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From market access to innovation access – harnessing the full potential of the Nordic life science hotbed

Helena Strigård

Lately we have discovered a trend, or more accurately a trend within a trend.

It is already well known how international big pharma and big biotech companies are looking to smaller and younger companies to vitalize their pipelines, since they are dependent on external innovation. This phenomenon has developed over many years, and now we are seeing some interesting and logical consequences of this, such as the increasing physical openness of larger international companies. In Sweden, for instance, it was already in 2014 a deliberate strategy of AstraZeneca to open up to the surrounding life science community, resulting in the launch of Bioventure Hub, an arena where start-ups are located within AZ premises. Testa Center at the GE Healthcare site in Uppsala is another example where a global life science-company is exposed to more innovation and science.

It’s a paradigm shift”

The insight of the necessity of external innovation, and with that opening up your own assets to brilliant minds outside your organization, is currently gaining full momentum in every vein of the big life science companies, and those who understood this many years ago are now reaping the benefits. It’s a paradigm shift.

For the Nordic countries, which year after year excel at the top of global innovation indexes, this is a potential jackpot-situation. Many of the international companies whose Nordic presence previously mainly consisted of sales offices to gain market access are now increasingly seeking interfaces with the vibrant Nordic life science community of predominantly smaller companies to gain access to their innovative power. Some of the former are literally moving into the heart of our innovation hotbeds at university campuses.

This local trend, within a much larger global trend, could be described as moving from market access to also looking for innovation access. In Sweden, as well as in the rest of the Nordics, we should meet this opportunity with intelligence. In order to create a proper win-win situation, we can be neither protectionist nor naïve.

The growing international interest in harnessing Nordic life science innovation should truly be embraced. I am genuinely convinced that business opportunities and collaborations early on between innovation start-ups and large companies will help build stronger homegrown Nordic companies. Not only does the interface funnel innovative power into big pharma, big biotech etc., it also provides newcomers with crucial know-how on what it actually takes to meet the global market and get it right from the beginning.

At the same time, for this encounter to be beneficial for the young company, it needs to have a strong voice in the negotiations. Entering into collaborations and business agreements is surrounded by pitfalls.

The innovation system has a role to play here, to ensure that strong voice. This requires providing critical early stage funding that enables various options to be explored and weighed against each other, and also providing platforms where knowledge and know-how can generously be exchanged business-to-business, no strings attached. After all, you learn best from those who are or have been in the same situation.

This is where we, the Swedish Life science industry organization, come in. I’m proud to say that building networks, spreading knowledge and providing industry with a strong voice is our mission. For seven years we have provided the largest partnering meeting in the Nordics, the Nordic Life Science Days (, which this year will take place in Malmö on 10-12th September. The goal is to enable such win-win encounters and encourage companies of all sizes and origins to share their know-how. Openness is the path forward.

Nordic life science should aim high”

Nordic life science should aim high. Now more than ever, considering what a powerhouse of innovations it is and how the world is looking for this resource, let´s be bold enough to ask what it would take for international companies to engage here, with production facilities and long-term research investments, adding to the existing marketing offices. Then with the question asked – policy makers ought to listen to the answer. Only then will the Nordic society fully harness the full potential of this innovation hotbed of ours.