2013, this knee cartilage surgery is covered by the state health insurance in Japan.
Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of Ireland Professor Mark Ferguson will share Irish experience in developing research centres and universities of global level. According to the data of Science Foundation Ireland headed by him, the quality of Irish scientific research reached the level of previous leading countries in a few years.
Representative of one of the largest software developers in the world – SAP, Doctor Clemens Suter-Crazzolara will tell about possibilities to improve patient’s condition by using digital technologies. The main speakers at the conference include also Head and Chief Scientist of the Institute of Biotechnologies of Vilnius University Saulius Klimašauskas, whose research focuses on epigenetic phenomena taking place in human cells. Molecular instruments developed on the basis of the research can help companies to diagnose serious illnesses earlier and to prescribe more accurate, personalised treatment.
Doctor Hakon Hakonarson from the Research Institute of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will introduce the results of his research of genetic factors determining serious illnesses in children and adults. He heads the research aimed at collection of 100 000 children’s DNA to investigate the causes and prevent widely-spread health problems, including malformations, heart diseases, obesity.
The conference in Vilnius will receive also famous stem cell researcher Irving Weissman. Professor of the Medical School at Stanford University is the first scientist in the world who succeeded in isolating any type of stem cell in any living organism. He researches the possibilities of transplantation of human immune system, much like a liver or heart transplant.
As Life Sciences Baltics approaches in a speed of cell, take a closer look into exhibition participants from Vilnius and Kaunas, two biggest cities in Lithuania.
Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and Kaunas, the second largest city in the country and future European capital of culture, are both establishing themselves as hubs for life sciences within Lithuania. Both cities bring together the major part of companies developing innovative solutions and manufacturing products in biotechnology, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. On 26-27 September dynamic ecosystems of Vilnius and Kaunas will be presented in the Life Sciences Baltics exhibition by some really big names as well as some of the most innovative technology in the country. The list of companies is no particular order.
Thermo Fisher Scientific | Vilnius
Thermo Fisher Scientific is the world leader in serving science, with revenues of more than $20 billion and approximately 65,000 employees globally. The company’s mission is to enable customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. They help customers accelerate life sciences research, solve complex analytical challenges, improve patient diagnostics and increase laboratory productivity.
Thermo Fisher Scientific came to Lithuania in 2010, when the company acquired a leading Lithuanian biotech company Fermentas for $260 million.
Now, the Thermo Fisher Scientific Vilnius site (Thermo Fisher Scientific Baltics, UAB) has world-class capabilities in manufacturing products for the life sciences market – specifically in molecular, protein, and cellular biology – and has an outstanding R&D centre focused on the development of new products in all aspects of molecular, protein, and cellular biology. These products are broadly used worldwide to study gene structure, expression and variety, and help develop new diagnostics methods for innate, hereditary and infectious diseases.
Currently, the Vilnius site employees over 800 people in a variety of roles, including 100 researchers, making this one of the largest private R&D centres in the whole region.
Biotechpharma | Vilnius
Biotechpharma was established in 2004 as a biopharmaceutical research and development company with a focus on recombinant protein technology development. In 2011-2012 they expanded significantly, opening a state-of-the-art R&D and manufacturing facility. The facility consists of a biopharmaceutical R&D laboratory and a biopharmaceuticals manufacturing centre. This investment led to a significant expansion of the company’s presence in Lithuania, and they now have 130 employees. In 2015, the company received the Lithuanian Product of the Year Award for one of their pharmaceutical drugs. Biotechpharma is the only contract development and GMP-compliant manufacturing organisation for biopharmaceuticals in the Baltic States.
One of the founders and leaders of Lithuania’s biotechnology industry, and CEO at Biotechpharma, Professor Vladas Bumelis, has ambitious plans to establish three new state-of-the-art facilities with more than 500 employees and $230 million in investments. The focus of the facilities will be the manufacturing of different kind of cells, including stem cells and cells for 3D organ printing.
Ortho Baltic | Kaunas
Kaunas-based Ortho Baltic produces custom-made orthoses and footwear aimed at reducing the need for operations, cutting rehabilitation times and lessening the risk of infections and recurrence. The company works in close cooperation with the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences – whose University clinic is the biggest in the Baltic States – and other local and European universities.
In 2013 Ortho Baltic was awarded the National Prize for Achievements in Science and Business Cooperation.
