Sirpa Jalkanen and Markku Jalkanen

​​Targeted immunotherapy to combat cancer cells​

Technical field
​​Faron Pharmaceuticals​
A new treatment that recruits the body’s immune system to fight cancer more effectively was developed by Sirpa and Markku Jalkanen. Their treatment offers new hope to patients resistant to other therapies.

Killing almost 2 million people annually, cancer is Europe’s second most common cause of death. Myeloid leukaemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) are two types of blood cancer with typically bleak outcomes and few modern treatment options.  However, clinical trials of the Jalkanens' invention, Bexmarilimab (also known as Clevegen), have produced remarkable results, demonstrating a 50% remission rate in patients with AML and MDS resistant to other therapies. New data reveals a high response rate of 87.5% and a long-lasting reduction of cancer cells in patients for whom chemotherapy had already failed.

Bexmarilimab works by blocking CLEVER-1, a protein found in certain white blood cells. With CLEVER-1 receptors switched off, immune-suppressing cells transform into immune-activators, recruiting other cells for a joint attack on tumours and malignancies. Bexmarilimab's unique approach sets it apart from other therapies, but by boosting the body's natural defences, it can also enhance the effectiveness of therapies commonly used to treat solid tumours and blood malignancies, opening up the benefits of immunotherapy to more patients.

Driving cancer research: a family affair

The couple behind this groundbreaking invention met when they were just out of high school. Sirpa is now a world-renowned immunology researcher and Markku is a successful biotech entrepreneur. Partners in life and in the lab, they founded Faron Pharmaceuticals to bring their inventions to market. Their children have also played a role in the story, with the youngest daughter and scientist Maija Hollmén contributing to Bexmarilimab’s development, meanwhile, their son Juho is Faron’s chief operating officer for many years and was selected to lead the company from 1 May 2024. Their eldest daughter is a doctor and treats cancer patients in Helsinki.

Their treatment could play a crucial role in improving the lives of cancer patients who have exhausted other treatment options. “Cancer is a complicated disease that we cannot completely cure, but it becomes a chronic disease which we can control,” says Sirpa.

“We will have a lot of different choices by using different drugs, so that the affected person can live quite happily 20 years, 30 years or more. I see the future in that way.”

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