UU Innovation

Living her dream – researcher and entrepreneur

2016-12-14

Sara Mangsbo combines a research career with entrepreneurship.

Discovering new things is an important driving force for Sara Mangsbo, Associate Professor at Uppsala University’s Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology. In addition to her research duties at the university, she is also Director of Research at the Uppsala company Immuneed AB. Being both a researcher and entrepreneur is a dream come true, even though there are times when she wishes that the day had more hours.

Sara’s research field is immunotherapy, particularly how the body’s own immune system can be used to detect and kill tumour cells. In recent years, several new cancer drugs that act as immunotherapeutic agents have been registered and used clinically to treat melanoma and lung cancer. Sara, along with colleagues and partners, has developed a therapeutic prostate cancer vaccine candidate that she hopes to soon test in a clinical trial. Alongside her research at the university, she founded the company Immuneed AB, which works with drug development and provides advanced services for testing new drugs on human whole blood.

“It’s been four hectic years, and many times I have wished that the day had forty-eight hours, but I have to believe that it is possible to combine both occupations and it has definitely been worth it”, says Sara.

An urge to discover – and create job opportunities

As a researcher, Sara finds many opportunities for self-improvement; delving deep into the literature, designing experiments and enjoying new, exciting results, for example. She’s solution-oriented and possesses an urge to discover new things. As Director of Research at Immuneed, she’s also very comfortable in both investor and client meetings. Had she not been a researcher, she might have been a sales representative, she says laughing. Laying a foundation for creating new jobs is another important driving force.

“It would make me tremendously proud if I could set up a business that provides jobs in immunology. Not least for all the students who have difficulty finding work today”, she adds.

Role models and innovation support important

Sara has several role models. The Royal Institute of Technology’s Professor Mathias Uhlén is one of them. He has combined a distinguished research career with active company creation. Other role models can be found closer to hand; Tomas Tötterman, her departmental supervisor, and her colleague Angelica Loskog.

Thomas’ ability to ask questions with the patient in focus inspired Sara, and Angelica, a researcher at the same institute, was headhunted from academia directly into the company NXT2B (Next-to-be), a privately-owned venture capital company. “Her heady journey inspired and motivated me”, notes Sara.

Other key success factors in Sara’s own journey included participating in the innovation support programmes available in Uppsala. She made valuable contacts on the M4R (Mentor for Research) programme, for example, much due to coming into contact with Jörgen Lönngren, who founded the clinical research company PGL and who has long experience from Pharmacia and the Swedish Industrial Development Fund, as well as a broad business network. This has meant that today, Immuneed has a very competent board. Even the application process and support of the BIO-X program, both financial and coaching, has been of great importance.

“It was probably this process that eventually led to something concrete emerging. It was a different way of seeking money, a way that both dealt with the use of the final product and the market needs. I got a good schooling in how to work with drug development projects”, says Sara.

Wants to see earlier promotion of entrepreneurship

However, the discovery of the innovation support available for researchers at Uppsala University came first after Sara’s thesis disputation, and she wishes that there had been more talk of entrepreneurship earlier during her undergraduate education. But there was no such thing. She now hopes that the university can promote a greater spirit of entrepreneurship among its students and staff without necessarily draining it of researchers. For her own part, she is happy that she grasped the chance and today there’s nothing else she would rather do, even though both research and entrepreneurship are often roller-coaster rides!

“I have a high level of ambition so life is a constant challenge and surprise, but also great fun. I'm learning all the time, even when things do not go well. Having one foot in the world of research while at the same time being an entrepreneur is a dream come true for me”, concludes Sara.

Short facts - Sara Maria Mangsbo

Family: Husband and daughters Sigrid and Tora.
Occupation: Researcher at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University. Research Director at Immuneed AB.
Driving forces: A genuine passion for immunology and understanding how tumours and our immune system interact, plus how new drugs can be developed from this interaction.
Innovation tip: Surround yourself with people you can learn from and who are not like you. Hold on to what you believe.
Ambition when young: Professional footballer.

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