The Lithuanian life sciences sector is pivotal to the country’s economic growth while addressing global and public health challenges.
Representing 3 percent of the nation’s GDP, this sector in Lithuania demonstrates continuous growth, with aspirations to emerge as a premier destination for life sciences within Europe by 2030. It drives job creation and has a crucial role in the government’s stated desire to boost innovation and co-create, which entails fostering open collaborations.
But this hasn’t been an overnight success. The foundations were laid through targeted investments in infrastructure, academia, and nurturing a research culture over many years.
Lithuania’s life sciences journey traces back to the corridors of its storied universities. Marking a pivotal moment in the country’s biotech history, Lithuanian-Polish Professor Andrius Sniadeckis authored the globally recognized textbook “Theory Of Living Organisms” in 1804. While flipping through its English translation, one can notice the Thermo Fisher Scientific logo on the copyright page, showing the company’s desire to share the story of Lithuanian biotech with the world.
Today, that legacy continues as Lithuania stands at the forefront of cutting-edge biotechnology, medical research, and genetic advancements.
In an exclusive interview with Professor Arminas Ragauskas, Lithuanian scientist and the director of the Institute of Health Telematics Science at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), and Tomas Andrejauskas, president of the Lithuanian Biotechnology Association (LithuaniaBIO), let’s explore the untapped potential of Lithuania’s rapidly growing life sciences sector.
STEM Finds Its Way To Young Minds
The author of many the US and EU patents and finalist of the EU competition to receive the prize of the best European inventor in 2016, Ragauskas develops non-invasive technologies for human brain neuroprotection and for brain physiological measurements and monitoring that could save lives and improve outcomes for patients facing traumatic brain injuries, glaucoma and cardiac surgery patients.
Today, Ragauskas continues his pioneering research at the KTU and clinical studies in the EU and the US medical institutions.
“In Lithuania, we have many exceptionally talented and well-educated individuals who have graduated from some of the world’s top universities. Many have returned to Lithuania, while others are conducting businesses elsewhere but remain actively involved here,” says Ragauskas.
The country boasts numerous research teams, and significant infrastructure investments have been made in Vilnius, Kaunas, and the port city of Klaipėda, emerging as a blue biotechnology hub.”
LithuaniaBIO president Andrejauskas shares this sentiment, emphasising that the country now has more than 400 hundred students enrolled in biotechnology training programs alone, and many PhDs are entering the job market every year. He adds, “The country boasts numerous research teams, and significant infrastructure investments have been made in Vilnius, Kaunas, and the port city of Klaipėda, emerging as a blue biotechnology hub. The student team from the Vilnius University Life Sciences Center (VU LSC) participates in the iGEM competition every year and consistently secures prize-winning positions.”
VU LSC is one of the key global players in the field of life sciences, where the development of the genome editor CRISPR-Cas9, led by Kavli Prize laureate Virginijus Šikšnys, has propelled Lithuania to the forefront of modern biotechnology.
Life there is vibrant, giving birth to products that reach the global market.”
“Stepping into this modern building is a pleasure, and it’s a buzzing place,” says Ragauskas, “Similarly, visiting companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific Baltics or other biotechnology companies, you can witness a well-organised and excellently equipped operational infrastructure. Thermo Fisher Scientific, the parent company, has made substantial investments in harnessing talent, highlighted by its acquisition of Frementas International, a local Lithuanian company renowned as a global provider of molecular and cellular biology products. Life there is vibrant, giving birth to products that reach the global market.”
The sector exports approximately 95% of its production to foreign markets.
“We’ve witnessed a remarkable journey,” says Andrejauskas, “The life sciences sector has grown elevenfold in the last ten years, outpacing even the leading ICT sector that once dominated the landscape.”
The life sciences sector has grown elevenfold in the last ten years, outpacing even the leading ICT sector that once dominated the landscape.”
While the growth in Lithuania’s life sciences sector is impressive, the spirit of innovation sets it apart. The government also puts efforts into helping translate science into business. In the framework of the mission oriented policy, a recently formed consortium of Vilnius University plans to set up a translational gene technology centre. The establishment of such a centre would help to accelerate the transfer of technology into healthcare activities both in Lithuania and internationally. The total estimated value of the project is €68.66 million, it has attracted seven companies.
Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) with life sciences has opened new frontiers of research and development.
Ragauskas unveils that a recent large-scale international project, with a budget of 40 million euros and a consortium of 62 leading neuroscience centers, aimed at comparing the efficiency of treating traumatic brain injuries in different European countries, ultimately showed the crucial need for automated processes.
“The progress was not what we expected. The only hope lies in using multi-channel, multimodal monitoring methods and technologies that generate dynamic streams of physiological information beyond the comprehension and use of any individual doctor, no matter how well-educated. This is where AI comes into play,” says Ragauskas, “Fortunately, KTU established the AI Center at the right time. With the first application, it secured a substantial 30-million-euro grant from the European Commission, allowing its rapid development to address these challenges.”
Ragauskas notes that Lithuania was invited to join this collaborative European project due to its established reputation in the field.
Mentioning the global trends shaping life sciences, such as wearable health technology, personalized medicine, and 3D bioprinting of organs, Ragauskas asserts that Lithuania is actively contributing to these transformative advancements.
“I have excellent funding for clinical trials and technology development, covering the entire spectrum from design to product launch. Possibly, we’ll introduce new serial products in a couple of years,” says Ragauskas.
About 15 years ago, we had around ten companies, but we currently have almost 100, which is steadily growing.”
“Compared to neighbouring countries, we’re making significant strides forward,” says Andrejauskas, “The sector’s diversification is deepening. About 15 years ago, we had around ten companies, but we currently have almost 100, which is steadily growing.”
Exporting Lithuania’s Expertise
Exporting Lithuania’s expertise has become a key focus, as it aims to showcase its achievements and attract more investors, propelling the sector towards even greater success in the global market.
According to Andrejauskas, the sector has been a beacon of light for adapting to the changing geopolitical and economic situation. He admitted, “We thought the sector would react more painfully,” indicating that the sector has exceeded expectations.
I think many foreigners can be jealous of Lithuania’s conducive environment for scientific pursuits. Here you can innovate without distractions and stress.”
As the interview ends, one thing is evident – Lithuania’s life science sector demonstrates the capability to create, invent, and deliver. “I think many foreigners can be jealous of Lithuania’s conducive environment for scientific pursuits. Here you can innovate without distractions and stress,” concludes Ragauskas.
Featured photo of Arminas Ragauskas and Tomas Andrejauskas
Learn more about life sciences in Lithuania here!