Alumnus in focus: Pär Matsson shows the way to the drugs of the future

27 april 2022

Pär Matsson, Professor of Pharmacokinetics

Pär Matsson, Professor of Pharmacokinetics

After two decades at the Faculty of Pharmacy, Pär Matsson left Uppsala University for Gothenburg and the Sahlgrenska Academy. Today, he is head of one of Sweden's most exciting scientific initiatives with the potential to take our country to the absolute front line of the pharmaceutical sciences.

“I was attracted by the idea of ​​building new. To create something of my own in my field. When opportunity suddenly knocked, I never really hesitated. Now I'm here, and it's incredibly inspiring!”

In the autumn of 1997, Pär Matsson enrolled as a student of pharmacy at Uppsala University. After graduation, he began his PhD studies at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Per Artursson's research group. A two-year guest stint as Post Doc followed at the University of California, before family life brought Pär back to Uppsala's Biomedicine Center. There, his career could have led to an Uppsala gold watch – if not Gothenburg University in the autumn of 2019 had announced a professorship in Pharmacokinetics.

“I applied for and got the job, and after twenty years at the Faculty of Pharmacy, we traded the Uppsala plains for the Swedish West Coast. Once installed at the Sahlgrenska Academy, I began to build my own environment, only to run into a pandemic. Thankfully, things kept rolling, and today we are a team conducting research with focus on cellular and molecular pharmacokinetics.”

According to his business card, the group is part of the Department of Pharmacology, in turn part of the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology. As a pharmaceutical researcher, to no longer operate within the framework of a Faculty of Pharmacy comes with challenges, but also, Pär points out, adds one or two advantages.

“At Uppsala’s Faculty of Pharmacy, all research is linked to pharmaceutical drugs and your collaborators are rarely farther than a corridor away. At the Sahlgrenska Academy and Astra Zeneca, there are more or less corresponding competencies, but everything is spread out and to locate them requires at least some prior knowledge. On the other hand, the absence of certain structures can increase the opportunities for interdisciplinary interaction, which has already opened several important doors for me.”

During one of his early excursions among the pharmacists of Western Sweden, Pär ran into into an initiative to establish a competence network for researchers with an interest in therapeutic oligonucleotides. These belong to the field of gene-based drugs, and are already being used successfully against, among other things, the muscle disease Spinal muscular atrophy type 1.

“I had scientific experience of therapeutic oligonucleotide and got involved in the planning. Shortly afterwards, we received an extensive grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, which allowed us to raise our ambitions from a network to a full-scale technology platform. Today this has become reality, and after integrating with SciLifeLab's Drug Discovery and Development Platform, we are a national resource with the capacity to assist promising projects all the way to clinical trials.”

OligoNova is integrated with SciLifeLab
OligoNova is integrated with SciLifeLab

Therapeutic oligonucleotides can be described as molecules with the potential to affect the expression and function of specific genes without causing lasting changes in the genome. The technology is attributed enormous opportunities, and the rapidly increasing number of therapeutic oligonucleotides in clinical studies makes global competition fierce, but with OligoNova, Sweden is strengthening its abilities to claim a position along the area's absolute front line. And at the very front: the platform's scientific leader.

“My background in drug development at Uppsala University undoubtedly contributed to me getting this assignment. Today, we have secured financing for the next eight years, our machine park is set and we have succeeded in a number of strong recruitments. Our first call is open and we are receiving some very interesting applications. This autumn, we expect to be in full operations, which for me is also an opportunity to resume cooperation with Uppsala University and Per Artursson, whose environment has a central role in the OligoNova network. And the very fact that we can provide such absolute scientific excellence makes me confident in that our investment will be of great importance for both Sweden and future drug development!”

Facts Pär Matsson

  • Education Pharmacy degree (2002) and Doctoral degree (2008) at Uppsala University
  • Profession Professor of Pharmacokinetics, Gothenburg University
  • Currently Scientific leader for the technology platform OligoNova Hub