Small in terms of market size and without the historic life sciences footprint of neighbouring Sweden and Denmark, Norway nevertheless has excellent credentials as a pharmaceutical hub, with a top notch universal healthcare system, immaculate patient data registries, and high calibre research – especially in oncology – being carried out throughout the country.
In her 11 years as managing director of the Norwegian pharmaceutical innovators association, LMI, Karita Bekkemellem has attempted to capitalise on these credentials, make the case for a vital but misunderstood industry, and bridge stakeholders to create a more well-rounded and mutually beneficial ecosystem.
First elected to parliament at just 24 years old, Bekkemellem served five terms as an MP for the Norwegian Labour Party between 1989 and 2009. She also served as leader of the Party’s women’s network and was twice in ministerial roles as Minister of Children and Families and Minister of Children and Equality.
During my early years at LMI, the industry at that point was like a child sitting alone in a sandpit. However, through diligent and long-term thinking, and building bridges and trust with stakeholders, we have established a close partnership with patient organisations and several new modes of collaborative working
Bekkemellem’s public profile was a key factor in her appointment to head up the LMI in 2008; bringing a more visible and pro-active presence to stake the claim for what was, at that time, a much maligned and underdeveloped pharma industry. She explains, “the organisation wanted a leader that would act and increase the visibility of the industry. I used the time before starting to meet with some of the big companies and develop my understanding of Norwegian pharma; an industry that I had previously had very little interaction with.”
She continues, “After many years working in politics, this move represented an exciting new challenge. I have become a passionate advocate for Norway’s pharmaceutical industry and, at the same time, very focused on ensuring that Norwegian patients receive the highest quality treatment. I have always stood up for what I believe in and spoke up, too, and this new cause gave me something new to fight for.”
This process has borne fruit, as Bekkemellem outlines. “During my early years at LMI, the industry at that point was like a child sitting alone in a sandpit. However, through diligent and long-term thinking, and building bridges and trust with stakeholders, we have established a close partnership with patient organisations and several new modes of collaborative working. Today, we are actively collaborating with multitudes of organisations and stakeholders, proving that we have come a long way. Now that lonely child in the sandpit has many friends to play with!”
Bridge building at the LMI also includes bringing in both the affiliates of multibillion-dollar Big Pharma companies and up-and-coming local biotechs under the association’s membership umbrella. Bekkemellem points out that “This diverse membership portfolio did not exist when I started at LMI, but it was a key part of my strategy to build a more powerful and unified industry. LMI has managed to provide a new platform through which smaller companies are able to meet larger companies and vice versa. We offer an opportunity for the large international corporations to meet the small Norwegian clusters, or small university spin-off companies. There is a lot of exciting innovation happening in Norway’s start-up companies. This innovation is useful for us, in demonstrating to stakeholders the potential the pharmaceutical industry holds for patients and for Norway.”
However, this potential is still not fully realised. Bekkemellem admits that “while I believe that if these partnerships had not been formed, the government white papers, which have changed politics for the Norwegian pharmaceutical industry, would not have been put into action” …. “Building trust so that we are in a better position to introduce important new innovations to Norwegian patients is essential and still ongoing. This is something we want to continue to build upon with greater numbers of clinical trials, more public-private partnerships and pilots that can build a stronger health industry and, most importantly, provide patients with new, innovative treatments.”