Attractive Innovation Project Awards 2019

Award winning innovation projects 2019. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt.

15 projects run by, or in collaboration with, Uppsala University researchers and students have been acknowledged with the 2019 "Attractive Innovation Project" award. Common to all projects is support från Uppsala University Innovation and success in securing external funding to further enhance development opportunities.

2019 award winners

– method for labelling and measuring proteins for research and diagnostic application

Proteins are the workers of the cell, and many proteins interact with each other. In order to understand the importance of these interactions, there is a need to measure both free and interacting proteins. Ola Söderberg, professor at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences, has developed a method to label each protein with its own unique colour, making it possible to measure the proteins individually. At the same time, the proportion of proteins that bind to each other are labelled with a combination of the colours. In addition to new information, the new method provides stronger signals and better quality than comparable technology. The method can be used for purposes such as microscopic analysis of tissue sections, and may eventually be useful for routine diagnostics. Through a patent transfer agreement, Atlas Antibodies is now taking steps to turn the method into an available product while Ola’s research group has been strengthened with additional research resources. 

– enabling faster development of new drugs

New drug candidates often lack the ability to quickly dissolve in water and thereby be absorbed in the body. This means that pharmaceutical companies need to modify them, or add various excipients, in order to test them and ultimately provide them to patients. Janneke Keeemink and Christel Bergström, both researchers at the Department of Pharmacy, have developed a new instrument that, compared to current methods, can better predict which modifications work best. In addition, the researchers' instrument is more effective as they can replace several methods used today. All in all, it saves valuable time during drug development and helps pharmaceutical companies make faster progress with their drug candidates than they can today. The researchers founded the company Enphasys to provide analyses with the new tool. The company has received funding through Vinnova’s Innovative Startups programme.

Denapsis Artificial Intelligence
– bringing the benefits of AI to precision medicine

The company Denapsis develops customised software solutions, based on machine learning and artificial intelligence, for biological and medical issues. The founding team, made up of researchers Manfred Grabherr and Behrooz Torabi Moghadam, has extensive experience in working with biological data. Their background and unique approach allows them to sort out valuable information from relatively small data sets, where other AI methods usually require very large data sets. This is likely to become increasingly important in the medical field, where access to relevant clinical material and patients is often limited. The company has several customer-funded projects.

– taking web searches to new levels

A giant step towards privacy, efficiency and pleasure when performing web searches from your mobile phone, tablet or desktop. How does that sound? This is exactly what IT students Matteo Ghetti and Stergios Efes, founders of the company nonoRank, want to offer with their new search engine. We have grown used to search results in the form of long lists and the tracks we leave behind being sold on to third parties. nonoRank’s search engine puts user friendliness and anonymity in focus. The results of a search are presented in categories, and an interactive interface makes it easy to navigate the results with your fingertips, which among other things makes it easy to combine search terms. In addition, the user’s data is not sold to any third party. nonoRank has received funding through Uppsala University Holding Company’s project company.

– innovative method drives the development of drugs for the treatment of severe form of cancer

Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ASC) is currently a death sentence, and the median survival is only 4 months. Other types of thyroid cancer can be successfully treated with radioactive iodine with a good prognosis. However, ASC lacks the iodine pumps needed for the radioactive iodine to be absorbed by the cancer cells, and therefore the treatment does not work. Marika Nestor and Anja Mortensen, both researchers at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, have developed a targeting molecule that binds specifically to ASC. By attaching radioactive iodine to the target locator, the radioiodine is targeted to the tumour, where the radioactive targeting molecule is taken up by the cancer cells and kills them. This method has demonstrated high and specific therapeutic effects on ASC in preclinical tumour models. The project has received funding through the strategic innovation programme Swelife.

Uppsala Therapeutics
– redesigning existing technology to create conditions for new drugs

There are still a number of diseases for which treatment options are very limited, or where there are no alternatives. Many of these could benefit from drugs based on so-called RNA interference, with which harmful or erroneous proteins can be reduced. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to turn the technology into useful drugs. Uppsala Therapeutics has developed a new design of the interfering RNA molecules that solves many of the previous problems. The company is founded by Jöns Hillborn and Oommen Varghese, both researchers in polymer chemistry at the Department of Chemistry – Ångström Laboratory, together with Oommen P Oommen at Tampere University and Victor Hartman who is the company’s CEO. The researchers received funding through Vinnova's VFT+ programme in order to further develop the solution commercially.

– simplifying shopping with new alarm tag

Self-checkout in grocery stores is something that facilitates the weekly shopping for many. But, what if we could make our purchases in a clothing store, for example, without having to stand in a long checkout queue? This could become reality with the alarm tag developed by the company SocialVista. With the alarm tag, customers themselves can make payment and then deactivate the alarms on the products they purchased. In addition to shorter checkout queues, this solution saves time for store staff, who can instead focus on providing other services to the store's customers. SocialVista is the brainchild of Zakariye Salad and Abdiladiif Mohamed, students in business economics and systems science, respectively. The company received an investment from Uppsala University Holding Company.