Grupo FOS Lithuania | Kaunas
Gruppo FOS Lithuania which is founded in 2015 is working in biomedical engineering area and in partnership with two Lithuanian Universities (Kaunas University of Technology and Lithuanian University of Health Sciences) it is developing biomedical electronic equipment for post-stroke patient state monitoring. Gruppo FOS Lithuania is a part of Italian FOS group working in Information and Communication Technologies, Electronic engineering, Technology Transfer areas and having a world wide experience from 1999.
Biomapas | Kaunas
Biomapas – a Full Service CRO. For more than 17 years a team of professionals experienced in Clinical Trials, Regulatory Affairs, Medical Writing and Pharmacovigilance services is supporting Pharmaceutical, Biotech and Medtech companies with client based solutions in Europe, Russia, CIS and the Americas. This competent team has deep expertise in conducting clinical studies, leading medicinal products and medical devices to the market, providing life-cycle management and pharmaco-/materiovigilance services.
Froceth | Vilnius
Froceth is the first and only biotechnology company in Lithuania manufacturing advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) individually for each patient. The products are developed by using patients’ own tissues and cells in the manufacturing process, and by addressing the specific needs of each person. All the processes are carried out using the most advanced technologies for somatic cell therapy. Tissue bank services are provided in accordance with License No. 3635 issued by the State Health Care Accreditation Agency under the Ministry of Health. ATMPs are manufactured in accordance with Permit No. 1 issued by the Ministry of Health’s State Medicines Control Agency.
Biotecha | Vilnius
With many years of experience, Biotecha now offers solutions and supplies devices for your scientific analysis, manufacturing processes and process controls. The company delivers, installs and maintains industrial and laboratory equipment. Biotecha has implemented a quality management system certified according to the ISO 9001:2008 international standard. The scope of this certification includes: sales, design, installation, service of laboratory, industrial, medical equipment and consultation on technical and scientific matters.
Aconitum | Kaunas
Aconitum is a fully integrated pharmaceutical manufacturer founded in 1999 and located in Lithuania. The product portfolio of Aconitum consists of herbal medicines, food supplements, homeopathic medicines, biosimilars and generics. A modern manufacturing plant was built according to EU GMP requirements, it contains modern GMP certified microbiology and chemical laboratories. Aconitum is also certified HACCP for food supplement production and HALAL for production for Islamic countries.
Droplet Genomics provides unique solutions for single cell analysis, including instruments and consumables. Their microfluidic products are used in diverse contexts to obtain unparalleled insight into the genetics of heterogeneous biological samples.
Innovative Pharma Baltics | Vilnius
Innovative Pharma Baltics was founded in 2008, when it was decided to start producing their own phytotherapeutic products. Number of technological researches were started to launch new product ideas. The company constantly strives to create technologically advanced and healthier products. The company aims to use the newest and most advanced production technologies, especially in producing extracts. Innovative Pharma Baltics systematically use essential oils, creating a unique phyto and aroma therapy.
Lithuanian cosmetics have established a good name for themselves in the national market. Now these organic, natural and effective products developed on the basis of a collaboration between scientists and businesses are making serious advances abroad. Pharmaceutical companies in Lithuania and beyond will undoubtedly be interested in the cell therapy products, biopharmacological technology for producing therapeutic proteins and next-generation drugs that Lithuanian science has to offer.
This field is predominantly the focus of researchers from the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LUHS) and the Centre for Innovative Medicine (CIM). Helping advanced ideas and innovative products find their way to investors in Lithuania and abroad is the open research and development network OPEN R&D LITHUANIA, which brings together all of the country’s national universities, research institutes, R&D parks and open access centres.
For the Lithuanian market and beyond
“In Lithuania, the cosmetics industry is well-developed. The past few years have brought us many different products. They are safe and use natural plant-based ingredients,” explains Laima Matusevičienė, head of the LUHS Development Service.
Researchers from the LUHS Faculty of Pharmacy are working with various businesses to develop cosmetics products for both the Lithuanian market and foreign markets. The faculty’s list of clients is a substantial one – LUHS collaborates with almost all Lithuanian cosmetics manufacturers.
According to Matusevičienė, researchers have recently launched into a collaborative endeavour with food manufacturers in the creation of functional food. These new types of products are enriched with various nutrients in order to promote various functions. For example, a product might induce a calming or stimulating effect, and consumers could simply buy these products in grocery stores.
Natural, organic and science-based
“At this point we have collaborated with over 30 businesses and all of them sought to make their products safe to use and of high quality,” emphasises Professor Jurga Bernatonienė, head of the LUHS Pharmaceutical Technology and Social Pharmacy Department.
