HealthTurku actors involved in the national Cancer IO project


  • Project funded by Business Finland integrates immunotherapy projects of universities, hospitals and companies
  • Immuno-oncology therapies has transformed the cancer treatment landscape for many different types of cancer
  • Cancer IO will drive creation of a Finnish IO ecosystem and national IO growth strategy

Cancer IO is a new cancer immunotherapy focused top-level collaborative research and innovation project that starts as a part of the Business Finland’s Personalized Health Program. With a total funding of 10 million euros, Cancer IO is a significant IO focused Nordic research and innovation program.

This University of Helsinki coordinated project integrates immuno-oncology (IO) activities at the Universities of Helsinki and Turku, three University hospitals and one central hospital, eight Finnish small or medium enterprises, several cancer patient organizations and the nine largest IO-investing pharmaceutical companies.

The laboratory led by Academy Researcher Maija Hollmén at the University of Turku participates in this significant national immune-oncology effort by developing patient-derived tumor explant models for IO drug discovery. Cancer IO is coordinated by Dr. Jeroen Pouwels and Research Director Juha Klefström from the University of Helsinki.

Immuno-oncology Transforms the Cancer Treatment Landscape


Recently, the rapid development of immuno-oncology (IO) therapies has transformed the cancer treatment landscape for many different types of cancer. Early capture of IO concepts in research, hospitals and society is important since IO is a fundamentally different approach to cancer treatment. While traditional chemotherapy drugs display more general toxicity acting not only on cancer cells, but also normal cells, IO treatments unlock the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

– In essence, IO is a broad therapeutic master plan to outsmart cancer, now becoming available in the clinic with an unprecedented number of new investigational drugs currently developed by established and emerging pharma companies in the world, says Hollmén.

Cancer IO Aims to Provide Wealth and Well-Being

The coming age of IO will have a transformative impact on fundamental and clinical cancer research, healthcare systems, business and, most importantly, on the lives of cancer patients. Individual Finnish researchers, hospitals and small companies have already excelled in capturing and developing IO strategies to match the ongoing evolution in the field of cancer research and care but, so far these efforts have lacked synergies that broader coordinated national collaborative can offer.

Cancer IO will specifically boost the Finnish IO capabilities by supporting top-level research, business competitiveness, individualization of care and competence in capturing real-world evidence.

– In broader picture, Cancer IO will drive creation of a Finnish IO ecosystem and national IO growth strategy, aiming to provide wealth and well-being through disruptive Finnish IO innovations and better care, summarises Klefström.

Among participating companies are eg. Faron Pharmaceuticals, Orion and Misvik Biology, which are operating or have headquoters in Turku. In addition to the University of Turku, FICAN West (Western Cancer Center of Turku University Hospital) is also participating in the project.