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The life science industry’s response to the invasion of Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has, and will, affect the lives of millions of people and many life science companies and organizations are offering humanitarian support, including donations of medical supplies and financial support.

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has for example donated approximately 7.4 million EUR, including approximately 700 000 EUR to the UNHC, to provide urgent support and protection to people forced to flee their homes. The funds will target efforts to help people who have fled the country, internally displaced people, and other vulnerable groups still living in Ukraine.

Read more: NordForsk suspends co-operation with Russia

“Just as everything else, science was affected”

Viktoriia Tsuber worked as a professor and scientist in Poltava State Medical University, in Poltava, Ukraine. She left the country when the war started and she is now continuing her research at Karolinska Institutet in Solna.

During her research in Ukraine, Viktoriia Tsuber used methods within the field of bioinformatics to analyze big data sets describing how cancer cells react to cancer treatment. She is now continuing her research at Karolinska Institutet, in professor Thomas Helleday’s MTH1 project. Helleday was Viktoriia’s former supervisor when she was doing her postdoc in Sweden in 2015. Just three days before the war in Ukraine started, and her world was turned upside down, she received the textbook for students (that she had published with a top Ukrainian publisher of medical literature) from print.

 

Photo of Viktoriia Tsuber: Private

 

How has your personal life been affected by the war?

“My family is back in Ukraine. My parents don’t want to move out, they have a dog that they can’t move. My son is also in Ukraine. He cannot be conscripted because of his health but he cannot cross the border either. Men aged 18-60 are not allowed to cross the border even if they can’t be in the army. He is in a safe place.”

“I don’t think anyone can comprehend that this war is happening in the 21st century. Personally, I am fine. Emotionally it’s much harder.”

“They are safe today, but tomorrow I don’t know. It is hard to focus when all these horrible things are happening in my country, it’s very difficult. I don’t think anyone can comprehend that this war is happening in the 21st century. Personally, I am fine. Emotionally it’s much harder.”

What was the environment like for scientists in Ukraine before the Russian invasion?

“It depended. You could work at a research institute at a big university in the larger cities, like Kyiv, Odesa and Lviv. They had more resources than the smaller universities. I worked in a medium-size university. As a medical school we relied heavily on international students. We provided a good education for a reasonable price and therefore we had a lot of students from India and Africa. At a teaching university you have to be teaching, but also, as a scientist, you have to provide results.”

“In my workplace I haven’t heard about anyone getting funded. You can get funded if you do something important for the industry, but we don’t have pure scientific funding, which makes it hard to perform research. Another obstacle is publishing. When people try to report their findings, at least in my town, they look for smaller, cheaper journals and try to publish there. It’s difficult for those who are doing their PhDs, you have to fund the research yourself. Normally, we don’t do costly things, we rely on the equipment and chemicals we have in the respective department, what patients you have access to and what clinical analyzes you can make. We adapt to what we have to work with. We found a balance between what we wanted to do, what we could do and what the university authorities wanted.”

How was science in Ukraine affected by the Russian invasion?

“Just as everything else in the country, science was affected. It’s about personal survival. It’s about being far away from where you can be killed.”

What do you think will happen after the war?

“After the war, I don’t think the paradigm will change much. Our institutions still carry much legacy from the Soviet time, everything just kept on working like it had in the universities and institutions. If it will change, it will change gradually, we won’t see any drastic changes.”

How has the war affected your research?

“If I was in Ukraine, I couldn’t have continued performing my research, even if I wanted to. Often I get notifications on my phone, alarms of the danger that my institution can be bombed. I think people will continue teaching when it’s more or less safe, because students depend on you to get some information; they are keen to get it and you are keen to give it to them.”

“I work with cancer big data, mutations, gene expression, everything that involves databases, and that work I can continue doing here in Sweden.”

“Everything else is not that important. I work with cancer big data, mutations, gene expression, everything that involves databases, and that work I can continue doing here in Sweden.”

Did you cooperate with Russian scientists before the war?

“After 2014 [when Russia annexed Crimea] scientists in Ukraine didn’t cooperate with the Russians. Nobody wanted to and also the authorities didn’t approve of that.”

How do you envisage the future?

“Emotionally it is difficult. People are being killed and I am worried about my family, but I have my plan, I know what to do. I am doing my best and I am planning to publish when we find something interesting.”

Ukrainian scientists receive financial support for employment at Swedish universities

In March 2022, the Wallenberg foundations announced financial support for the employment of Ukrainian scientists at Swedish universities.

Following the launch of an open call targeting the SciLifeLab research environment, seven Ukrainian scientists are now recruited at four different universities (UU, UmU, KI, SLU).