Just recently, we partnered with the Valerijonas pharmacy in Šiauliai to develop Razalija, a line of innovative skincare products. These products are unique because they contain brown seaweed, which mitigates the ageing process in the triangle of beauty, i.e., the area around the eyes, nose and chin.
In Lithuania, the cosmetics industry is well-developed. The past few years have brought us many different products. They are safe and use natural plant-based ingredients
Another ingredient used in the Razalija line is ecopolysaccharide biotechnologically derived from marine plankton. Researchers found that they have a structural similarity to skin and effectively stimulate collagen and elastin synthesis. Anti-oxidant and moisturising effects are reinforced using raspberry and blackberry extract, which also stimulate skin rejuvenation.
The products are made of organic or natural ingredients. They come with the European organic certification label ECOCERT.
Yet another line of innovative cosmetic products was developed by LUHS researchers in collaboration with Driu Beauty. These products are unique in that their production only uses cosmetic prebiotics, which only recently have been recognised as having a beneficial impact on skin and promoting the growth of healthy microflora. This aids the proper function of skin, fights malignant bacteria and negative environmental effects.
“The efficacy of these innovative and beneficial ingredients is confirmed by science. We also focused on using environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes and technology that uses ingredients effectively,” elaborates Professor Bernatonienė.
Peonia Lab commissioned LUHS researchers to develop prototype products for acne-prone skin and highly skin-nourishing products enriched with natural oils. Researchers used a biotechnologically extracted ingredient from goat colostrum. The company itself had identified that this ingredient had a potent effect on acne bacteria. The products are currently being prepared for commercialisation and introduction into the market.
LUHS researchers also helped SatiMed develop prototypes for a toothpaste and mouthwash with cannabis oil and cannabis extract. The company provided the researchers with their own-grown cannabis seed oil and blossom extract, while researchers selected a technology for including these ingredients in the toothpaste and mouthwash. The products will soon be launched in Lithuania. They were also developed with the international market in mind.
“Several years of effective collaboration with businesses has shown us that this process is mutually beneficial. Businesses dictate what the Lithuanian or international market demands, and we, together with the businesses, can apply the latest in science to produce a practically applicable result,” says Professor Bernatonienė.
A platform for cell therapy
PhD student at the LUHS Institute of Sports and orthopaedic surgeon Justinas Mačiulaitis presents the next-generation of pharmacological products – biotechnological cell preparations.
“There are some diseases that still cannot be cured with regular medication. This is why cell therapy will become or has already become a significant part of current treatment methods,” explains Mačiulaitis.
This advanced therapeutic medication will first be used to treat patients with joint damage or kidney disease. Joints damaged by trauma and wear (osteoarthritis) will be treated by injecting an autological (from the patient) cell preparation. Research shows that these biological preparations effectively regenerate cartilage tissue.
The preparation for patients with kidney disease was developed for the purpose of regenerating damaged kidney structure and function. In parallel, researchers are also developing a cell therapy platform meant for treating various types of inflammatory, rheumatological and neurological diseases.
Greater quantity and quality
“The development of biotechnological drugs is gaining momentum and significance across the globe. These kind of drugs now take up 25% of the pharmaceutical market. In the coming decades, this number will probably increase and about half of pharmaceutical products will be developed based on biotechnology,” explains Arūnas Žebrauskas, head of the Project Management Department at the CIM.
Scientists at the CIM Biopharmacology Department are currently conducting research on and developing technologies for producing therapeutic protein. According to Žebrauskas, biotechnological drugs differ from regular chemical-based drugs. First, a certain human gene that encodes proteins is transferred to bacteria or mammalian cells. Then, the microbes or mammalian cells are transferred to a bioreactor and there they synthesise protein. After the production cycle, the proteins are extracted using technological methods from the biomass and contained in vials that can then be used to inject the patient.
The process is complex, but CIM researchers have experience in the area and are focused on production technology so that the best possible quality and quantity of proteins can be produced. This would make them less expensive to manufacture and businesses could afford to apply the technology on an industrial scale.
One of CIM’s main partners is the R&D centre BiotechPharma, which conducts commissioned pharmaceutical research and development. The institute is also constantly looking for partners abroad.
Exosomes against Alzheimer’s
Several CIM departments work with stem cells. This is the second direction that CIM research is focused on. For example, one group of researchers is developing new therapeutic methods for treating neurodegenerative diseases. In this case, their principal material is the stem cell exosomes of human dental pulp.
