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Copenhagen – At the heart of Nordic life science

In Greater Copenhagen, center of Medicon Valley, life sciences go beyond drug discovery.

The capital of Denmark is the heart of Nordic life science. The area called Medicon Valley, including Southern Sweden, has about four million residents and is home to powerhouses like Novo Nordisk, Novozymes, and Leo Pharma. It has Novo Nordisk Foundation Centers on Biosustainability, proteins, stem cells and metabolism, and now a BioInnovation Institute for life science startups.

Smaller companies thrive here too, with about 350 biotech and medtech companies in the region, according to the investment and economic development organization Copenhagen Capacity. Its CEO Claus Lønborg says, “Pharma, biotech and medtech dominate the cluster, but we also see growth in data and technology innovations.”

He notes state-of-the-art biomedical research facilities in the Maersk Tower, a new cryoelectron microscope and November’s BIO Europe conference in Copenhagen as proof that Medicon Valley is a dynamic life science cluster.


Claus Lønborg Copenhagen Capacity

Claus Lønborg Copenhagen Capacity


Of particular interest, Lønborg says, is the world-renowned longitudinal Danish population data.

“We have some of the most comprehensive datasets in the world for studying health and social development,” he says. “We’re working on ways to securely provide data, without identifying information, for research and life science-related business.”

Diversity and public-private value

Lønborg says that diverse collaborations are behind Greater Copenhagen’s life science successes: “We have a strong ability to create value in public-private partnerships,” he says. “Life science stakeholders appreciate that.” For drug development, for example, frameworks like the National Experimental Therapy Partnership make a strong environment for clinical trials. Although public interest in science and research participation are features of all of Scandinavia, Lønborg says these advantages are concentrated in Medicon Valley as the Nordic R&D hub.

Life science activity is so high, Lønborg says, that filling jobs can be a challenge despite the many well-educated graduates from the region’s highly ranked universities and research facilities. Part of Copenhagen Capacity’s work is meeting that challenge by attracting international personnel as well as investors and entrepreneurs. “We’re working to grow the Greater Copenhagen area,” he says, “by attracting companies, capital, clients, and also talent from abroad.”

Collaborative training in translating innovations

Also ensuring a strong regional life science workforce are two master’s programs headed by Professor Finn Valentin, director of the Research Centre on Biotech Business, Copenhagen Business School (CBS). The BioBusiness and Innovation Program (BBIP) and Innovation in Health Care (IHC) degrees reflect Greater Copenhagen’s collaborative culture: They are partnerships of CBS, University of Copenhagen, and Technical University of Denmark. A mix of Danish and international students creates a diverse experience and serves the region’s labor needs, with many graduates taking industry jobs or launching startups nearby.


Mature tree line in the central avenue that divide the four quadrants that make up the Technical University of Denmark (DTU)’s main campus. Photo: DTU


BBIP began with “a dual wish from industry and students” around 2010, Valentin says. “Industry wanted universities to bundle skills, to combine life science with business and commercialization training,” he says, “and business and science students wanted preparation for industry careers.” IHC, a newer program focused on healthcare systems, builds on BBIP’s success. Both programs include student teams working with research, industry, and clinical representatives on real-world projects, for example creating a business plan for a startup.

We need skills in data handling

Valentin, like Lønborg, sees big data, especially in the service of personalized medicine, as a growing competence area for Greater Copenhagen, with its many public hospitals and clinics that are primed to participate in R&D. With increasing challenges in the healthcare industry, especially around costs, Valentin says to expect a technological transformation over the next decades.

“We’ll see more demand for data science, analysis, and infrastructure to provide evidence to support decisions on preferable solutions,” he says. Companies may develop tools and data methods to help healthcare systems and insurance companies adapt to personalized medicine, for example by linking diagnoses with tailored treatments based on individualized patient profiles. To realize the potential of this tech-driven future, Valentin says, “We’ll need employees with skills in data handling and advanced cost-benefit analyses who also understand the healthcare sector and its financing.”

Based on years of following the life science industry and developing educational programs to suit its needs, Valentin says, “I see it as an ecosystem with many specializations that must be aligned and connected for progress to happen. Copenhagen is a fruitful arena for those connections. The openness and trust allows spreading of information and opportunities so the ecosystem renews itself in healthy ways. It makes the region and the country itself even stronger.”

Maersk Tower

The research facilities at Maersk Tower include innovative and modern laboratories with plug-and-play functions that ensures both scientific innovation and flexibility. Photo by Adam Moerk


Top image: The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for basic metabolic research. Photo: Christian Als