Torn ligament ignited a passion for research

2019-10-09

Sara Mangsbo, researcher at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences, assistant senior lecturer and entrepreneur.

Development manager, research director, assistant senior lecturer, and named 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year by the business magazine Veckans Affärer. Active in two companies and multiple projects that together can solve the cancer riddle. A journey that began in upper-secondary school and mourning over a lost sports career.

“When I was younger, team sports like football and handball were a big part of my life. When my ligament tore, I was quite sad for a whole year. Losing the sense of being part of a team and the group dynamics of sports left a huge void,” recalls Sara Mangsbo.

When it was no longer possible to train at the same level, she developed an interest in medicine and in what it takes to rehabilitate severe knee injuries. She realised that there is a lot to learn. This curiosity led to the biomedical programme at Uppsala University and later to an exchange year at McGill University. There, she began a course in advanced immunology and became interested in how the body’s immune system can attack cancer cells.

“Being able to delve into the research, build companies over time, and start my own research team has given me back what team sports gave me in my youth. A strong desire to share a goal and do something good for the team.”

After a few years at Astra Zeneca’s marketing department, she returned to academia as an assistant senior lecturer, research director and entrepreneur in Ultimovacs, the company that recently purchased the pharmaceutical division of the company Immuneed, which Sara Mangsbo herself founded in 2014. How does it all go together?

“The common denominator is the subject matter, immunology. Immunotherapy can cure a certain type of cancer or extend the survival of patients. “It is this conviction that gives me the stamina to work so much,” says Sara Mangsbo.

However, in order to move freely between academia and industry, you must have understanding of the different roles.

“You have to know where the boundaries lie, have a strong internal compass, and not be afraid to show two sides of the coin to the different organisations.”

As a mentor for students, she is happy to offer concrete advice.

“It’s fun to give them a vision of what path they can take and show that things don’t have to be so compartmentalised between companies and academia,” says Sara Mangsbo, who also welcomes the fact that UU Innovation, UIC and government-funded Vinnova support the interaction between research and companies. But, support for pure basic research without collaboration requirements is also of great importance going forward. 

“When a pharmaceutical company goes into the clinic and performs clinical trials that hopefully lead to an approved product, it generates new questions. These can relate to mechanisms of action, treatment schedules, patient safety and soft values related to health. These questions are then balled back to academia and research. This circle can become very strong, and is key so that we keep the patient in focus as we move forward, both in academia and in healthcare.”

Sara Mangsbo's own interaction in both worlds has given her a kind of double vision.

“My active role in both academia and industry has given me a sense of what can be commercial and what is basic research. This mean that I have the courage to assess and express what will become a commercial success and what will not. I also get the unique opportunity to constantly grow and develop by working with people in both academia and industry who have different areas of expertise.”

When asked about the secret to her success and why she was recently chosen as business magazine Veckans Affärer’s Entrepreneur of the Year, she is silent for a moment as she reflects on the question.

“I’ve worked in this research field for a long time, since 2006, and I think it's a lot of fun. I have dared to take steps outside of my comfort zone, and have not shied away from taking new initiatives and testing something new with the help of others.”

However, the desire to push the envelope can have its downsides as well. A year ago, ligament number two tore during a mountain bike ride.

“But, now I’ve gotten back on my bike and got myself a Grail bike that I hope to use on the gravel roads in Uppland in the future,” says Sara Mangsbo.

SARA MANGSBO

Title: Researcher at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences, assistant senior lecturer, entrepreneur.
Age: 37.
Free time: Cycling on her Grail bike, has started sailing again, and spends time with family.
Motto: Dare to say Yes and never lose your curiosity.

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