On April 11-12th the Swedish-American Life Science Summit (SALSS) decided to expand its operations and held a special summit at the House of Sweden in Washington D.C., tailored to smaller Swedish companies interested in growing their business in the US.
SALSS, by tradition been held in the end August in Stockholm, Sweden, is a private, independent non-profit initiative, founded by the business woman Barbro C. Ehnbom. She has over thirty five years of experience from business activities within life science, from a binary industry-financial perspective – as a top analyst, but also as one of the first females on Wall Street and on executive level in Big Pharma, in the U.S. and Sweden. The goal with the Washington D.C. event was to further strengthen Swedish-American relationships within the FDA, politics, and economy. The organizers also hoped that the event would lead to successful funding by American investors in young Swedish life science companies. The meeting was arranged in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden to the United States, under the brand “SALSS Goes to Washington”.
“I’m excited to feature top U.S. and Swedish government officials along with bright and accomplished representatives from the industry and academia. To grow Life Science and its business we need to promote collaborations across borders; between academia, investors, start-ups, big companies, governments and regulators”, says Barbro C. Ehnbom, Founder and Chairman.
Another distinguishing feature about SALSS is Ehnboms tireless promotion of women in key positions and showcasing of role models.
Curious meeting between charismatic persons
According to the SALSS tradition, top government representatives, scientists, investors, business executives and startup innovators met in Washington D.C. for two days to discuss important issues, network and to initiate new partnerships and ventures. At the initiating welcoming reception, at the Hotel Embassy Row, where Barbro Ehnbom and Senior Advisor Mohammed Homman greeted the participants, the atmosphere was clearly characterized by openness, curious meetings between charismatic persons, and warm embracement, according to Ylva Nicolae Santesson, Senior Project Manager at SALSS.
The opening was followed by a full day of prominent speakers and company presentations. For example, congresswoman Diana DeGette gave an understanding for the 21st century cures bill an impressive piece of legislation she and her bipartisan and bicameral group of political partners managed through the legislative process. It is a potentially transformative support for the role of healthcare research to the ongoing effort of “Making America Great Again”. Thereafter, the Swedish minister for higher education and research Helene Hellmark Knutsson emphasized continued commitment to close collaboration between Sweden and the U.S., as well as to continued political efforts to retain Sweden’s position as a leading country in the healthcare research field through collaboration between public and private actors, and international collaboration.
Dr. William Haseltine, Chairman and President of ACCESS Health International, proceeded by taking on a more corporate perspective, explaining the rationale behind supporting small companies, but also fundamental research, in the biotech and life science areas, including environmental effects. He also spoke about utilizing fact based knowledge to improve the healthcare system.
The morning was rounded off by an investment panel, highlighting the uttermost vital question “Why should anybody invest in a startup in a faraway, cold country?” Skillfully moderated by Dr. Canan Dagdeviren, Assistant Professor at MIT Media Lab, this question was discussed by Dr. Eugen Steiner, Partner at HealthCap, Dr. Paulina Hill, Partner at Polaris Partners, Dr. Jan Lundberg, President at Lilly Research Laboratories, and Mr. Chuck Stetson, CEO of Stetson family Group.
After the networking luncheon Dr. Paulina Hill of the investment firm Polaris provided a master class of funding one-on-one. According to Ylva Nicolae Santesson, the five key take-aways were: Never go in cold, do not be incremental, make sure you solve real problems, surround yourself with great people, and last but not least, think of a number and double it.
Being one of the most appreciated contributions to the summit, there was however another (investor) voice expressing that the very golden rule of venture capital had been left out – the one stating that she who has the gold, makes the rules, reported Nicolae Santesson. “That said, leaving us with the pertinent question: Who has the gold? The capitalist or the innovator? (Is it not exactly this critical unknown we are struggling to determine?)”
SALSS success stories
Thus, the scene was set for a highly competent, self-moderating hot chair panel, reported Nicolae Santesson. It consisted of recently appointed High Commissioner and former Life Science Coordinator of the Swedish Government, Anders Lönnberg, the President of Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce, Anna Throne Holst, and Life Science Expert and former Wall Street Journalist Udayan Gupta. This selection of particular industry expertise and general business experience dealt with clarifying “Why promising, Swedish companies must go west?”
To extend and concretize this statement, two SALSS Success Stories were presented. First out was Founder and CEO of Vironova, Mr. Mohammed Homman, who told us about his journey from being a Rising Star in 2007 to become a Gold Partner of SALSS in 2015 and member of the Advisory Board in 2017. The success story by Mr. Tim Opler, Partner at the rainmaker firm Torreya Partners, was associated with a lesson by the founder of modern medicine, Sir William Osler, who taught his students to “listen to the patient for he is telling you the diagnosis”.
The event also featured promising Swedish companies interested in the American market. Two of these companies focus on the early detection of cancer: iCellate, a cancer diagnostics company, based on a liquid cell biopsy technique, and Prolung, a MedTech company developing a device for easy, non-invasive lung cancer detection. Immunovia, on the other hand, is a diagnostics company offering the IMMRAY system, an antibody-based multiplex microarray, providing a biomarker blood test for early and more accurate diagnoses related to personalized therapy of cancers and autoimmune diseases. Anocca is another very exciting immuno-oncology startup, developing novel T-cell immunotherapy based on harnessing of engineering of T-cell receptors, thus providing targeted cancer therapy. In addition, two pioneering MedTech companies were presenting: 1928 Diagnostics, offering a cloud-based SaaS solution to analyze and share real-time information on resistant bacteria, between hospitals and even between countries. This provides a tool to avoid inappropriate prescription of antibiotics, thus decreasing unnecessary usage and the incidence of antibiotics resistant bacteria.
All about brains
The summit was concluded by a teaser on the main focus area for the annual SALSS event, this year “SALSS 2018 ALL ABOUT BRAINS”, taking place August 22-24 in Stockholm. Jan Lundberg, the President of Lilly Research Laboratories, gave a rather sad picture of the current outlook in Alzheimer’s disease, and a more cheery outlook for migraine. These topics, and more, are yet to be in depth discussed and further explored at SALSS in August.
SALSS in a nutshell
The last evening, the SALSS participants met for an exclusive dinner at the residence of H.E. Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter.
“Networking was key for bridging the gap – investors and entrepreneurs crossed their horizons and built new or deepened friendships. Once, a very successful corporate leader said: “When you put the right business people together and they become friends, they will end up doing business together.” This, is SALSS in a nutshell,” concluded Ylva Nicolae Santesson.
Photo: Women in Power. Left to right: Helene Hellmark Knutsson, Swedish Minister of Higher Education and Research; H. E. Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter, Embassy of Sweden to the United States; Diana DeGette, Chief Deputy Whip and U. S. Congresswoman; Barbro C. Ehnbom, Chairman, Swedish-American Life Science Summit (SALSS). Photographer: Abtin Salahshor