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The arenas that keep Swedish life science in world class

Published: 23 April 2024

In order for Swedish life science to be able to grow and compete internationally, active collaborative arenas and actors are needed to set the ball rolling. Functions are needed for cooperation and control that drive development forward. A report shows, among other things, how strategic innovation programs such as Medtech4Health and Swelife have contributed to this development.

This web page has been machine translated. If there are any uncertainties, please refer to the Swedish text.

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The life science sector is growing in importance in Sweden. It is a priority area and important for Swedish growth and health of Swedish citizens. Therefore, there is a collaboration between business and authorities that will enable research and innovation in the sector. Medtech4Health and Swelife are two strategic innovation programs that drive the collaboration.

Solutions during the pandemic

When covid-19 loosened its grip on the world, Sweden was quick to change the fight to fight the virus. Several Swedish innovations made a difference thanks to support from Medtech4Health and Swelife. When the Swedish covid portal was launched at the beginning of June 2020, it was the first of its kind in Europe. An extensive sample collection registry facilitated researchers' use of collected biobank samples. How could we be so fast?

A number of important factors obviously came into play. Those responsible for the portal, Swedish Scilifelab, and its infrastructure were obviously an important part. With the medical technology product Captainer, it became possible to take plasma samples at home with a simple finger prick, and to handle significantly larger amounts of samples than before. The national model for healthcare integrated biobanking, SIB, received clear evidence that their endeavor to coordinate and develop Swedish life science actually makes a difference to people's health.

Sonja Eaker Fält, chairman of the preparation group for Biobank Sverige, was the national coordinator for SIB, which in short is a model that makes it possible to collect, manage and preserve research samples in an equivalent way throughout the country within the existing infrastructure of the healthcare system.

- The more we learn about diseases, the more we have understood that a larger patient base is needed in research in order for us to get better at precision medicine. For many research projects, for example, it is not enough for you to collect samples from only one geographical area. What we saw was a need to be able to collect comparable samples in a standardized way at several locations, says Sonja Eaker Fält.

The collaborative role of the innovation programs

But implementing such a change takes time and requires both funding and coordination. In its cross-regional form, the roll-out of SIB could not have been carried out by any single actor, either in healthcare or business, states Sonja Eaker Fält. But with great efforts from healthcare staff, committed researchers and with funding from, among others, Swelife - which together with Medtech4Health are the innovation programs with a health theme financed by Vinnova, the Energy Agency and Formas - a common model could be introduced in around thirty hospitals between in the years 2015 and 2021.

- This is the first effort that I know of that has been about building an infrastructure integrated within healthcare, solely for research and it is something we should be proud of. It has enabled world-leading research that cannot be carried out in other countries, not to mention the possibilities for future better treatments for patients when you can now do the complex research analyzes that are needed, says Sonja Eaker Fält.

This is the first effort that I know of that has been about building an infrastructure integrated within healthcare, solely for research.

In addition, when covid-19 became a fact, there was already an infrastructure that made Sweden's funding for covid research essential.

- It was a light in the darkness that prevailed then. Here we had created a model for collection that turned out to be extremely important for research into covid, says Sonja Eaker Fält.

Both Lena Strömberg, program manager for Medtech4Health and Peter Nordström, program manager for Swelife, agree with Sonja Eaker Fält's view of the collaborative role that the innovation programs have.

- Many of these initiatives fall through the cracks as it is not the task of any individual actor to implement or finance them. There we can be an enabler and independent actor who can also enter with funding, says Peter Nordström.

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Peter Nordström, program manager for Swelife

There we can be an enabler and independent actor who can also enter with funding.

With a focus on strengthening life science and medical technology in Sweden and improving public health, the innovation programs Medtech4healths and Swelife have broad missions. In fact, the very meaning of what life science is is constantly broadening and there is not really even a truly accepted definition of what the term includes. Globally, the term can include everything that deals with life processes, while in Sweden, historically, it mainly referred to the sector that includes pharmaceuticals - which is also the largest part - to also include diagnostics and medical technology and now covers everything from both health prevention to precision medicine. As a result, there has also been a lack of uniform statistics and the ability to map the life science sector - because where do you count a company dealing with probiotics? Or body screening?

Clear follow-up of the life science sector

In an ongoing government assignment Vinnova is developing a method that enables continuous statistics on what the sector actually looks like, which has resulted in a first report that was published in the spring of 2023. In this report, there are also references to the importance of collaboration programs for the life science sector.

See report and comments: "Statistics on Swedish life science companies"

What both Lena Strömberg and Peter Nordström have noticed during the course of the programs since they started almost ten years ago, is how more and more actors feel at home under the life science umbrella - which at the same time has come to cover basically the entire area from prevention to treatment. But bridging the gap between individual/patient, business, academia and the healthcare sector is an extensive task. Close to 550 innovation projects for better health have been financed by the innovation programs over the years. The projects have led to increased knowledge, new solutions and also successful companies in life science and medical technology, as well as coordinating project at national level.

We have acted as engines of change, challenging the system.