“All cells produce exosomes – microscopic vesicles that contain various biologically active materials. Based on our animal trials, exosomes effectively protect neurons from death and improve the motor function of rats with Parkinson’s disease,” elaborates Žebrauskas, “In an ageing population, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases are becoming increasingly more prevalent. That’s why we’re trying to create the next generation of drugs. All you would need to do is spray some of the product in your nose, and the exosomes would enter the brain and treat damaged neurons. The latest experiments show that this field has a lot of potential”.
On 26-27 September in Vilnius over 60 companies from all over the world will showcase their products and services: from the artificial human brain project, a microliquidic single-cell analysis technology, a device sending direct electromagnetic impulses into somatic cells to 3D printing technology and advanced immunotherapy products. Visitors can visit this part of the Life Sciences Baltics, the only international life sciences forum in the Baltics, free of charge.
“The scientific breakthrough we have been recently witnessing opens unimaginable life-changing opportunities, and visitors will have the opportunity to witness at least a small share of the progress life sciences have made. It is very important that Lithuanian science and business move with the major discoveries, and the capacity of the sector is proved by the global acknowledgement – more than 90% of Lithuanian bio-technological production is exported”, says Daina Kleponė, the Managing Director of Enterprise Lithuania, the organizer of the international life sciences forum.
More than half of the life sciences companies participating in the exhibition during the forum will be from foreign countries, such as the USA, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Switzerland, Belgium, Israel, Austria, Italy, Latvia and Estonia. A separate area of the Lithuanian Exhibition and Convention Centre Litexpo will host scheduled business meetings between participants of the forum.
It is very important that Lithuanian science and business move with the major discoveries, and the capacity of the sector is proved by the global acknowledgement – more than 90% of Lithuanian bio-technological production is exported”, says Daina Kleponė, the Managing Director of Enterprise Lithuania, the organizer of the international life sciences forum.
“We see that international exhibitions constantly provide their participants with possibilities for establishing valuable contacts, which encourage further growth and development of our companies and lead them to foreign markets. Stories of success of participants of exhibitions encourage us to pay more attention to the internationalism and attraction of events important for Lithuanian business,” claims Justinas Bortkevičius, head of Litexpo.
Success of Lithuanian companies and universities crowned the previous three Life Sciences Baltics events. Lithuanian companies “Satimed”, “Ortho Baltic”, “Ferentis”, “Probiosanus” launched their cooperation with companies and scientists from Israel, Japan, the USA, and Brazil. University of Vilnius, Kaunas Technological University and Lithuanian University of Health Sciences signed cooperation agreements with foreign companies. According to the data of the Enterprise Lithuania, on the average, Lithuanian companies and scientific organisations continue their negotiations regarding cooperation with two contacts established during the forum.
The fourth life sciences forum Life Science Baltics organised by Enterprise Lithuania comprises a conference, an exhibition, business meetings and masterclasses for startups.
The main conference speaker is prof. Brian Kobilka, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012 and a professor of the Stanford University. The conference programme include 10 thematic sessions about the main current challenges in the field of life sciences – the mechanism of degenerative and genetic diseases, immuno-oncology treatment, 3D printing technology in medicine, personalized medicine, e-health, laser application in life sciences, research as the impulse for the industry, application of technologies in the field of health care and diagnostic technologies.
Lithuania will be joining the European Molecular Biology Labaratory (EMBL) as a full member state. This will enable Lithuanian experts in biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals to more actively seek new scientific discoveries and develop innovations needed for the market.
The EMBL Board voted to welcome Lithuania to the organization on July 4th.
“With Lithuania’s involvement in international research infrastructure, the opportunities open up for our science to get acquainted with the latest achievements, to work with state of art laboratory equipment, to be at the doorsteps of new discoveries. It is important that Lithuanian biotechnologists will join the European molecular biology elite club as equal members”, – says Jurgita Petrauskienė, Lithuanian Minister of Education and Science.
The European Laboratory for Molecular Biology is the world’s leading laboratory research center for life sciences, which provide access to the most advanced laboratory equipment. Member states receive access to all EMBL’s facilities and services, they also participate in decision making about the organization. EMBL has 20 member states.
Modern life sciences are very dynamic, experimental research methods and technologies are developing very quickly, so national research infrastructures need to have access to state of the art scientific technology and equipment in order to remain competitive. Lithuanian scientists and doctoral students will have the opportunity to conduct research in EMBL centers in Germany, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Italy. EMBL research teams can be set up in Lithuania, attracting top scientists from the world.
Biotechnology in Lithuania creates about 1% of the GDP, that is around 10 times more than in any other EU member state on average. Lithuania’s life sciences sector exports to almost 70 countries, it grows by 19% annually. It is expected that the sector will create around 1.5% of GDP employing only 0.1 of total employees in 2019.
