Each year, Uppsala University awards its innovation prize, Hjärnäpplet, to researchers or research groups that have made an outstanding contribution to the transfer of knowledge to a company or other external organisation resulting in innovation. The prize consists of a diploma, a statuette and a scholarship of SEK 50,000.

“This year’s innovation prize, Hjärnäpplet, goes to three researchers who have jointly and over a long period of time worked along the entire chain from basic research to innovation to improve cancer treatment for patients. In this way, the University wishes to illuminate their vital contributions,” says Deputy Vice-Chancellor Coco Norén, chair of the award committee.

The committee’s justification reads:

“Professors Rolf Larsson and Peter Nygren and Associate Professor Joachim Gullbo have successfully paved the way for improved drug therapies against cancer. Rolf Larsson and Peter Nygren have been working together for over three decades. Their skills complement one another and they have jointly supervised a score of doctoral students, Joachim Gullbo among them.

The trio are cofounders of the company Oncopeptides, established to commercialise the results of their research into the substance melphalan flufenamide, also known as melflufen, which can be used to treat the cancer multiple myeloma. Rolf Larsson and Peter Nygren have led basic research into melflufen since the first publication. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the drug Pepaxto® (melflufen) on 26 February 2021. Pepaxto® is thus the result of successful research conducted at Uppsala University and initiated by the abovenamed researchers. The drug has the potential to treat tens of thousands of patients each year, meaning that this innovative pharmaceutical developed at Uppsala University has indeed brought real benefits to patients with severe cancer.

By conducting innovative interdisciplinary research, the award winners have made a number of academic discoveries that have led to close collaboration with the private sector. Their collaboration has also laid the scientific foundations for several biotech startups that have utilised Larsson and Nygren’s research in clinical studies, including Vivolux AB and Repos Pharma AB in addition to Oncopeptides.”