Sweden is aiming to become a leading innovation nation in the life sciences, with the creation of a Life Sciences Office showing that the sector is right at the top of the Nordic nation’s political agenda.
Today, life science is the only sector for which an official government office has been created
During the 1990s, the Swedish life sciences industry was dominated by two giant pharmaceutical companies, Astra and Pharmacia. The landscape dramatically changed after Astra merged with Zeneca in 1999 and Pharmacia was acquired by Pfizer in 2003. Pfizer stopped all R&D operations in Sweden and only retained its biomanufacturing site in Strängnäs. In 2010, AstraZeneca shut down its research facility in Lund in southern Sweden. When two years later, AstraZeneca announced the closing of the R&D site in Södertälje, the news had the effect of an electroshock and prompted the political class to take action.
As Anders Blanck, director general of the Swedish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry, known as LIF, recounts, “this event was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was a wake-up call. Before, everybody took the life sciences industry for granted. […] Nowadays, life science is the talk of the town in Sweden, which was simply not the case five years ago. Today, life science is the only sector for which an official government office has been created.”
Blanck is referring to the Life Sciences Office, a permanent government office independent of the Prime Minister or ruling party established in February of last year. The office, headed by Jenni Nordborg, brings together officials from the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, the Ministry of Education and Research and the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Its mission is to craft and implement a national life sciences strategy in collaboration with all stakeholders: regional authorities, academia, healthcare and industry.
The strategy is based on three key priorities. The first is the utilization of digital health data contained in the national quality registries, health registries and biobanks for healthcare provision, medical research and clinical trials through the use of AI. The second is the advent of precision medicine. The government has made major investments to promote development and production of gene and cell therapies throughout the value chain such as the Center for Advanced Medical Products. Genomic Medicine Sweden is the latest government initiative in the field that aims to create a national infrastructure for molecular diagnostics via medical genomics centers in university hospitals.
According to Nordborg, “it is Sweden’s ambition to be a frontrunner in precision medicine, not only in R&D and testing but also in the implementation through new reimbursement models and development of the regulatory framework”. Lastly, the government wishes to integrate research and innovation by building bridges between the public and private sectors and marketing itself as a testbed for innovative clinical trials of new medicinal products and effective evaluations of treatment outcomes in real time using health care registries.
There is clearly strong political will to make Sweden a leading life sciences nation once again. This trend makes Anders Blanck optimistic that, “in five years’ time we will be in a better position than the one we are in now.”