Throughout 2020, we will be highlighting the Queen Silvia Nursing Award partners that bring the scholarship to life in their respective regions.

Currently in its 6th year, The Queen Silvia Nursing Award motivates nursing students in Germany, Finland, Poland, and Sweden to contribute to the quality of life and care of the elderly and people living with a dementia diagnosis. We are very proud to announce that a fifth country, Lithuania, will join the program as of this fall 2020. 

The Queen Silvia Nursing Award is made possible with the dedication and commitment of partners with a firm focus on the growth of nursing talent and nursing opportunities.

In the last of our series focused on the Swedish Queen Silvia Nursing Award Main Partners, we spoke with Dr. Josefina Nilsson of Vironova, a Swedish biotechnology company providing hardware, software, and services for the analysis of nanoparticles. Dr. Nilsson delves into the unique benefits of transmission electron microscopy (TEM); the importance of TEM analysis in the pharmaceutical industry; and the significance of being able to listen, learn and grow with others to create something truly unique and exceptional.

Dr. Nilsson  – could you please tell us about what Vironova does?

Vironova is a Swedish biotech company offering unique services for nanoparticle characterization and viral clearance testing together with hardware and software solutions for advanced electron microscopy image analysis. We have been doing this for over 10 years and are currently working with 10 of the world’s top pharmaceutical companies.

Our mission is to help the biopharmaceutical industry with new analytical solutions, to make transmission electron microscopy (TEM) based on image analysis  accessible for their drug and formulation development. TEM has been too expensive and complex for gene therapy, vaccine, and drug development in the past but Vironova has been making this technology both user-friendly and more readily available over the years.

TEM is really important because it allows for automated analyses for faster and better-informed decisions for bioprocessing and final product quality. Depending on our client’s need, we can offer to help them to perform the analysis in-house with our MiniTEM or they can send their samples to us for cost effective analysis in our certified laboratories to achieve accurate metrics. This is incredibly critical when you want to have marco insights from microcosmos.

The company was founded by Mohammed Homman in the early 2000s. I had a lunch with Mohammed in 2003 when he expressed an interest to start a company. At that time, I was in the middle of my PhD at Karolinska Institute in biophysics and structural biology. He made a mention that it would be great for us to work together, but I didn’t think of it too much. But after having defended my PhD in 2006, the offer came, and I joined him at his company thereafter. I was one of the first people on board. We were only 6 people back then, and today we are at 84 people with 3 subsidiaries. It has been a fun, challenging and very exciting time and so rewarding to be part of something from the very beginning.

We have grown the company to offer a full TEM catalogue from hardware, software as well as electron microscopy service – which I am responsible for.

“If you want to go far, you need to do so with a diverse group of people and be willing to listen and learn and to dare to be in the forefront to create new paths. We have achieved this by combining different knowledge backgrounds and taking advantage of the rich cultural diversity we have at Vironova.”
Dr. Josefina Nilsson, Director EM Services, Vironova
(Image credit: Vironova)

Tell us more about the importance of nanoparticle analysis.

Nanoparticles are used in many different medical areas today. When using nanoparticles in drug formulations, characteristics like particle size, shape and other structural features can often be directly correlated to the efficacy and safety of the drug. And to be able to actually see and characterize something as small as a nanoparticle, TEM is needed. Compared to a traditional optical microscope, it uses a focused beam of electrons which is sent through a sample in order to form an image, from which we can extract essential information using our in-house developed image analysis software

This is particularly critical today especially in our work with biopharmaceuticals. Vironova’s TEM analysis of vaccines, gene therapy and drug delivery particles such as liposomes and viruses has made us an important actor in our clients’ research and development efforts as well quality assurance. What we are able to provide for the pharmaceutical industry is now deemed as business and quality critical, and a key determinant in their decision-making as to whether or not they should go into clinical trials or production.

How is TEM quality ensured at Vironova?

Earlier this year, Vironova’s EM service unit secured a certificate of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) compliance of a manufacturer from Sweden’s Medical Products Agency (Läkemedelsverket).

We are really proud that we were able to secure this as the world’s first laboratory within electron microscopy. GMP is a set of regulations that are put into place by regulatory bodies around the world. It is applied for customers within the pharmaceutical industry involved in developing and manufacturing of investigational medicinal products (IMP) and licensed medicinal products. 

The pharma industry is highly regulated and quality is extremely important to uphold. For Vironova to share the same high level of certification with many of our clients is an important message that we are also committed to quality, dependability, control, accuracy, and safety in the services that we provide. It took quite some time for us to investigate how to secure certification, but being the first electron microscopy lab in the world to be GMP certified is an enormous achievement.

Vironova’s MiniTEM is a semi-automated, compact system for analysis and characterization of nanoparticles, viral vectors and virus-based biotherapeutics.
(Image credit: Vironova)

Regarding the coronavirus situation, Vironova was early on contacted by the Public Health Agency of Sweden (Folkhälsomyndigheten) to be their business partner in an EU grant application regarding the development of new antiviral drugs against the virus. There, we will contribute with our technical expertise as well as our knowledge in drug development. We also have our company “Vironova Medical” which is at the forefront of the development of new antivirals against the coronavirus.

You have been a part of Vironova’s growth since its inception. As it continues to grow, what kind of cultural are you hoping to bring forth?

One characteristic that I am sure that we will retain if not fine-tune further is our entrepreneurial spirit. Mohammed is a really dynamic CEO and has created a fantastic atmosphere within the organization. There is plenty of room for every team member to make a difference and so many learning opportunities that we can take from working with each other and our clients. I am quite certain that this type of team spirit has helped us in the past, and will continue to define Vironova into the future.

If one is to really take advantage of the learning opportunities, then you must be pretty humble. There are a lot of extremely knowledgeable team members at Vironova. They hold doctorate degrees within structural biology, mathematics, programming, image analysis and so much more. These are top experts in their areas from around the world, and at Vironova we are asking them to come together to learn from each other so that their combined efforts can build something completely unique and exceptional. If you want to go far, you need to do so with a diverse group of people and be willing to listen and learn and to dare to be in the forefront to create new paths. We have achieved this by combining different knowledge backgrounds and taking advantage of the rich cultural diversity we have at Vironova

Finally, while it is exciting being on the cutting edge of electron microscopy, we need to keep thinking of ways in which TEM can benefits our clients. Within the Service department, we are extremely close to the companies that we work with. These are top organizations within vaccines, anti-cancer drugs, and gene therapy. We need to continue providing them analysis that drives their R&D as well as monitor their quality standards when going into clinical trials. Vironova is so close to their purpose and discoveries and it is really exciting to contribute to that journey, be it for orphan drugs or covid-19 for example.

What was Vironova’s reason behind joining the Queen Silvia Nursing Award project?

Vironova is happy and proud to be part of the Queen Silvia Nursing Award as it supports and helps to encourage young nurses to think creatively and to develop further. They cherish the elderly and help realize nurses’ innovations that are more important than ever these days, as illustrated by the ongoing healthcare crisis.