Innovation Award for the Entrepreneurs behind Olink Proteomics

5 maj 2022

Björn Ekström and Ulf Landegren in the Segerstedt Building

Björn Ekström, former CEO of Olink and Ulf Landegren, professor of molecular biology, founded the company in 2004, together with four of Ulf Landegren's doctoral students.

Ulf Landegren, Björn Ekström and Jon Heimer have been selected to receive Uppsala University's 2022 Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award, which will be presented on 3 June. They will receive the award for their "outstanding entrepreneurial achievements which have combined to transform world-leading research at Uppsala University into the successful biotech company Olink Proteomics".

The company Olink Proteomics has developed a unique proteomics platform for the analysis of protein biomarkers in both research and the clinic. The company's CEO Jon Heimer co-founded the company in 2016, from the parent company Olink Bioscience.

Jon Heimer, CEO at Olink Proteomics.

“It's very inspiring that people see and appreciate what we've done. I also think it's wonderful that Uppsala University not only highlights the academic side, but also how research can lead to companies working on important issues,” says Jon Heimer.

The company is based on research conducted at Uppsala University by Professor Ulf Landegren and his research team. The first patents were acquired in 1995 and the company was founded in 2004 by Ulf Landegren, four doctoral students and Björn Ekström, who became the company's first CEO.

Development of new technologies

In the years that followed, new technologies were developed in close collaboration with Ulf Landegren's research team, resulting in the companies Halo Genomics and Q-Linea. The next CEO was Simon Fredriksson, who developed the technology behind Olink Proteomics.

Olink Proteomics has grown rapidly in recent years. In the beginning there were barely 30 employees and in the last two years, the number has grown from 100 to 500. There is a global market for the product, which can be described as a modern method of developing drugs using protein analysis.

“This is a way to find new drug candidates and marry them with the right patient subgroup so that we can be much more accurate in treating the right patient with the right treatment at the right time,” says Jon Heimer.

“Of those using the top ten drugs sold today, only one in five patients receives an effect. This means that 80% of patients get no effect or only side effects from the drugs. So this is an important issue.”

Headquarters in Uppsala

The company is headquartered in Uppsala, Sweden, where all research, development and manufacturing takes place. They also have offices in Boston, Shanghai and Tokyo with an eye on the global market. 

The award justification says that Olink Proteomics works in the spirit of the university "for a better world". Is that something that's important to you, that the company is creating a social benefit?
“I think it is fundamental for all Olink employees to want to help and contribute to a better world, especially with such important issues. It feels extremely motivating and relevant to be at the world's forefront of tomorrow's healthcare,” says Jon Heimer.

What has made the company so successful?
“We've solved a problem that people have been trying to solve for decades. Ulf's amazing basic invention has established a technological strategy that we have then further developed. At Olink Proteomics, we have succeeded in commercialising this ground-breaking technological innovation into products that solve real issues and applications for large customer groups," says Jon Heimer.

Different roles in the company's history

Björn Ekström also highlights the unique innovations that became the very foundation of Olink's success story, technologies for detecting proteins and DNA.

“It's rare, if not unheard of, to have such an extensive patent portfolio to manage. We removed some and sold them to other companies, so we can focus on what we want to do. If we hadn't had such a rich repertoire of possibilities, it would never have been successful.”

The three winners have played different roles in Olink's history. Ulf Landegren has remained a researcher at Uppsala University and has always focused on exploratory research.

“I’ve had ideas about problems that should be solved and have been able to do so in a way that a company might not be able to devote the energy to. Since then, there’s been a long line of very talented doctoral students who’ve come through and made important contributions,” says Ulf Landegren.

Organic growth

Björn Ekström has been the company director, who built a company together with Ulf Landegren and his research team. For several years, the company grew organically, without raising venture capital, including funding from the EU.

“What made me particularly suitable as a company director is that I have both the education and the interest in science to go with it. I can talk to Ulf about the research. Then there's always a gap between the business owner who wants to do something with what's there and the researcher who wants to do something new. We represent two equally important elements to make the total picture work, and we've managed to do it without ending up at odds,” says Björn Ekström.

Uppsala University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award 2022

Justification:

The first recipients of Uppsala University’s innovation and entrepreneurship prize act in the spirit of the University “for a better world”, thereby personifying the University as a force for innovation.

Ulf Landegren, Björn Ekström and Jon Heimer are awarded the 2022 Uppsala University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Prize for their outstanding entrepreneurial achievements, which have combined to transform world-leading research at Uppsala University into the successful biotech company Olink Proteomics.

The story of Olink serves as a striking illustration of the importance of being able to deploy different skills and experiences in different phases of the development of a company to generate great benefit to customers and society worldwide.