Caroline Heckman from HiLIFE awarded for promoting business collaboration

The University of Helsinki has granted the annual award 2017 to a cancer researcher for her successful business collaboration.

Caroline Heckman, senior researcher and group leader from Institute of Molecular Medicine Finland, FIMM, has been exemplary in her efforts to promote cooperation between the University of Helsinki and pharmaceutical companies.

FIMM is part of HiLIFE, Helsinki Institute of Life Science, a new institute established in 2017 that supports high quality life science research across the University campuses and faculties.

“Heckman’s excellent reputation in pharma industry has helped her to gain increasing funding to the University through business collaboration. In addition, she has encouraged young scientists to seek for corporate partners and to explore entrepreneurship,” stated Vice-Rector Jouko Väänänen, who presented the award.

The award for promoting business collaboration in 2017 was announced on 19th December. The award was granted for the second time. Last year’s winner was professor Sasu Tarkoma from the Department of Computer Sciences.

Caroline Heckman received her Ph.D. degree from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and completed her postdoctoral training at Stanford University. Heckman joined FIMM in 2010 where she established a group focused on understanding the mechanisms driving disease progression and drug resistance in hematological malignancies, as well as applying technologies for better translation of basic research results towards clinical implementation.

Heckman praises the working environment at the University of Helsinki: “The institute was most welcoming from the very first day!”

Celgene is Heckman’s closest partner

Discussions with company called Celgene started back in 2012. Celgene is a global biopharmaceutical company that develops therapeutics for blood cancers such as multiple myeloma. At first Celgene provided funding for a relatively small pilot. After the successful pilot both parties agreed to continue and expanded the project to include more patient samples and additional diseases.

“Now it’s 2017 and we still have a very good collaboration going with the company,” Heckman says.

Heckman is part of a drug development collaboration together with hematology professor Kimmo Porkka from the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS).

Outstanding infrastructure supports research

“Finland is in a very good position to benefit from collaborations between researchers and companies. We have excellent research and valuable resources here”, says Heckman.

The Finnish biobanks provide material for research, and the pharmaceutical industry is eager to use it. The sample- and data sets can for example be used for the development of personalized medicine, aimed at preventing, detecting and treating diseases in ways that are adapted to suit each patient individually. For example, there are numerous types and forms of cancer, and each patient reacts differently to the various treatments and drugs available.

The proximity of the HUS hospital enables researchers to work closely with the clinical doctors in order to develop better healthcare.

University encourages business collaboration

Business collaboration in research is encouraged, and support is offered through University Services.

“Business collaboration is increasing steadily, and researchers also publish scientific articles together with corporates. In 2016 altogether 327 articles were published in collaboration with companies. Researchers from the Faculty of Medicine published over half of them,” says Maarit Haataja, head of services of the Impact and Business Collaboration team.

The team provides matchmaking services to companies and assists researchers to find partners.

“We have an excellent support service. We’ll help you to get started and find the right cooperation model for business-research collaboration. Cooperation could be long-term with large themes and external funding or short term e.g. academic consulting for specific needs,” says Haataja.

Read more about Heckman’s case Celgene

Read about the winner 2016: Sasu Tarkoma

Text: Joel Takala, Heidi Kinnunen
Photo: Joel Takala, Linda Tammisto