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Four medical breakthroughs from Norway

A number of Norwegian companies have made a difference in the lives of patients all over the world.Published 8 Mar 2023 (updated 28 Feb 2024) · 4 min read
Women in lab

Tremendous strides have been made in the fields of medicine and pharmaceuticals during the past century.

These are the result of large and small advances made at laboratories, universities and hospitals around the globe. Below is a look at four Norwegian companies that have made vital contributions to medical science and who are poised to continue their ground-breaking work.

Ensuring reliable lab results

Modern medicine is practiced just as much in the laboratory as on a hospital ward. Laboratory tests of human samples – such as for identifying and measuring viruses, bacteria and microscopic components of the human body – are essential for determining a diagnosis, selecting the best course of treatment and dispensing the right dose of medicine. The quality of a hospital or doctor’s office is therefore highly dependent of the quality of its laboratory. But how can one ensure that methods and equipment yield reliable results?

Laboratory quality control is the answer. And it was invented in Norway.

In the 1950s, Professor Lorentz Eldjarn conducted the world’s first successful experiments using a standardised control serum for internal quality control at his laboratory at Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet. Thirteen years later, the company SERO was born, and the world’s first commercially available control serum, Seronorm™, was launched.

SERO is still a pioneer in quality control materials. It has a steadily growing portfolio of standard and tailor-made products that are used around the globe for quality control of lab tests and calibration of equipment. The global market for laboratory quality control is currently some USD 905 million. Thanks to Norwegian research, doctors and researchers worldwide can trust their lab results.

Person working in lab
The world’s first standardised control serum for quality control at laboratories was invented in Norway.

Fighting cancer that has spread to the bones

Some types of cancer are more difficult to treat than others. When cancer has spread to the bones, for example, there are few alternatives. Available treatments have major side-effects and are of varying efficacy. Fortunately, a Norwegian company has found a way to slow bone metastases.

Building on research conducted at Oslo University Hospital, Radiumhospitalet, Algeta has developed a cancer drug based on radium-223, a radioactive isotope. While radium treatment of cancer was widespread in the past, it has more or less been replaced by alternatives with fewer side-effects. Algeta’s breakthrough is a targeted drug that is highly precise and has a short half-life, thereby minimising side-effects. The drug was launched under the name Alpharadin, and is now called Xofigo.

Some 1.3 million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. Xofigo is used to treat prostate cancer when the cancer has spread to the bones, and is approved for use in both Europe and the US. Founded in 1997, Algeta was acquired by the multinational company Bayer in 2011. However, production and research activities are still located in Norway, where work is being done to develop similar methods for treating breast cancer and lung cancer.

Norwegian invention isolates DNA from cells

In 1977, Professor John Ugelstad at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology managed to solve a problem that had been puzzling researchers for years: creating a set of microscopic beads of exactly the same size. The professor and his team then went on to make these uniform beads magnetisable, and found that they could be used to separate biological materials with extremely high precision.

The company Dynal was founded shortly after to further develop and commercialise the technology. The beads were given the name Dynabeads and have since been used in isolating and removing cancer cells, isolating DNA, tissue-typing in connection with organ transplantation, and HIV research.

Dynabeads are still produced in Lillestrøm, near Oslo, and are used in roughly 80 per cent of all oncological sequencing in Europe.

Technological equipment
The world’s first Pulsed Echo Doppler Flowmeter was developed in Norway.

Mapping blood flow in the heart

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s most common cause of death, and the risk increases with age. Cardiac tests are thus some of the most important and fundamental medical procedures there are.

When doctors examine whether a heart is beating as it should be, they use ultrasound, which provides a living picture of the heart’s functioning. However, at the end of the 1970s there were no effective methods of obtaining a detailed picture of how the blood flows through the heart.

This was remedied by the development of the world’s first Pulsed Echo Doppler Flowmeter (PEDOF) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. GE Vingmed Ultrasound further developed and commercialised the PEDOF machine, advancing ultrasound technology by using the Doppler effect to create a precise picture of where and how fast the blood flows through the heart. This gave doctors a new, more accurate tool for diagnosing disease and irregularities, which is now used to examine roughly 200 000 hearts each day.

Given that the global population is ageing and cardiovascular disease is becoming more prevalent, the demand for GE Vingmed Ultrasound’s technology continues to grow. The technology, too, is steadily evolving. For example, the company recently launched the first pocket-sized ultrasound with two transducers in one probe, giving much greater flexibility in the use of ultrasound.