Sirpa and Markku Jalkanen nominated for the European Inventor Award


Academician and Director of InFLAMES Flagship Sirpa Jalkanen and Dr. Markku Jalkanen have been nominated for the European Inventor Award. They are finalists in the Small and medium enterprises category, where they are against two other European teams. They were selected from among more than 550 candidates in a competition organised by the European Patent Office (EPO). The winners of the European Inventor Award 2024 will be announced on 9 July 2024 in Malta.

Sirpa and Markku Jalkanen.


European Patent Office

Sirpa and Markku Jalkanen were nominated for the award for their development of bexmarilimab, a drug that activates the human immune system to fight cancer.

Cancer is the most common cause of morbidity and death in Europe, right after cardiovascular diseases. There are more than 3.7 million new cancer cases each year. The EU’s Beating Cancer Plan 2022 states that cancer deaths in Europe will only increase without action. There is an urgent need for new treatments for cancer, and the drug development work conducted in Turku is helping to meet that need.

Cancer uses the immune system to its advantage

Research shows that thousands of mutations occur in human cells every day, some of which could lead to cancer. However, under normal circumstances, our immune system eliminates mutated cancer cells.

“Cancer weakens our immune system in many different ways. It takes our 'immunity soldiers' and shapes them to its own advantage to help it grow. Our biggest challenge is to prevent this from happening,” says Sirpa Jalkanen.

Bexmarilimab, developed by Sirpa and Markku Jalkanen, is one of the cancer immunotherapies that are becoming increasingly important in cancer treatment. The new therapy aims to weaken cancer's resistance to current treatments and thus improve cancer treatment outcomes. When bexmarilimab is used in combination with established cancer treatments, the effectiveness of these treatments may be increased. It is possible that bexmarilimab is useful in treating a wider range of different types of cancer.

Shared career path started early

Sirpa and Markku Jalkanen met after upper secondary school and pursued similar career paths in Finland and later in the United States. Markku Jalkanen was a researcher at Stanford University and, at the same time, Sirpa Jalkanen focused on studying immune cell trafficking in the human immune system. She became one of the world's leading researchers in the field and has since had a distinguished career as an internationally recognised cancer researcher and Professor of Immunology at the University of Turku.

Currently, Sirpa Jalkanen leads the joint InFLAMES Research Flagship of the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University. InFLAMES has over 50 research groups and collaborates with approximately 100 pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies. InFLAMES is part of the Flagship Programme of the Research Council of Finland.

Markku Jalkanen was the first director of the Turku Bioscience Centre at Biocity in Turku. He is regarded as one of the key figures in the early development of biotechnology in Finland. In 2007, they founded Faron Pharmaceuticals in Turku, with the objective of concentrating on drug development.

The nomination for the award came as a surprise for both of them, says Sirpa Jalkanen. It is gratifying that decades of research and development in Finland have been recognised.

“Inventing something new requires thinking outside of the box and asking questions that don't have answers. To advance the field of drug discovery, it is essential to maintain a sense of optimism and perseverance, as challenges are inevitable, as we have seen in our 30 years of research.”

In academia, the usual story of a drug discovery is that it is sold at an early stage to one of the major companies in the field, leaving the original inventors with no further role.

"Our further development of the drug has been made possible by the collaboration with the University of Turku throughout the whole development process," says Sirpa Jalkanen.

European Inventor Award was launched in 2006

The European Inventor Award is one of the most prestigious innovation awards in Europe. The European Patent Office established the award in 2006 to recognise individuals and teams who develop solutions to current challenges.

The European Patent Office is one of Europe's largest public service institutions, employing approximately 6,300 people. The EPO headquarter is located in Munich and it has offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna. The EPO aims to strengthen patent cooperation in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors may obtain patent protection in as many as 45 countries.

The general public will have the opportunity to vote for their preferred candidate in the Popular Prize category of the European Inventor Award.

InFLAMES Flagship is a joint initiative of University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University, Finland. The goal of the Flagship is to integrate the immunological and immunology-related research activities to develop and exploit new diagnostic and therapeutic tools for personalised medicine. InFLAMES is part of Research Council of Finland´s Flagship Programme. 



Created 21.05.2024 | Updated 30.05.2024