Sweden is developing a new life science strategy, which prioritizes education and research.
Dr. Jenni Nordborg, PhD., Sweden’s Director, National Coordinator for Life Science at the Government Offices and head of the Health Division at Vinnova, is working to increase connections between agencies and institutions to ensure smooth implementation and keep Sweden in the forefront of life sciences internationally, in the areas of research, business and healthcare. Nordic Life Science (NLS) asked Jenni Nordborg (JN) – Nordic Life Science No 04 2018 – about the status of Swedish life science politics.
NLS: What national and political efforts are underway in Sweden to promote life science studies and research in higher education?
JN: Life sciences is a high priority for Sweden; the government has focused even further on it over the past four years. We have a strategic collaboration between the academic, business and health care sectors as well as patients’ organizations and strategic innovation initiatives with the government.
My work is to coordinate the strategic work between the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Research and Higher Education, and the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation. It is a new type of work process within the government to have a cross-cutting function across ministries — enabling a holistic and long-term approach for life sciences to flourish — and create a more effective and efficient health system as well as allow Sweden to stay up-to-date on life sciences internationally.
NLS: What types of reforms are planned for the higher education system?
JN: When it comes to university research and higher education, there are two ongoing investigations that may lead to political reform. One is a steering investigation looking at the best ways of steering and reimbursing the universities to ensure high quality research and education. The other is on internationalization, focusing on the university level, and how to attract international talent. There also has been a focus on life-long learning, and utilizing artificial intelligence.
“The goal is to focus more on globalization, collaboration, global health needs, societal challenges and modernized training.”
NLS: What role will the reforms play in the areas of life science coursework and research?
JN: There is a proposal to modernize medical education, making it even more knowledge- and evidenced based, as well as taking into account the digitalization of processes and usability of health data in a more holistic way. Reforms will lead to higher quality and knowledge-based learning in the whole sector to enable research and innovation at the heart of the entire health and care chain. The goal is to focus more on globalization, collaboration, global health needs, societal challenges and modernized training. This ultimately will help us move toward more values-based health care.
NLS: What are the goals of the ministry when it comes to life science education and research? Are they considered a priority?
JN: This is a priority of the Swedish government. We have increased investments during the last term and the goal is to stay on top as a leading life sciences’ nation. Our over-arching goal is to provide better health care for all citizens, be competitive in industry and have strong research-based systems.
NLS: What is being done at the secondary education high school level, that is, high school, to prepare students to study the life sciences at the university level?
JN: In high school, the natural sciences are very popular; they are only second to the social sciences in terms of popularity. Every high school has someone giving career advice and advice about colleges. There is an introductory program called Technology Leap, which allows recent high-school graduates to work for half a year in the sciences at a company or government institution to see if it is an area they want to study.
I’m also head of the life sciences at the national innovation agency, and I always have two youngsters who just finished high school on my team. It is extremely fulfilling to have another generation around the discussion table.
“There are a many innovation hubs and life science clusters across Sweden aiming to facilitate interactions between large and small companies, academia and the health care sector.”
NLS: Are there plans to develop life science specialty centers?
JN: Definitely so; one is the Science for Life Laboratory, or SciLifeLab, a national center for molecular biosciences with a focus on health and environmental research. Four universities are hosting the infrastructure; Karolinska Institutet, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University and Uppsala University, but several more are involved as this is a national resource. This is leading the work on precision medicine including genomics and proteomics.
There are a many innovation hubs and life science clusters across Sweden aiming to facilitate interactions between large and small companies, academia and the health care sector. These initiatives have shown large potential in order to translate new knowledge into valuable solutions for society. Industry-led innovation hubs in the lead include AstraZeneca BioventureHub and GE Healthcare Testa Center. Sweden also has clinical testbeds and national collaboration between all university hospitals, in the areas of advanced therapies, diagnostics and imaging.
Photo of Jenni Nordborg: Anette Andersson