Strong team drives development of new eye disease treatment


Elisabeth Ohlin Sjöström and Lena Claesson-Welsh standing in lab environment
By combining cutting-edge expertise in biological research with practical experience in drug
development, Elisabet Ohlin Sjöström and Lena Claesson-Welsh hope to bring a new drug to
the clinic. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt.

It takes a wide range of skills to drive an innovation project forward. Lena Claesson-Welsh and Elisabet Ohlin Sjöström are drawing on each other’s strengths to jointly develop a new treatment option for severe eye diseases.

Lena Claesson-Welsh, Professor at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, has devoted her entire professional life to research. Elisabet Ohlin Sjöström chose to go into industry after her post-doc position in Lena’s research group. There, she worked in the development of biologics, both as an employee and in her own company.

Now they have put their heads together again with the aim of developing a drug based on the substance they discovered together in a project that started ten years ago. The substance can be used to stop vascular leakage in the macula, and a new drug could revolutionise care for patients suffering from the eye diseases oedema and macular degeneration.

“My ultimate dream has always been to be able to use my research results in medical applications. Few people get to see their research put to good use in their lifetime. Now that I am so far along in my academic career, I also want to work to make this dream come true,” says Lena Claesson-Welsh.

Complementary skills

But she realised that she needed to complement her knowledge with other skills to develop a drug that would reach the clinic. At the same time, Elisabet Ohlin Sjöström was also keen to work further to make use of the results of their joint research project.

“Since leaving the University, I have learned a lot about drug development and how to approach commercialisation. There are many aspects that need to be taken into account to bring a drug to the clinic, and here I have a better understanding than Lena, while she in turn is extremely experienced in biological research. Lena can therefore be the face of the company and build business value through her academic authority and respect,” says Elisabet Ohlin Sjöström.

Mutual respect is key

There is a lot of drive in their collaboration to develop a new treatment for oedema and macular degeneration. And it is needed. It is a difficult and challenging project, while the benefits would be great for many patients if it succeeds. Moreover, a drug that effectively stops vascular leakage could be applied to a range of other diseases where swelling and inflammation exacerbate the disease process.

Both are working on the innovation project part-time, contributing what they know best. Academic research to optimise the substance is being conducted in parallel with commercial development. Initially, it was a bit of a challenge that they had such different starting points, with different visions of how the project should develop.

“We have had to meet and calibrate our expectations, but it has worked incredibly well, probably because we know each other so well and have a mutual respect for each other’s experience and knowledge. We simply bring different things to the project and are not afraid to challenge each other, and that has been crucial to our success so far,” says Elisabet Ohlin Sjöström.

Text: Frida Henningson Johnson

Personal details

Lena Claesson-Welsh
Professor of Biochemistry; Director of Research
When I get my best ideas: When I discuss research when colleagues and friends
Driving force: My desire and interest in understanding things
Strength: Perseverance

Elisabet Ohlin Sjöström
CEO and Researcher
When I get my best ideas: In interactions with other researchers and entrepreneurs 
Driving force: Developing better treatments for serious diseases
Strength: Seeing opportunities in problems and challenges

Treatment of vascular leakage in the macula

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common causes of visual impairment in people over the age of 60 in the Western world. There are two forms of the disease, dry AMD and wet AMD.

  • In diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), about ten percent of patients suffer from secondary diseases that include retinal changes and macular leakage, known as diabetic macular edema (DME).

  • Current treatments for wet AMD and DME are expensive biologics that require regular hospital visits and injections into the eye.

  • The goal of Lena Claesson-Welsh and Elisabet Ohlin Sjöström is to develop an effective, accessible treatment for these eye diseases in the form of a drug administered via eye drops.

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Last modified: 2023-12-01