Alumnus in focus: Joachim Gullbo's PhD-project turns into new cancer treatment

2021-05-05

In February, Joachim Gullbo, alumnus of Uppsala University’s Faculty of Pharmacy, saw his PhD thesis from the late 1990s result in a new cancer drug in the USA. "A fantastic feeling," he states from his current home in California.

Joachim Gullbo, alumnus of Uppsala University’s Faculty of Pharmacy
Joachim Gullbo, alumnus of the Faculty of Pharmacy

Multiple myeloma is a relatively rare form of cancer affecting the bone marrow. At present, no curative treatment exists, and down the road many patients develop resistance to the therapies that are available. On 26 February renewed hope was aroused when the FDA - the US Food and Drug Administration - granted conditional approval for melflufen as part of the treatment of adult patients with relapsing or refractory multiple myeloma.

“That the FDA approves melflufen feels fantastic. Over twenty years have passed since I synthetically developed the molecule that today forms the basis of PEPAXTO®, a peptide-linked cancer drug developed by Oncopeptides AB, the company we founded in 2000 which is now a fully integrated global biotech company. Today, I contribute part-time as a senior advisor, and it is an incredible journey to be part of,” says Joachim Gullbo, alumnus of Uppsala University's Faculty of Pharmacy.

Joachim and his family have been Californians for almost a year. They moved here after three years in New Jersey where Joachim still serves as Medical Monitor at Theradex Oncology. The work revolves around counseling in clinical drug development for cancer and blood diseases. What is practically achievable? What is the study expected to show? What does standard treatment and competition look like?What is possible within the regulatory limits? How can side effects be assessed and managed? Years back, Joachim Gullbo was head of the Uppsala University Hospital's oncology section, but career moves and the ongoing pandemic hcyave taken him further and further away from the meeting with the care recipients.

“Already when receiving my pharmacy degree in 1996, I was determined to continue my studies, and six years later took a medical degree. As a PhD-student in clinical pharmacology, I commuted between BMC and the University hospital, but for about a year now, my working days primarily consist of e-mail correspondence and digital meetings an presentations. Of course, this is not unique, but I really miss meeting the patients and my colleagues. Now we get to experience California with all it has to offer, but if we had followed our original plan we would have already returned home, and my guess is that we will move back to Sweden within a year.”

The journey from Uppsala’s Master of Science Programme in Pharmacy to the American west coast has offered several detours. These include the role as associate professor at Uppsala University's Department of Medical Sciences. A position Joachim has chosen to keep in order to enable involvement in research projects at his Alma Mater. Assignments that are likely a welcome complement to everyday clinical studies performed within American healthcare, where insurance systems often control what is feasible.

“Here we must constantly adapt our operations to the prevailing standard. Patients need clearance from their insurance companies before they can participate in studies. Sometimes they are forced to abort their participation because the insurance terms change. Even though the California climate is pleasant, there is a lot we miss in Sweden, where very exciting things await in the near future. Among other things, Oncopeptides has just applied for market approval for PEPAXTO® within the EU, which I hope will make a decisive difference for the many myeloma patients who have developed resistance to existing treatments.”

FACTS: JOACHIM GULLBO

  • Education  Pharmacy degree 1996, Medical degree 2002
  • Profession  Medical Monitor at Theradex Oncology (US)
  • Currently  Creator of the molecule that forms the basis of new cancer drug PEPAXTO®
  • Oncopeptides AB was founded by pharmacists Jochim Gullbo and Kristina Luthman, Uppsala University, and Hans Ehrson KI, oncologists Peter Nygren, UU, and Rolf Lewensohn, KI, and Rolf Larsson, clinical pharmacologist at UU.

MORE INFORMATION

text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Theradex Oncology

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Last modified: 2021-06-22