Five new Stockholmers who are supercharging the city's life science scene
Publish date: 16 April 2021
Stockholm is one of the world’s most creative life science hubs with a flourishing entrepreneurial environment for both startups and established businesses. And it’s not just Swedes who are able to reap the benefits of this ecosystem: many of Stockholm’s life science companies are foreigner-founded, showing that the city is a fertile breeding ground for anyone with an eye for innovation.
Lech Ignatowicz, a Polish life science investor and co-founder of Stockholm-based biotech company Molecular Attraction, shares his top five foreigner-founded life science startups in the city.
Moligo Technologies was set up by Stockholm-based Italian molecular biologist Cosimo Ducani. The company produces long and pure single-stranded DNA (oligonucleotides) to enable the next generation of DNA-based tools. ssDNA is filling the gap between the “traditional” double stranded helix DNA and RNA (main component of Moderna and Pfizer/BioNtech vaccines) and is one of the most promising materials of the future. Just google “DNA origami” and be amazed.
Producing large amounts of ssDNA is the key to making gene therapies a reality. Currently, either the ssDNA pieces needed in the process are very short, full of errors, or extremely expensive. Therapy of this kind approved in 2016 for spinal muscular atrophy can cost $750,000 in the first year of treatment and around $375,000 per year after that and contains only 18 nucleotides. Imagine a therapy where you need the whole gene length which is 1,000-10,000 nucleotides long!
Moligo makes those long and mutation-free ssDNA in very large quantities and is aiming to scale its production to kilograms at a fraction of the current cost. This means treatment would be accessible for millions of people, not just a few patients, and at much lower prices. It’s a galactic change.
Jens Frauenfeld first moved from Germany to Stockholm to work as a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet. He’s the co-founder of Salipro, a platform which enables researchers to work with challenging drug targets that could not previously be investigated. This potentially allows for the development of novel drugs, therapeutic antibodies, and vaccines.
Selecting the drugs that act on the surface of our cells, bacteria, or viruses is extremely hard because we need to remove them from their natural environment. It’s the reason why we are probably missing out on plenty of possible drugs. Salipro makes it possible to select drugs to act on membrane proteins in their natural environment. This means the membrane proteins remain stable and their structure can be studied in a lipid environment. Membrane proteins are the targets of more than 60 percent of drugs in clinical use, and a key functional unit in commercial vaccines, which makes them very important in biology, drug discovery, and vaccinations.
Polish psychologist Katarzyna Hess-Wiktor left her practice in Krakow and moved to Stockholm with her family when her husband - who is also her co-founder - landed a position at Spotify. While on parental leave, she started digital health company Minnity, a mobile software platform helping caregivers provide better care for people with dementia and Alzheimer's. It helps the home care professionals to develop their care skills and understand exactly what their patients need, like, or simply remember.
Especially now, in the time of a pandemic, we are seeing the importance of the psychological aspects of caring for people with dementia. Right now we have staff wearing face shields and masks, switching often because of increased rotation, and family members not allowed to visit. One of the most difficult things is to make the patient feel comfortable enough in order to take good care of them. It can be a familiar face, a song, or a reference to a favourite radio show. That’s why it’s important to have microlearning tools to create at least an illusion that you know the patient well and help them feel at ease.
NuvoAir is a digital health startup focused on respiratory care. It was founded in 2016 by its Italian CEO Lorenzo Consoli whose experience of growing up with asthma inspired him to work with respiratory conditions. The startup produces respiratory diagnostic spirometers to help people remotely monitor their lung health and manage it more effectively.
We can use mobile devices to measure heartbeat, sugar levels, eye movement, and more - but now, with the spread of COVID-19 - a pulmonary disease - we need devices that can measure the quality of our breathing, preferably remotely so we don’t need to visit the doctor’s office. Also, we need to do so in a way that can measure it for a longer period of time.
Four hundred million people, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, are infected by mosquito-borne diseases each year, with 750,000 dying as a result. This makes mosquitoes the deadliest animal on the planet. 400,000 of those deaths are caused by malaria and, most heartbreakingly, half of those who die are children aged under five. Aside from this, we are using thousands of tons of pesticides against mosquitoes. Not only are they developing a resistance, but the pesticides also kill other insects.
Noushin S. Emami, a Stockholm University researcher working on behavioural ecology of mosquitoes, co-founded Molecular Attraction in 2017 together with me and my investing partner at Nordic Science Capital, Johan Paleovrachas. The company is developing new ways to control mosquito populations, using solutions based on very high impact publications by Noushin in Science and Nature. The pandemic has put a stop to a lot of anti-mosquito programs because of logistical disruptions and lack of staff, which will lead to a significant increase in malaria and cases of dengue fever in the coming years. And so now, more than ever, we need better, cheap, pesticide-free and sustainable solutions to control mosquito populations.
INVEST STOCKHOLM: The most creative life science hub in Europe