The capital of Sweden possesses not only world-renowned academic research and high profile life science companies, it is also home to many of the country’s most important national life science efforts and leading centers.
The Stockholm region has both a long and strong life science tradition, spanning the entire value chain of research, development and production. Several important contributions have sprung from well-renowned academic institutions, such as the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), the Karolinska Institute, the Karolinska University Hospital and the University of Stockholm.
“Our universities are continuously delivering research results and nurturing individuals for our life science ecosystem. Together with the healthcare sector they create an arena that stands strong also in an international perspective,” says Ylva Williams, CEO of Stockholm Science City Foundation, an expert organization that facilitates knowledge transfer and strengthens life science growth in the region.
An entrepreneurial spirit
The Stockholm life science landscape is today to a large extent a product of the takeover and reformation of Pharmacia in 1995 and the merge of Astra and Zeneca in 1998, Ylva Williams explains.
”We do not have many large companies but we have a lot of small, innovative companies. My perception is that this is our profile, we have a deep competence with strong networks and we are entrepreneurially steered and flexible. After Silicon Valley, Stockholm is the best in the world at creating Unicorns,” she says. “Global actors want to be here, if not only to keep their ear to the ground and be well-informed about current life science trends.”
Digital health and health tech are up-and-coming areas where emerging technologies like AI, block-chain and VR are used to create new products and processes within healthcare.
“We also have well-established companies that deepen our knowledge within internationalization and management, like Elekta, Phadia and Sobi,” adds Williams.
Life sciences is today one of the region’s strongest industries, together with banking, financing and IT, and in Stockholm county, Uppsala, Mälardalen and Sörmland there are around 24 000 people working in the life science sector.
A leader in production
The region’s cutting edge research and advanced production capabilities have also attracted important facilities to the region, such as Pfizer’s bioproduction in Strängnäs and the growth of companies like Sobi, Octapharma and Cepheid.
“Several important investments have been made in the region lately, for example AstraZeneca’s brand new production site for biologics, Cobra Biologics investment to double its production capabilities of DNA plasmids and Octapharma’s MEUR 390 investment to multiply production capacity,” says Ylva Hultman, Head of Life Science, Invest Stockholm, who is also engaged in attracting foreign investments in the form of establishments, financial investments and industrial cooperation.
“We also have the Wallenberg Center for Protein Research (WCPR), which builds upon the knowledge gained from the Human Protein Atlas (HPA), where new platforms are developed for more effective production of biopharmaceuticals,” says Ylva Williams. “We should be very thankful for the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW), as it has given Sweden a unique opportunity. There are not many foundations like this in Europe.”
Another important trait of life sciences in Stockholm is a translational approach and cross-disciplinary research.
“We have so many strengths in several different fields and diseases, so I would rather like to highlight that we have the possibility to run our research close to the patients, with a translational approach,” says Williams. “As an example, Anna Wedell’s research at the Karolinska Institute, where she has mapped the molecular mechanism behind several impaired metabolic disorders, has led to treatment of children suffering from some of these diseases.”
A great example of how the region creates new possibilities when different disciplines work closely together is the Science for Life Laboratory, SciLifeLab, where bioinformaticians get together with mathematicians, medical experts and engineers. SciLifeLab is a center for molecular biosciences that over the past decade has become a significant force within Swedish life science. It was established in 2010 in Stockholm and three years later it merged with SciLifeLab in Uppsala, becoming a national resource for the whole country. SciLifeLab has also served as a sounding board for multinational companies seeking to establish in Sweden. It is home to more than 150 research groups (2017).
Ylva Hultman also mentions several interesting collaborations between IT and life sciences that are going on right now in the region, for example the application of AI in health tech.
“The Wallenberg initiative, WASP, Wallenberg Autonomous Systems and Software Programs, is an effort encompassing basic science, research education and recruitment within autonomous systems and software development. We also have H2 Health hub, an important network and health hub that creates important collaborations in these fields.”
Challenges and opportunities
We have come a long way in precision medicine, individualized treatments and tailormade products, says Ylva Hultman. “The challenge is to translate innovation into healthcare and to find better ways to communicate to entrepreneurs what we lack and want to invest in, and which areas have the largest budget challenges. It would be valuable to have a dialogue where we think about supply and demand.”
She also mentions the growing life science district, Hagastaden, as an import life science effort in the city.
“Companies established here will have access to large universities, the SciLifeLab, Stockholm’s IT cluster, other entrepreneurs and multinational companies.”
Hagastaden is a project based on Vision 2025, a vision to create a world-leading life science region. All buildings in the district are expected to be finalized by the year 2025, with 13 000 people living and 50 000 working here. At the end of 2017 more than one hundred life science companies were established here.
Both Ylva Williams and Ylva Hultman emphasize that Stockholm always ranks top for quality of life.
“Good schools, the closeness to nature and cultural activities, as well as a place where women and men have the same rights and opportunities to develop, is essential in order to attract global talents.”
9 X Biotech companies in Stockholm
Dilafor: Dedicated to the development of pharmaceutical products aimed at minimizing the risk for protracted labor and associated complications.
Modus Therapeutics: A drug development company developing sevuparin – a novel drug to treat people suffering from Sickle Cell Disease.
Pelago Bioscience: A spun out from the Karolinska Institute, founded to provide and develop the patented Cellular Thermal Shift Assay for use in determination and quantification of drug–target interactions.
ProMore Pharma: A company that develops peptide-based product candidates aimed for the bioactive wound care market
Xbrane Bioscience: The company is specialized in high demand biosimilars and long acting injectables.
Affibody: A clinical stage company focusing on developing next generation biopharmaceuticals based on its technology platforms: Affibody molecules and Albumod.
Athera Biotechnologies: A clinical stage company focused on developing targeted anti-inflammatory biological candidate drugs for the prevention and treatment of immunovascular disease.
Sprint Bioscience: The company has a focus on cancer and metabolism. It develops parallel projects in the preclinical stage, up to the point when they have identified a drug candidate that is ready for clinical trials.
BioArctic: A research intensive company aimed at developing new treatments that address the causes of diseases that affect the Central Nervous System.
Start image: Left: Atrium-Biomedicum. Illustration: Berg CF Moller Architects. Right: Martin Haraldsson, the Laboratory for Chemical Biology at Karolinska Institutet (LCBK)