The 9th edition of Nordic Life Science Days offered many discussions, interesting topics, enthusiastic exhibitors, and not least, a pulsating life science atmosphere.
Attending NLSDays really made you realize the need for face-to-face meetings and interactions, and despite the ongoing financial and political turbulence in our world, Malmömässan’s visitors brought a feeling of hope and joy.
This year’s event was also a record-breaking year in all categories of attendance. More than 1,500 delegates from nearly 900 companies attended, 32 countries were represented (55% of the attendees came from one of the five Nordic countries and 45% from the rest of the world) and more than 17,000 meeting requests in the BIO one-on-one partnering system were made. At the start of the conference, over 3,000 meetings had been scheduled, and when I spoke to some of the visitors they emphasized the importance of taking advantage of the unique opportunities for collaborations that the event offers.
“The region is a powerhouse of promising companies and solid collaborations across sectors and national borders.”
“The region is a powerhouse of promising companies and solid collaborations across sectors and national borders. These are all good prerequisites for successful partnering and for building strong new international collaborations,” says Frida Lawenius, Interim CEO of SwedenBIO, the organization behind NLSDays.
The event included 135 different exhibitors, showcasing their innovations, offerings and businesses in the main hall. Most attandees came from biotech and pharma (33%), followed by CRO/CMO/CDMO (18%) and non-profit and institutional participants (12%). Over 90 investors participated.
In addition to individual international delegates, NLSDays featured country pavilions from the USA, UK, Ireland, Spain, Lithuania, Finland, Iceland, and Norway. Sweden and Denmark were represented through the organizations SwedenBIO, Business Sweden, and Medicon Valley Alliance.
Two new formats
NLSDays attendees could access educational content, innovative exhibition space that included company stands and country pavilions, B2B meeting opportunities, and informal networking time around get-togethers and receptions. Two new formats were also introduced during this year’s event, both with the goal to “talk about life sciences” in different ways. The first new format, a Nordic Life Science Investment track, showcased 40 selected Nordic Rising Stars pitches. The start-ups were able to pitch their innovative solutions in front of an audience of investors and delegates in the main hall of the conference. A panel of judges scored each company based on the quality of the pitch, innovation, impact, and investment readiness.
“While our companies and academics excel across science and technology, in life sciences and beyond, the simple fact is that we need to broadcast that excellence louder to attract more foreign capital.”
“Our Nordic region is rather underexplored by the global financial community, so it’s great to see such high interest. While our companies and academics excel across science and technology, in life sciences and beyond, the simple fact is that we need to broadcast that excellence louder to attract more foreign capital. It’s not only money that’s key, but international expertise, networking, and collaboration for our companies as well as our Nordic financial community,” commented Chelsea Ranger, Chair of NLSInvest.
The other new format, live Fireside Chats, also took place right in the middle of the exhibition area during coffee breaks and lunches. One of these, hosted by LINK Medical, raised the issue of how innovative technologies can facilitate decentralized trials – a hot topic indeed.
Highlights from the grand opening
The first day of the event began with a keynote talk on Powering up through partnerships. Together with Karin Conde-Knape, Senior Vice President, Global Drug Discovery at Novo Nordisk, the five companies Finnadvance, Nykode Therapeutics, Sigrid Therapeutics, EpiEndo Pharmaceuticals and SNIPR Biome, explored and illustrated the various ways to successfully power up through partnerships. Conde-Knape said for example that the best partnerships are initiated if you share the same values and mission of where you want to go, and that you need to have trust in each other. “We also have to be able to bring value, and not only financial value, to the partnering company. One plus one should equal three,” she emphasized.