The production of Thermo Fisher Scientific, Sicor Biotech and Biotechpharma, the leading Lithuanian companies in biotech sector, amounted to 396 million Euro in 2016, their growth is around 25% every year.
Lithuania has a particularly high scientific potential in the field of molecular technology. Molecular technology and medical engineering in Lithuania hold the first place in the number of scientific and business patents, the number of citations of Lithuanian molecular technology research works is higher than the average world. Health technologies and biotechnology are one of the most advanced areas of intelligent specialization in Lithuania.
This year, Lithuania has already joined two world-class scientific centers: European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Lithuania is also on its way to the membership of the European Laser Center (ELI).
We are pleased to announce that the deadline for registration for Startup Masterclasses by Johnson & Johnson Innovation has been extended until 1 August. This means life sciences startups from all three Baltic countries have an extra four weeks to register.
Startup Masterclasses by Johnson & Johnson Innovation allow to learn from industry professionals and master the art of ideas pitching to potential investors and business angels.
It takes far more efforts for the life sciences startups to create a successful startup from initiation to exit. During the two day intensive training participants will learn how to protect IP of their products, how to sell products, not science, to potential investors and much more!
Israel – a country that has transformed from the orange grower into a hi-tech country over the last forty years – should attract Lithuanian business with its wide possibilities, yet it is only the fortieth listed export direction according to the volume of trade. “CasZyme” and “Froceth” – two Lithuanian companies of life sciences – have visited Israel and hope that the contacts they have established in this country will develop into successful cooperation.
The value of Lithuanian products exported to Israel last year amounted to slightly more than EUR 42 million. The major share of exported products consists of pharmacy products (EUR 7.8 million worth export in 2016). Although Israel is the fourth largest market for Lithuanian pharmacy producers, other life science companies have only started making their path to this state. One of the ways to present oneself is Biomed, the premier international life science conference, annually organised in Israel. Enterprise Lithuania that promotes Lithuania’s life sciences sector on international level, has been annually organizing Lithuania’s companies visit to this conference since 2010.
The purpose of companies “Froceth” and “CasZyme”, which visited Tel-Aviv on May 13–19, was to meet as many potential partners as possible.
“Israel has a well-developed sector of biotechnologies with a vast number of companies operating in the fields ranging from manufacture of medicinal products to various services of scientific research. We have met companies of various types and we hope that the contacts we have established will gradually develop into long-term cooperation”, says Dr. Monika Kavaliauskė, CEO of “CasZyme” – a startup developing tools for CRISPR-Cas gene editing technology.
Agnė Vaitkevičienė, CEO of “Froceth” – a company manufacturing advanced therapy medicinal products (ATMPs) individually for each patient – claims that Lithuania may become a gate for Israel to European life sciences. “Israel manufactures products that ready for commercialisation in Europe. We have experience in production as well as commercialisation of ATMPs products, therefore, we may become Israel’s academic partners in Europe and help developing innovative products for cell therapy”, says Mrs. Vaitkevičienė.
“Froceth” has also established contacts with a world-class scientist Dr. Dalit Barkan, who heads the Haifa University laboratory and hopes to implement joint projects while developing cell immunotheraphy products in Lithuania.
Example for Lithuania
Israeli businessmen know that Lithuania has a strong sector of life sciences, and scientists and companies of biotechnologies comply with international standards. The idea to organise “Life Sciences Baltics” – the largest life sciences event in the Baltics and the fastest growing event of life sciences in the Baltic Sea region – emerged 8 years ago during a visit to Israel. Lithuanian and Israeli science and business cooperation has been gradually enhancing every year. An Israeli delegation of about 100 representatives are expected to visit “Life Sciences Baltics” this autumn as well.
In addition, Lithuanian entrepreneurs, including the field of life sciences, can participate in Israeli startup accelerators. “The Israeli system of startup acceleration is similar to the system existing in the USA. Lithuanian startups could use the possibility of being noticed by strong investors”, – Mrs. Vaitkevičienė notes.
“Israeli companies are very result-focused, they want to receive the key information in a prompt and accurate manner, yet the communication is very pleasant and respectful. They know Lithuania and they appreciate it”, says Dr. Monika Kavaliauskė. In her opinion, Lithuanian risk capital funds and private investors should first learn from Israel. “The Israeli system of startups demonstrates a high level of risk tolerance. It understands that the return on investments into biotechnologies is slower than in other sectors”, the CEO of “CasZyme” claims.
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 technologies. 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.
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.
– 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.