The Control Tower of Pharmaceuticals

Published: 15 November 2023

Text: Anne-Marie Korseberg Stokke

Photo: Angelique Culvin Riccot

Anette Sauve i Vitas lokaler
Anette Sauve i Vitas lokaler

At the top of Block A in Oslo Science Park sits the pharmaceutical industry's answer to Petter Smart and Aunt Sophie: the biotechnology company Vitas. There, highly skilled employees, including a group of robots, ensure that the medicines we use contain what they should.

Every day, samples of everything from Greek mosquitoes to Thai whale sharks land in the mailbox at Vitas in Oslo Science Park. In the analysis lab, machines work around the clock to analyze dried blood samples, looking for things like fatty acids, vitamins, antibodies against viruses, or substances associated with the risk of cancer. Today, Vitas is a world leader in this method, called DBS (Dried Blood Spot), but many are unaware that they are also a crucial partner for developers and manufacturers of pharmaceuticals.

Anette Sauve is the head of Pharma Services at Vitas.

"We control and document that a drug contains what it should, that it is stable, and that no unwanted substances have sneaked in," says Anette Sauve.

She leads Pharma Services at Vitas and assists her clients from the beginning of the development process to phase 3 clinical trials and even after market launch.

"We are one of the few companies in Norway that has a necessary manufacturing license for drugs, a so-called GMP certification, and, therefore, we are an important partner for smaller start-up companies that do not yet have a large production apparatus," explains Sauve.

Innovative Tailoring

Developing methods to test drugs is not always straightforward. Customization is one of the characteristics of a Vitas analysis.

"New pharmaceutical companies often create medicines based on their own molecule, without an established test method. Then we have to innovate and create special solutions. It's usually not the 'easy' projects that end up with us, but we don't give up and find it very exciting to find good solutions," says founder and CEO Thomas Gundersen.

"We are one of the few companies in Norway that has a necessary manufacturing license for drugs, a so-called GMP certification."

Anette Sauve, Vitas


GMP is short for Good Manufacturing Practices. It ensures that manufactured products meet quality standards by setting specifications and requirements for the process by which they are produced and tested.

The biotechnology company, led by founder and Ph.D. in chemistry Thomas E. Gundersen, has worked its way up over three decades to become world leading in automated analyses of dried blood.

Their skilled researchers often work with the customer over time to find the best method while maintaining full control of the documentation requirements, down to the pen that needs to be signed, which must be approved by the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

"A new drug is subject to very comprehensive regulations. We guide our customers through this as an advisor and collaborator. It can sometimes mean that at some point in the process, we say 'this is good enough' to avoid unnecessary use of time, or we propose an alternative solution," says Anette Sauve.

Local and Close

In the global pharmaceutical industry, Vitas is a small player compared to pharma giants that often have their own analysis lab. Nevertheless, they attract customers from around the world.

"For example, someone may be working on products for the ocean industries and want a local partner with a short distance to the 'source.' A simple Google search will also show that we are world leaders in detailed analyses of fatty substances, lipids, which are often included in drug formulations," says Gundersen.

One of the customers who prefer to have a local partner—so local that you can walk over in your office slippers—is GE HealthCare.

"Even though we have a good laboratory ourselves, it's good to get help from VItas when we need special expertise or capacity," says Arnfinn Andersen, a chemist, and researcher at GE HealthCare.

Long-Term Partner

Vitas was established 30 years ago as a result of research on nutrition at the University of Oslo and was the second private company in history to be established at UiO. The company has grown steadily, has a strong economy, and has contributed to numerous scientific publications at the highest level.

"We may not be very visible, but we have grown while concentrating on the subject. For our customers, it's important to have a stable partner. We have been here for 30 years and plan to be here for at least another 30 years," says Gundersen.

Vitas has both offices and laboratories on the 4th floor of Oslo Science Park.

Both Gundersen and Sauve now see a gratifying growth of biotech companies in Norway, especially in Oslo Science Park.

"We are experiencing that an undergrowth of companies is now growing larger. Many of these are born in Oslo Science Park and in the surrounding areas. Then it is useful to have access to laboratories and expertise up here on the 4th floor," concludes Gundersen.