Prateek Singh, CEO of Finnadvance (and also one of our Nordic Life Science Star 2021), revealed that a good start for a sustainable partnership is that you begin to work with the potential partner’s basic researchers and PhDs, and then working up the ladder – a kind of personalized partnering. You incorporate/sell your innovation into the company in a better and broader way. Christian Grøndahl, co-founder and CEO of SNIPR Biome, mentioned that personal relationships are very important in a successful partnership, you have to build trust and be able to look each other in the eye. Sana Alajmovic, co-founder and CEO of Sigrid Therapeutics, highlighted events, such as NLSDays, where you can find everything from CROs, advisors, financing, etc. She called it 360 degree partnering. Both Alajmovic and Singh also emphasized the importance of taking risks and that we in the Nordics could be better at this and think more like in the US, that failure is just an opportunity to learn.
From deep tech to vaccines
The opening keynote was followed by six themed super sessions. The first one out, Diving into Deep Tech: From buzzword to benefit in life sciences, hosted by Finland, showcased real examples of how bioelectronics, bioinformatics, biomarker tools, improved diagnostics, and digitalization are driving our industry forward. The importance of ecosystems for growing deep tech companies, both physical and virtual, were discussed and the panelists also advised deep tech companies to approach collaboration partners early and to seek out committed parters. Kaisa Helminen, COO of Aiforia Technologies, mentioned for example the importance of having collaborations with a committed clinic, one that has both the time and resources to help develop the innovation/technology.
The second super session Vertical Life Science – How Convergence is Erasing Silos, hosted by Sweden, explored and discussed how advancements in different sectors brings them together, even industries never-before-aligned. Anders Persson, Executive Director Ecosystem Strategy & Innovation at AstraZeneca, highlighted for example that curiosity is a very important driving force in these kinds of collaborations, and that you also need to share the same values. David Eriksson, Chief Creative Officer at MindForce GameLabs shared his company’s journey and passion for solving a really hard problem – changing patient behavior. It was also concluded by some of the panelists that weird ideas should not be neglected and underestimated.
Norway’s contribution, Vaccine Crosslinks: From Cancer to COVID, focused on and discussed the opportunities presented by the immune links between cancer and infectious diseases. The panelists discussed for example what the development and vaccines of the future will look like. Holger Kissel, Vice President Business Alliance of BioNTech shared his company’s fascinating story of developing a mRNA vaccine and Gunnveig Grødeland, Senior Scientist and Research Group Leader at the University of Oslo, gave the audience more insight into the development of vaccines and what we can take advantage of from the COVID-19 pandemic.
From omics to gender science
Iceland’s super session, A multi-omics approach to disease, investigated the current explorations of multi-omics in academic and business settings across the Nordics. Kari Stefánsson, founder and CEO, deCODE genetics, started out by giving the audience a great introduction to the field, including progress has been made and what the current challenges are. In addition, Ida Grundberg, Chief Scientific Officer, Olink Proteomics provided valuable insight into the future of the field and its current cutting edge applications. Stefánsson also played an important role in creating a lively discussion among the panelists by asking them critical questions.
The super session hosted by Denmark, Gender Science: Reproducing for the other 50%, focused on a great challenge for the life science industry, both for innovators and investors: the importance of treating women’s health as more than a niche category and devoting equal time, resources, and money to where half our population exists. This was in my opinion the most interesting session. It both informed us about disheartening statistics and facts (still many trials do not take into account the big differences between women and men) and it also provided concrete ideas and solutions to make R&D more equal, and more accurate, from the start.
Diana Torgensen, Executive Director, External Innovation & Emerging Science, Organon, Kelle Moley, Vice President and Public Affairs, Reproductive Medicine Maternal Health, Ferring Pharmaceuticals and Antonella Chad Santuccione, Chief Medical Officer, Altoida, CEO and co-founder of the women’s brain project, all gave very valuable insight that reached the audience. In short, some of the keys to improvement mentioned by the panelists were focusing on education (implementing equal representation into early science and medical training), funding the right efforts, and creating awareness among all of us, not least the regulators (regulatory is a big hurdle!), and investors. The panelists also all agreed upon the simple truth that what it boils down to is performing good science and that this is also a great business opportunity.
Read more about NLSDays 2022 in our upcoming issue of the magazine – out November 1st!