On April 16, the Danish government unveiled, to great anticipation and fanfare, a brand-new National Life Science Strategy which seeks to chart the course for the next three years of an industry sector that has become increasingly influential for the country’s economy. Indeed, Denmark’s healthcare and life sciences segment now not only provides direct employment for almost 50,000 and generates eye-watering trade figures – some 22 percent of the nation’s entire export envelope – but also ranks as one of the most productive sectors in the land. Its pharma industry, for instance, habitually registers a value-add per employee approximately some 2.6 times greater than the business community as a whole.
What makes this latest iteration of the strategy so significant is that the stakes have never been higher. Denmark’s public administrators will be looking to the life sciences to help the national economy rebound swiftly after a torrid pandemic in which real GDP contracted by more than seven percent. Meanwhile, there is great attentiveness to trying to maintain the momentum of a star performing market, the value of which has increased nine-fold within the past couple of decades.
Other indicators underscored the sheer momentousness of the occasion. For the first time ever in Danish history, a life science strategy has been launched not merely by the Minister for Industry, Business, and Financial Affairs, but simultaneously by the Ministers for Health, for Higher Education and Science, and for Foreign Affairs, thus signalling the mobilisation of the entire government apparatus in support of the initiative.
The strategy itself consists of 38 specific initiatives spanning seven core thematic areas that range from typical life science sector goals – such as stimulating R&D, enhancing access to innovation, making better use of health data and encouraging direct inbound investment – to more quirky objectives such as a basket of measures to reduce the carbon footprint of the pharma industry.
This is a holistic and comprehensive package which targets the entirety of the value chain
Ellen Trane Nørby, Minister for Health
What, then, constitute the main takeaways? Underpinning everything will be a series of targeted cash injections totalling DKK 70 million worth of public investment this year, and allocations of DKK 100 million in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Captains of the pharma industry should be especially buoyed by commitments to speed up market access for breakthrough innovation, initiatives to offer tax-breaks for R&D and exempt commercial sponsors for all fees in connection with phase I clinical trials, as well as plans to support experimentation with decentralised (read virtual) trials.
“This is a holistic and comprehensive package which targets the entirety of the value chain… we will be introducing risk sharing in the subsidy system to help introduce latest-generation therapies, will render clinical research more appealing to business, will give a shot in the arm to medical device developers and will ensure an efficient and internationally-oriented Danish Medicines Agency,” explains Ellen Trane Nørby, the Minister for Health.
Especially eye-catching is the explicit acknowledgement that the strategy taken in isolation will not realize the full potential of the industry. Instead, the Danish government is making a direct appeal for systematic collaboration across both public and private sectors. Indeed, the government has committed to establishing a first-of-a-kind ‘National Life Science Council’ aimed at handing industry stakeholders an official stake in policy definition: with the new body tasked with continuously reviewing and developing the future framework conditions for the sector.
This business-friendly orientation also extends to putting out the welcome mat for foreign investors. “We understand that foreign investments in pharma and healthcare represent a significant contribution to growth and employment in Denmark and provide us with cutting-edge technologies and know-how, so this is something we definitely want to encourage,” affirms Anders Samuelsen, Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Our growth plan seeks to reduce some of the most significant barriers for businesses while simultaneously strengthening the entrepreneurship and investment culture,” agrees Brian Mikkelsen, Minister for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs.
Also noteworthy is the sheer amount of attention given over to future-proofing the sector by emphasising digitalization. One objective seeks to harness the unique Danish comprehensive health and socio-economic data, that covers the entire population and a period of almost half a decade, so as to enable improved clinical practices while ensuring confidentiality and data security. “Our calculation is very much that digital transformation will strengthen the growth layer of scale-ups within the life sciences, unleashing Denmark and Danish companies to become digital and technological frontrunners operating right at the vanguard of future trends in medical science,” confides Mikkelsen.
The Danish Pharmaceutical Industry and the Danish Medtech Association have naturally both expressed their overall satisfaction with the strategy. That is not to suggest that there are no detractors, however. Some patient associations lament that the program is too focused on commercial interests rather than being geared towards directly improving the lives of patients. Several industry actors had also been hoping that the mandated R&D tax deduction of 130 percent might be enshrined as a permanent feature, as opposed to just a temporary incentive. Others would have liked to see more effort in stimulating the stock market, making it more attractive for VCs and angel investors to invest in life science start-ups so as to mitigate a longstanding trend of homegrown biotechs choosing to migrate to neighbouring Sweden.
All in all, though, the new strategy represents a strong statement of intent on the part of a Danish government that refuses to let an internationally competitive local life science industry become complacent and rest on its laurels. It will hardly be lost on Denmark’s rivals that, even prior to this latest landmark announcement, the country boasted one of the most R&D-intensive ecosystems in the world, the most clinical trials per capita on the planet and a disproportionately strong footing in medtech including the ability to manufacture and supply more than half the globe’s hearing aids! The race to keep ahead of the game clearly endures.