Female predecessors and role models
– using the history of female entrepreneurs to reflect on contemporary times

By highlighting women’s professional activities in early modern times, Mia Skott wants to change how we view and value the work of women and men. Until autumn 2019, Mia Skott was a doctoral student in history at Uppsala University. Today, she is keeping several balls in the air. For example, she is active at the local history centre Fyriskällan in Uppsala, is a freelance lecturer, and is completing the collective biography “Wallpaper makers in 18th century Stockholm”, which will be published by Stockholmia – forskning och förlag. In the book, which is based on her research, she shows that women were able to independently establish and run successful businesses in the 18th century.

Ultra-low power consumption sensors
– battery-free sensors make the Internet of Things more sustainable

Through his computer systems research, Ambuj Varshney, post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Information Technology, has developed an ultra-low power and long-range communication system for battery-free sensors that harvest small amounts of energy from the ambient environment. Such a solution would eliminate the need to replace and discard enormous quantities of batteries and instead create good conditions for more sustainable network-based embedded systems (NES) In November, Ambuj Varshneys was granted the ABB Research Award 2019, which is coupled with a research grant of USD 300,000 over three years. The funding will accelerate the development of a sustainable NES that can have a significant impact within many different application areas, such as the factories of the future.

Innovative mobile app for quantification and estimation of tremor (QuEsT)
– simplifying life for individuals suffering from involuntary tremor

Millions of people suffer from involuntary tremor. Quest is a new idea for measuring tremor in patients with Parkinson's disease and essential tremor that should make the procedure go more smoothly and facilitate treatment through access to continuously accurate measurement data. It centres around a mobile app that measures tremor while the patient uses the mobile phone as they normally would – reading emails, sending texts or surfing. The app uses advanced algorithms developed by Alexander Medvedev’s research team at the Department of Information Technology. The algorithm measures how the mobile phone moves and can calculate the difference, the amplitude, between the intended movement and the movement that is affected by tremors. The app is being developed in close collaboration with Dag Nyholm, a neurologist at Uppsala University Hospital, and the company Stardots. The innovation project has received funding through Vinnova’s Innovative Startups programme.

MM18 Medical
– computer-aided image analysis enables significantly reduced health care costs for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among men in Sweden. It is the cancer form that causes the highest number of male deaths in Sweden, and is ranked the fourth largest cause of male death worldwide. MM18 Medical has developed a new method for automated clinical analysis of suspected cases of prostate cancer. The focus is on being able to quickly sort out normal tissue samples, i.e. samples with no sign of disease – which is also the lion’s share of all samples. The method has the potential to significantly reduce healthcare costs while helping men with suspected prostate cancer get answers more quickly. Company founders are Erik Wilander, professor at the Department of Women's and Children's Health and Sören Nygren who is the company's CEO. The company has received funding through the European consortium EIT Health to accelerate the commercial development of the method.

Percy Roc
– using microwaves to harden carbon fibre       

Dragos Dancila, associate professor in microwave technology at the Department of Engineering Sciences, and Kristiaan Pelckmans, researcher at the Department of Information Technology, have together founded Percy Roc to commercialise microwave technology for new applications. When fully developed, the microwave technology can be used to crush rock. Before this, and as a first step, it will be used to cure carbon fibre composites within the aviation and automotive industries. There are many benefits to using microwaves to cure the composite material. It results in improved quality, greater energy efficiency, and higher productivity compared to today’s technology. The company has received funding from Vinnova's Innovative Startups programme and the European consortium InnoEnergy.

– software that facilitates the use of artificial intelligence

Masterful models for machine learning require big data, sometimes so much data that it is more than a single company can provide. While there are great hopes for the technology, there are obvious problems with sharing data between organisations. The company Scaleout Systems has taken on this challenge through a new solution for privacy preservation and secure machine learning. They are developing software that uses data from multiple organisations, but without the information itself having to be shared or consolidated. Because it is instead models that are shared and develop each other, secure forms of collaboration are possible and data is only used indirectly. Scaleout is the result of hard work by, inter alia, Andreas Hellander and Salman Toor, researchers at the Department of Information Technology. The company has received funding through the Vinnova call for proposals “Digital security: Identity and block chains”.

Individualised immunotherapy
– a unique idea for fighting cancer

Cancer cells have developed ways to avoid detection by the body's immune system. More recently, methods have been developed based on the concept of removing certain immune cells from the body and reprogramming them to detect cancer cells. They are then returned to the body to attack the cancer cells. This is a time consuming and expensive method. Sara Mangsbo, researcher at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences, together with Helena Persson and colleagues leading the SciLifeLab Drug Discovery and Development (DDD) platform for antibodies, have instead developed a strategy similar to vaccination to get the body’s own immune cells to expand and specifically attack the cancer. The treatment is individualised, but the platform uses some generic components to shorten the time to treatment. The project has received funding through Uppsala University Holding Company’s project company and through Vinnova’s VFT+ programme.

– developing sustainable biopesticides from ribbon worm toxin

The company PepKnot is developing a new generation of powerful biopesticides for biologically sustainable control of harmful insects and the like. The new compounds are based on toxic peptides isolated from marine ribbon worms and will primarily be tested on pests in the agricultural sector. The new pesticides will be biodegradable – will not accumulate in nature, are environmentally safe, and will also be sufficiently selective so as not to harm other organisms or those handling the pesticides. PepKnot was founded by researchers from three Swedish universities, including Ulf Göransson and Eric Jacobsson, who are both active at the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at Uppsala University. The project has received funding through Uppsala University Holding Company’s project company and through Vinnova’s VFT+ programme.