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New report: The status of Swedish drug development

A new report from industry organization SwedenBIO shows that Swedish pharmaceutical manufacturing and research remains strong and the country continues to be a prominent player in life sciences.

The Swedish Drug Discovery and Development Pipeline report is produced every three years and is the only one of its kind. It maps the drug projects under development by Swedish pharmaceutical companies and is produced by SwedenBIO, the trade organization for Sweden’s life science industry, in collaboration with Citeline and Business Sweden and with support from Vinnova.

This year’s edition maps 506 projects from 159 pharmaceutical companies headquartered in Sweden.

A broad picture of the life science ecosystem in Sweden

The 2023 report shows that the number of Swedish pharmaceutical projects under development is increasing and that companies are planning expand their workforce in the coming year. This is also reflected in the fact that Sweden is ranked fifth in Europe in terms of the number of ongoing pharmaceutical research projects.

“The report paints a broad picture of the life science ecosystem in Sweden. We see an industry consisting of many small companies with strong roots in academic research, and with a great need for support structures that enrich the value chain, such as service companies, infrastructures and collaborative projects,” says Dr. Maja Neiman, SwedenBIO’s science relations manager who led the data collection and production of the report.

Key figures from the report

Oncology and neurology

The report shows for example that the size of Sweden’s combined clinical pipeline is equal to the pipeline of one of the big international pharma companies.

Oncology (32%) and neurology (16%) are the biggest therapeutic areas among the pharmaceutical projects in the report.  The strengths within these two fields have remained stable for over a decade shows the report. Most projects are small molecules (59%), but biomolecules are strong (28%) and the share of cell and gene therapies (ATMP) (12%) has increased since previous years.

Just over half of the projects that were in phase III in the 2020 pipeline report have made successful exits, shows the report. The pipeline report maps active projects in the drug development pipeline, meaning that when a project exits phase III, it is no longer included in the mapping. But these projects are of course of particular interest so their status were mapped through public sources such as websites, press releases and regulatory authorities. Out of 23 projects in phase III trials in 2020, the authors were able to trace that eight projects (five drugs) have been launched. Four projects are completed in phase III but not yet launched, meaning that they are in a regulatory pathway. Seven projects are still in phase III trials. Four projects have been removed, suspended or ceased.

Challenges and influencing factors

The authors asked the companies to rank six potential challenges. Out of the six; financing, recruitment and legal issues were ranked as very important or crucial by a majority of responding companies. The other three alternatives; expansion, failure of business model and practical or technical issues were ranked not or quite important by a majority of companies.

The authors also asked the companies to name factors that may influence the company during 2023. A large proportion of the companies (79%) stated concerns about financing, funding, investments, or the global economy. But at the same time a majority of the companies (64%) plan to recruit more staff in the coming year.

The outcome of milestone R&D projects and circumstances for setting up clinical trials were common factors reported by several companies. Less common factors reported were the geopolitical turbulence, the availability of supplies and energy, recruitment of key personnel and availability of collaborators.

“The community has demonstrated that it possesses both competence in drug development and the capacity to innovate. Now is the time to secure funding to strengthen the industry.”

“From the data generated in our report we can observe a tendency towards company growth as several entities have increased the number of employees. We sense that the Swedish biotech sector as a whole is ready to take a leap forward, towards growth. The community has demonstrated that it possesses both competence in drug development and the capacity to innovate. Now is the time to secure funding to strengthen the industry,” states Jessica Martinsson, CEO, SwedenBIO in the report.

International connections

Swedish companies are highly internationally connected states the authors of the report. To understand how global these companies are, international funding, leadership, recruitments and activities were surveyed. In total, 107 companies responded to these questions. More than half of the companies, 56%, have international financing including the categories international owners, international investors, part of international group or define the company as an international company. 23% of the companies reported international investors specifically. Almost half of the companies (45%) have international members in the board of directors, ensuring international perspectives on strategic matters. A bit less, 38%, have international members in the top management team, and 34% have international members in their advisory board.

“Firstly, the companies need to understand the importance of thinking internationally from the beginning.”

The authors asked Iris Öhrn, Investment advisor within life science at Business Region Gothenburg why she thinks Swedish life science companies have not attracted more international investors.

“This is a complex matter that has many different explanations. Firstly, the companies need to understand the importance of thinking internationally from the beginning. For example, by having international key opinion leaders involved in the projects or by having employees with international connections. The companies also need to be better at approaching foreign investors, keeping them updated and building the relationship long time before they need the funding. At the end of the day investments, as any other business, is a people business. Furthermore, the size of the investment and the stage of the project should also match the requirements of foreign investors, as we are commonly talking about venture capital,” she stated.

Innovative hotspots

Sweden’s drug-developing companies are primarily located in the country’s main urban areas: the Stockholm–Uppsala region, the Malmö–Lund region, and Gothenburg shows the report. A small cluster around Umeå shows promising year-on-year growth.

71% of the companies in the report are micro-sized companies with 0-9 employees and 22% are small companies with 10-49 employees. 56% of the companies included in the survey have spun off from academia or healthcare.  75% of the companies’ staff work in research and development.

The Swedish Drug Discovery and Development Pipeline 2023 is available to download for free at: www.swedenbio.se/reports.

Photo of Maja Neiman, Science Relations Manager, SwedenBIO (Photo: Camille Sonally) and Cover of The Swedish Drug Discovery and Development Pipeline 2023 (Illustration: Greatland) 

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