Johanna Ivaska Appointed Head and Vice President of Oncology Research in Orion Corporation

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Johanna Ivaska Appointed Head and Vice President of Oncology Research in Orion Corporation

In the role of Head and Vice President of Oncology Research in Orion R&D, Johanna Ivaska will have all oncology discovery directly reporting to her. In addition, she will act as the Director of Orion Research Center for Biotechnology and Translational Research in Turku.

Ivaska is an internationally distinguished researcher specialising in the role of cellular changes in metastatic development in cancer. The innovative approach of her research will provide significant new data on the migration and traffic of cancer cells in tissue. Ivaska’s research is anticipated to lead to scientific breakthroughs in biomedicine, a very topical field of research today.

– I warmly welcome Johanna Ivaska to the Orion Oncology team. Johanna Ivaska has an outstanding career in science, and she is a widely recognised scholar internationally. In particular, she has an exceptional ability to be creative in her science, which skill is highly appreciated when developing novel drugs for serious diseases, such as cancer. Oncology is one of Orion’s main focus areas in the pharmaceutical  Research and Development. Johanna Ivaska will have an important role in shaping the aims and structure of Orion Oncology. We feel privileged in hiring Johanna Ivaska, Professor Heikki Joensuu, R&D Global Head, Therapy Area Oncology in Orion says delightedly.

– I am excited to extend the co-operation with Orion Corporation. As a scientist, I have been passionately tackling biomedical research questions for over 20 years. Every new drug is based on curiosity driven fundamental research. However, drug development requires resources and know-how beyond academia. With my new appointment, I will have the opportunity to contribute to the other end of the process, the pharmacological therapy, Ivaska says.

Drug development and diagnostics have also been identified as the particular strengths of the research conducted at the University of Turku. However, further developing the findings in basic research for finished drugs often requires the resources of companies.

– The University of Turku has identified drug development and diagnostics as its particular strengths when it comes to research. While the fundamental discoveries that lead to new drugs are often made at universities, the further development of innovations always requires co-operation with private companies. For the University of Turku, Professor Ivaska’s partial transfer to Orion will be a model for developing co-operation with the private sector in the future, Kalervo Väänänen, Rector of  the University of Turku states.

The co-operation between university research and drug industry has been developed especially within the BioCity Turku organisation.

– Founded nearly 30 years ago, BioCity Turku has always sought to systematically activate co-operation between researchers in the life sciences sector and the private sector. Professor Ivaska is one of Finland’s most influential oncology biologists and her work as a bridge builder between academia and private companies will promote the development of discoveries made in basic research into registered drugs, Jyrki Heino, Professor, Scientific Director of BioCity Turku says.

Ivaska Also Awarded with This Year’s Medix Prize

Twice during her career, Ivaska has received research funding awarded by European Research Council (ERC), which is among the most notable grants in the world and highly competed. Ivaska and her academic research team are also the recipients of many scientific awards including the most recent Medix Prize 2018 for the best scientific publication in medicine in Finland, and in 2017, the prestigious A. I. Virtanen Prize for internationally recognised excellence in research.

Most recently, Ivaska and her research group were awarded with Medix Prize of €20,000 for research exploring cell invasion and cancer. Medix Prize of the Minerva Foundation is a notable annual recognition for Finnish medical research of internationally high quality. In a way, it is the Finnish national championships of biomedicine.

In the research, a protein that prevents the spreading of cancer was found. The SHANK protein in question limits the activity of cancer cells and prevents them from invading tissues. Correspondingly, gene mutations in this protein weaken the effect of preventing invasion. The same article brought the group also the Elias Tillandz Prize of 2018.

The international, multidisciplinary research group in the BioCity lobby in Turku From left: PhD Maria Georgiadou, PhD Guillaume Jacquemet, PhD Ilkka Paatero, Doctoral Candidate Pranshu Sahgal, PhD Hussein Al-Akhrass, Academy Professor Johanna Ivaska, PhD Paulina Moreno-Layseca, PhD James Conway, Research Technician Jenni Siivonen, PhD Emilia Peuhu, Doctoral Candidate Johanna Lilja, PhD Hellyeh Hamidi, and Research Technician Petra Laasola. Photo: Martti Ahlstén.


The findings of the research group are significant for understanding both the spreading of cancer and the disorders of nerve cells related to autism.

– SHANK has been known to have a link with autism. A mutation in the SHANK protein or the missing of the protein predisposes the patient to severe autism, but the mechanism of how this happens has not been previously known. That was discovered in our research, too, Johanna Ivaska says.

However, there is no such link between cancer and autism that having autism leads to getting cancer or vice versa. The research group continues exploring the mechanisms of cancer and autism.

> The awarded article “SHANK proteins limit integrin activation by directly interacting with Rap1 and R-Ras” was published in the journal Nature Cell Biology

Original article was published on the University of Turku website 9/10/2018 10:55 AM

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