Sweden’s Excellence in Cancer Care: Behind the Figures


Key stakeholders in Swedish pharma explain why Sweden’s record on cancer care is the best in Europe and what more still needs to be done.


National investments in cancer care have improved patient outcomes and reduced waiting times

Malin Parkler, Pfizer

With an estimated 18 million cases globally in 2018, the fight against cancer is one of the most significant public health challenges of the 21st century, one which requires concerted and integrated action from all sectors of society, including civil society, the private sector, and the healthcare community, among others, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.


Being able to overcome cancer does not entirely depend on the patient; sometimes, being in the right place at the right time can go a long way towards improving the chances of survival. With the highest five-year relative survival rate for all cancers in the EU, Sweden is one of those places.


According to Amy Van Buskirk, general manager of Roche Sweden, the country is on the cutting edge when it comes to thinking of creative ways to better understand how the healthcare industry can advance innovation for cancer patients. “Patients are surviving longer, and they are progressing from cancer being an acute situation to being a chronic condition,” she asserts. However, as Van Buskirk notes,  “this creates new challenges for patients and the broader healthcare ecosystem, but also generates new opportunities to consider how we can support these patients in having the longest and fullest lives possible.”


While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of Sweden’s success in cancer care, many industry insiders point to the introduction of a National Cancer Strategy for the Future ten years ago. With a strong focus on quality and equity in treatment, the rollout of the Strategy saw the opening of six regional cancer centers. “National investments in cancer care have improved patient outcomes and reduced waiting times,” asserts Malin Parkler, country manager for Pfizer Sweden. “What we would like to see is an improvement on early diagnosis along with a centralized implementation of advanced biomarker diagnosis technology, which we see is crucial for precision medicine,” she adds.


For the big players betting on immuno-oncology as a growth driver, such as MSD, Sweden can act as a testbed for new therapies. “In Sweden, we have signed a multi-year and multi-indication agreement with the 21 regions and the Dental and Pharmaceutical Benefits Agency (TLV). This three-party agreement is a perfect example of a win-win-win situation. Cancer patients are now able to access this breakthrough treatment and regional authorities benefit from knowing what to expect in their budget processes. Moreover, MSD benefits from having predictability and a level playing field. This kind of collaboration is the foundation for continued growth in immuno-oncology,” reveals Jakob Tellgren, MSD’s VP for the Nordic and Baltic countries.


The high five-year relative survival rate for cancer patients is testament to the innovative mindset and full commitment present in the Swedish ecosystem. “One of the areas I find truly inspiring is the passion that oncologists have in Sweden to think creatively, beyond traditional studies or pathways, about how to implement precision medicine by combining multiple agents or thinking about new methods of treatment. Sweden is advancing the infrastructure and the data science perspective to unlock these new opportunities for patients,” concludes Van Buskirk.

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