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Three new ambassadors will promote innovation

Photo: Jan Terje Andersen, Moment Studio

Ali Salanti, Jan Terje Andersen and Olli Pentikäinen are becoming innovation ambassadors, with each awarded a Novo Nordisk Foundation 3-year innovation grant of DKK 6 million. This is the first time that the grants have been awarded to people living outside Denmark.

Denmark needs to become better at stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship within academia, thereby ensuring that research benefits both patients and society.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has therefore established the Novo Nordisk Foundation Distinguished Innovator programme that awards researchers a 3-year grant, thereby providing the necessary time and opportunity for the researchers to explore the commercial potential of a research discovery while remaining at their home research institution.

“The purpose of the programme is to boost the number of researchers who decide to convert their research discoveries into usable applications that benefit society, in parallel with their academic careers,” says Mikkel Skovborg, Senior Vice President, Innovation, Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The Foundation has recently awarded three new grants through the programme. Jan Terje Andersen, Olli Pentikäinen and Ali Salanti will therefore become Novo Nordisk Foundation Distinguished Innovators.

Along with the title and a grant of DKK 6 million each, these researchers will have the opportunity to explore whether a discovery they have made can be further developed into a medicine or other solution that can benefit patients or society.

The title of Novo Nordisk Foundation Distinguished Innovator also emphasises that the grant recipients will serve as innovation ambassadors at their university, for example, by actively mentoring students or other teachers and staff and passing on learning and knowledge about innovation processes.

Ambitious projects
Jan Terje Andersen (centre of the photo), Professor, Oslo University Hospital, is receiving a grant for exploring novel and innovative ways to design antibodies to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Jan Terje Andersen’s research will leverage his extensive knowledge on designing antibodies to develop new types that can effectively kill these bacteria. The same type of approach can also be used to develop antibodies that combat cancer. Jan Terje Andersen will use advanced biotechnology, cell experiments and studies of mice with the aim of transforming groundbreaking research into tailored new antibodies.

Olli Pentikäinen (right), Professor, University of Turku, is receiving a grant for developing a computer platform that can identify protein–protein interactions. Understanding these interactions is important to develop drugs against diseases that cannot currently be treated, such as several types of cancer or many diseases of the nervous system. Together with his colleagues, Olli Pentikäinen is at the forefront of understanding of how protein–protein interactions can become targets for drugs. Their approach may potentially revolutionise the entire field of developing novel drugs for diseases that are currently hard to combat.

Ali Salanti (left), Professor, University of Copenhagen, is receiving a grant for investigating whether a newly discovered carbohydrate on the surface of cancer cells could become a target for therapies to combat many types of cancer. Ali Salanti’s research has shown that cancer cells typically express the carbohydrate because it helps them to penetrate the surrounding tissue and therefore plays an essential role in metastasising cancer. Ali Salanti’s research group has already developed an antibody that binds to this specific carbohydrate, and the aim of the future research is to determine how this antibody can be developed to kill the cancer cells.

“The three projects awarded grants are all very ambitious and have great potential,” says Mikkel Skovborg.

In addition to the grants, the recipients will receive the support they need to succeed in maturing their projects. This will also include assistance from experts in legal services, entrepreneurship and innovation.

12 Innovation Ambassadors

Following the grants to Jan Terje Andersen, Olli Pentikäinen and Ali Salanti there are now 12 researchers with the title of Novo Nordisk Foundation Distinguished Innovator. The grants were first awarded in 2020.

The 12 Innovation Ambassadors are:
Zachary Gerhart-Hines, University of Copenhagen (2020)
Mette Rosenkilde, University of Copenhagen (2020)
Martin Jakobsen, Aarhus University (2020)
Claus Elsborg Olesen, Aarhus University (2020)
Andreas Kjær, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen (2020)
Trond Ulven, University of Copenhagen (2021)
Kristian Strømgaard, University of Copenhagen (2021)
Irina Borodina, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby (2021)
Anja Boisen, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby (2021)
Jan Terje Andersen, Oslo University Hospital (2022)
Olli Pentikäinen, Turku University (2022)
Ali Salanti, University of Copenhagen (2022)

Further information

Karin Hultman
Senior Scientific Lead, PhD
+45 41727935 [email protected]