To put new knowledge quicker to clinical use

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Olli Kallioniemi, Professor of Molecular Precision Medicine, wants to see today’s great life-science advances put to much swifter clinical use. Both as a professor and as the new director of SciLifeLab he is interested in new translational collaborations and the molecular classification of diseases.

Olli Kallioniemi is the new director of SciLifeLab and a recently appointed professor at KI, who in both his research and his capacity as leader of a large research organisation wants to find new forms of collaboration between the worlds of research and healthcare.

“We have to put new knowledge to clinical use much more quickly than we do at present,” he says. “That it still takes 15 years to go from discovery to marketable drug just isn’t good enough.”

Professor Kallioniemi’s own research concerns optimising the treatment of acute leukaemia, and involves systematically testing a large number of drugs on samples taken from cancer patients.

“We have 461 cancer drugs in our collection,” he continues. “We test them all on patient cancer cells in culture. One of the things we’ve discovered is that a certain type of leukaemia relapse can be treated with a drug for kidney cancer. This is by far the quickest way of contributing to clinical benefit – finding new applications for drugs already out on the market.”

A key aspect of Kallioniemi’s research is ascertaining the molecular causes of the disease in each individual case. What is normally regarded as one disease is in fact a heterogeneous group of diseases, which is why doctors cannot always know in advance which patients need which drugs. If each molecular variant is identified, this uncertainty can be eliminated.

For practical reasons, Kallioniemi’s current research group is still working at FIMM in Helsinki; he is, however, establishing a new group at KI.

“We’ll work as a single group split into two locations,” he says.

Text. Anders nilsson, first published in "From Cell to Society" 2015. Translation: Neil Betteridge.