The Nordics: making a virtue of necessity
“The Nordic region—the ‘quiet North’ as it could have been called—counterbalances the turbulence in Southern Europe,” says Zinta Krumins, managing director Nordics, Boehringer Ingelheim, when asked about the relevance of the Nordics to the company. “The Nordics is a very stable region, with small but reasonable growth prospects, very good government structures and frameworks, social infrastructure and a solid economy.”
Although attractive for their stable economies and governments, the Nordics do not have numbers on their side. “We cannot compete in terms of volume and economy of scale,” says Stig Jørgensen, CEO of Medicon Valley Alliance, a network organization representing human life sciences in Medicon Valley, a region spanning eastern Denmark and southwestern Sweden.
Thus, the countries need to work together in order to increase their leverage. “Other countries often have an individualistic mindset and their cultures revolve around competing with each other,” Jørgensen continues. “Our collective culture enables us to unite doctors, engineers, and business people to work together. All these disciplines collaborating and working in the same domain is where innovation will flourish.”
With Sweden and Denmark taking spot one and three respectively on the European Commission’s Innovation Union Scoreboard 2013, it is hard to argue against the effectiveness of the model. For instance, both Sweden and Denmark are overrepresented in clinical trials. MSD conducts about 10 percent of all its clinical trials in the Nordic region. “The attractiveness of the Nordics is a healthcare system that is state of the art, with strong medical professionals, a high level of scientific leaders both at universities and at clinics, and an overall strong infrastructure for clinical research,” said Dorthe Mikkelsen, senior vice president, Mid-Europe 2, MSD. Furthermore, the Nordics offer a good data foundation. “Their registries are a goldmine for doing research and developing new products,” Mikkelsen says.
Clinical trials are also seen as another avenue for innovation, with many companies breaking out of the traditional sales model. “We see clinical trials as a positive way to collaborate with health care professionals,” Tommy Söderman, general manager Nordics, IPSEN, said. “In the Nordics we have many of our own initiatives; for example, we are running clinical trials on rehab patients recovering from strokes at 30 sites in the Nordic region.”
The two countries are also a goldmine for acquisitions. Shire recently acquired Swedish biotech Premacure, a biotech developing a therapy for the prevention of retinopathy of prematurity, currently in Phase II.
“Before Premacure became part of Shire, the company was already surrounded by an environment that allowed them to invest, explore and discover, which we then found was a good fit for us. Sweden provides an environment in which government incentivizes companies to be innovative and rewards innovation with favorable taxation,” said Mary Di Marzio, General Manager of the Nordics for Shire. “That is at the core of what the Nordic nations are encouraged to do and are rewarded for doing.”
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