- We have functioned as engines of change, challenging and moving the system through our various efforts and project by being able to be an independent actor without self-interest, a permissive collaboration platform that is not driven by self-interest but without prestige works for better health and sustainable growth in Sweden, says Peter Nordström and is supported by Lena Strömberg.

Change takes time

However, not all results are as clear to the public as the SIB project. A work of change takes a long time, something that Richard Rosenquist Brandell, professor of clinical genetics also testifies to.

- If you want to change healthcare and make a system transformation, it will take at least 10 to 15 years. We have managed to get a lot done in our years, but there is also a lot that needs to be done, he says.

The business he is referring to is GMS, Genomic Medicine Sweden, a national collaborative organization for the implementation of precision medicine in care, which in short means that the patient can be diagnosed with refined techniques and given individually tailored care and treatment.

Having understood the power of the new sequencing techniques that had been researched and could revolutionize both diagnostics and treatment of patients about ten years ago, Richard Rosenquist Brandell, with the help of a grant from Swelife, was involved in starting the process to what is today GMS. A feasibility study became the broad collaborative organization in which the Swedish university hospitals and universities with medical faculties are included, together with representatives from business and patient organizations. Important infrastructure for data sharing in the form of Nationella Genomikplattformen in the Västra Götaland region has subsequently been able to take shape with subsequent grants. According to Richard Rosenquist Brandell, one of Swelife's central funding has been GMS's opportunity to employ lawyers to clarify the legal basis for data sharing at national level.

- As each region is a legal entity, we cannot currently share clinical data on many people between the regions, so-called secondary use, except in research projects. But for precision medicine, the data from one region is not enough, it is needed from the whole country, says Richard Rosenquist Brandell and adds that GMS with its knowledge was thus able to be a contributing part in the investigation specifically on the secondary use of health data that was presented in November 2023.

Great potential for Swedish medical technology

Increasing collaboration between actors is also central to Medtech4Health, with the mission to promote medical technology ideas, work for more efficient healthcare and strengthen the medical technology industry. The industry for medical technology, which also falls within the definition of life science, consists of more than 3,000 mainly small and medium-sized companies in Sweden. These are growing steadily and today account for an export of SEK 34 billion, and in terms of registered patents, Sweden is at the top in Europe, says program manager Lena Strömberg.

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Lena Strömberg, Program Manager Medtech4Health

- We make sure to create collaboration both for product development, lower system barriers and increase the exchange of knowledge around, for example, implementation processes, says Lena Strömberg and also mentions the function of being a neutral arena as one of the program's more important funding.

And the potential is great for Swedish medical technology, both for patients and for Swedish growth, she points out. Through, for example, the strategic project MedTech Internationalisering, 150 Swedish medical technology companies have been piloted to the international market through guidance and effective networks. The Swedish company Natura Lens thanks Medtech4Healths for the introduction to the EIT Health Wildcard program and the funding of 1.5 million euros that it entailed, and through the networks the opportunity was opened for the innovators behind the body suit Exopulse Mollii Suit to develop their product through a purchase of a German company. Later, the company could be sold for approximately EUR 75 million, corresponding to almost SEK 900 million. Among national, strategic project Lena Strömberg highlights the example of UppHim, and the journey of change it entailed for, among other things, Regions Västerbottens's procurement unit to become more innovative with its procurement requirements through the project.

- Thereby, they have increased the opportunities for smaller companies to sell their products and healthcare has been able to develop its activities, she notes.

The future of life science - a priority area

Both innovation programs are now in their third of a total of four stages. The programs have a lifetime of 12 years, which means that Swelife will end in December 2026, while Medtech4Health, which was started a year later than Swelife, will also continue in 2027. After that, the programs live on in the results achieved in municipalities and regions, companies and other organizations. At Swelife, they have identified the key factors that they believe Swedish life science needs in order for the field to continue to be strengthened.

An incredible amount of good progress is being made within the entire sector and the field that life science constitutes.

Peter Nordström highlights the importance of a permanent, national life science office with mandate and necessary resources, an updated strategy with a focus on both prevention and precision, as well as an established commitment, competence and capital to ensure long-term and sustainable investments.

- An incredible amount of good progress is being made within the entire sector and the area that life science constitutes. I think we could get a better leverage if we really used the strategy so that the efforts take place more systematically, structured and coordinated, that is, that the pieces of the puzzle are joined so that they form a more complete puzzle, says Peter Nordström.

Life science is a priority area. Enligt Sveriges life science strategy, which was launched by the then government at the end of 2019, Sweden is to be "a leading life science nation. Life science contributes to improving health and quality of life of the population, ensuring economic prosperity, further developing the country as a leading knowledge nation and realizing Agenda 2030". The actors it covers are described in the strategy as "companies, universities and university colleges as well as public actors at municipal, regional and state level, who through their activities contribute to promoting people's health".

The work, which also involves a separate life science office within the government office, continues under the current government and an update of the strategy is, according to the office, being processed.

Read more on the innovation programs' websites

Start - Medtech4Health

Swelife - We work for a strong life science sector in Sweden

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Last updated 26 April 2024

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