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Column: Frida Lawenius, SwedenBIO

Frida Lawenius

Earlier this year SwedenBIO launched the report “The Swedish Drug Discovery and Development Pipeline 2020” covering 148 companies that have their headquarters in Sweden and have R&D in drugs for human use.

The report reveals great optimism, not only with rising numbers of companies and projects, but also with growing and maturing companies. Sweden indeed has a flourishing ecosystem for small and innovative companies.

Besides the compulsory questions about the pipeline-projects, we plunged into the matter of the companies’ internal and external relations, to get a glimpse of emerging trends and strategies.

“There is one consultant for every two employees, in full time equivalents, and four out of five companies plan to expand with more employees and/or consultants in 2020-2021.”

Although drug developing companies in Sweden are predominantly small or even micro-sized when you measure in number of employees, they grow significantly when you add the consultants. There is one consultant for every two employees, in full time equivalents, and four out of five companies plan to expand with more employees and/or consultants in 2020-2021.

But there is a fly in the ointment. It’s hard to get hold of the right competence. Specialists in specific areas, but also senior officials in business, finance and regulatory affairs, are scarce resources. Great competence is crucial and precious, but also costly. The results address the question of how we can use our common pool of competence to add value for more.

Think of the total amount of experience and knowhow that exists in life sciences in Sweden, or think even bigger, the Nordics. Then look from the perspective of how the life science ecosystem has developed over recent decades. Companies are depending on each other in an intricate network, with ties binding them together from discovery to market. New ways of doing business have developed, where the success story not only depends on the company’s own tactics, but on those of its allies. The network is not geographically limited, on the contrary, the companies are global from the beginning. All companies in the Pipeline-report have international connections. Most common is research collaborations, and international business ties are strong. The road to success is defined by connections with the right partners, despite national borders.

“Instead of rivalry over critical competence, what if we would add value by sharing.”

Keep this image in mind when we go back to the dilemma of limited supply of human resources. Instead of rivalry over critical competence, what if we would add value by sharing. In some respects we already do. We have business leaders with engagement in several companies as CEOs, chairs of boards or advisors, and again the commitments lack national borders. Half of the pipeline-companies have international board members contributing valuable experience when this is hard to source nearby. Some managers and specialists divide their worktime and engagement between a company, academia or health care, and as the pipeline-results reveal, there is a fair share of consultants. Even the number of interim managers has grown significantly.

What’s the next level? Can we go even further to secure the right expertise when this is critical. What if we can retain our core employees by offering them a challenging and developing task at a fellow business, instead of losing them altogether to our competitors. Maybe we can afford to keep a coveted and costly resource by letting out some time to lower-cost staff and earn in experience, new ideas and loyalty, or strengthen our partners and gain from fruitful collaborations? Would you dare to share your human resources with others? What would you gain from taking on knowhow from your fellows?

“The next generation of holists will probably not consist of single officials, but the co-work of several.”

The world is changing and we need to adjust our mindset to be competitive. The times when we had senior officials with a holistic approach to the entire process of drug development within our companies are long gone. The next generation of holists will probably not consist of single officials, but the co-work of several.

The life science network is a complex system of roles, connections and business models, where the strategies for success vary. Finding your own fit demands knowledge, experience, and an open mind. The need for the relations, good advice and experience that is found in a community has probably never been greater.

By Frida Lawenius, Deputy Director General, SwedenBIO