“At present, when the lives and plans of many Ukrainians are ruined because of the Russian invasion of my country, feeling global support is vital for us as never before. The SciLifeLab call for Ukrainian scientists, funded by the Wallenberg Foundations, is a possibility to continue our research and our lives out of bomb shelters. I am honored to be a Ukrainian who has received this support,” says Khrystyna Kurta, one of the approved Ukrainian scientists that will join Leif Andersson’s research group at Uppsala University. “I am deeply grateful for the possibility of gaining knowledge that I can bring to my colleagues and my area of interest in Ukraine. I am working with fish culture and looking forward to contributing to Ukraine’s post-war recovery in this field”, she continues.

 

BMC Uppsala University Mikael Wallerstedt

BMC Uppsala University. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

 

The call was open to scientists with Ukrainian nationality (senior, Ph.D. and master level) affected by the recent developments in Ukraine, and to Swedish host laboratories with the interest to host a “scientist in need”. The host laboratories were any of the > 250 research groups formally linked to SciLifeLab, all 40 infrastructure units, and all computational and data science communities (DDLS program) across Sweden, as well as those who have previously received KAW funding support via SciLifeLab for COVID-19 research programs.

Big pharma response

Danish Novo Nordisk has announced that their Kyiv offices were shuttered February 24, and the company has been in regular contact with their Ukrainian colleagues – all of whom have been reported safe and unharmed at this time.

“Furthermore, we are coordinating support in neighboring countries for colleagues and/or their families who wish to leave Ukraine.”

“We have provided emergency funds to all affected employees to help meet the costs of evacuation. Furthermore, we are coordinating support in neighboring countries for colleagues and/or their families who wish to leave Ukraine,” the company states. “We are also doing all we can to maintain the supply of essential medicines to patients living with chronic diseases in Ukraine.”

Also in Denmark, Lundbeck has donated 10 million DKK (approximately 1,500,000 USD) to the Danish Red Cross to support the emergency relief efforts and are exploring ways to donate essential medicines to the people who rely on them.

“Our priority has been and will continue to be to take care of our colleagues and patients both in Ukraine and Russia that are innocent people in the midst of war,” the company states.

“The concern for our employees in Ukraine is great and our thoughts are with them at the moment, as well as with all those affected by the war.”

In Finland, Orion Pharma has stated that they condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “The concern for our employees in Ukraine is great and our thoughts are with them at the moment, as well as with all those affected by the war. We are in regular contact with our employees in Ukraine and are doing our best to help them and their close-ones in this shocking situation,” states Orion Pharma.

Orion channels humanitarian aid to Ukraine through international organisations and has donated 51,000 EUR to the Finnish Red Cross to help those affected by the war in Ukraine.

UK-Swedish AstraZeneca has also announced that it supports urgent humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. The company has donated 1 million USD across Project HOPE and International Medical Corps. It is also matching employee donations to UNICEF and British Red Cross appeals.

Intensive care products

Swedish Bactiguard is, through a network of doctors at the Karolinska University hospital, supported by the Ukrainian Embassy, providing intensive care products that Ukrainian healthcare has asked for and need.

“It is essential that we can provide products that are urgently needed by the Ukrainian hospitals and can make a real difference,” says Bactiguard’s Chief Medical Officer and Deputy CEO, Dr Stefan Grass. “CVCs and ETTs are specifically used in surgery and intensive care. In this situation, in a country at war, one might assume there will be injured people in need of surgery or intensive care. If these products are not available in an intensive care unit, you cannot perform advanced intensive care. Endotracheal tubes are vital, as if you cannot secure the patient’s airways, you might not even be able to perform the surgery.”

Ensure that medicines reach the patients that need them

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) also stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

“As an industry dedicated to saving and improving lives, we stand for peace. Our first priority is to ensure that medicines reach the patients that need them in Ukraine, in the neighboring EU Member States, in Russia and in other countries where access to medicines may be negatively impacted. We call on all parties to facilitate the safe passage of medicines and vaccines to those in need. As a health-based industry and part of the wider EU healthcare community, we will work together to address the health needs of all those affected by this war, in Ukraine and in neighboring countries as part of the wider humanitarian relief effort,” the EFPIA states.

The global pharma supply chains are at risk

As the main exporter of medicines to Ukraine, India could experience severe disruptions, reports Pharma Logistics IQ. After Germany and France, India is the third-largest exporter of pharmaceuticals to Ukraine. Sanctions imposed against Russian banks may impact outstanding payments due for these products.

In addition, the cost of transportation is set to rise because oil prices are skyrocketing as a result of the conflict, describes Pharma Logistics IQ. This is likely to directly impact prices for many pharmaceutical firms.

The invasion hinders scientific progress

In a recent article in Nature19 February 2022, several Ukrainian researchers say that the conflict with Russia will hinder progress made since Ukraine’s revolution in 2014. “In general, this Russian tension is aiming to create chaos in Ukraine, and harm the economic situation,” said Irina Yegorchenko, a mathematician at the Institute of Mathematics in Kiev to Nature. “We know that we will have less funding for research, less opportunities to travel and zero chances of internal conferences in Ukraine.”

Ukraine has more than 31 universities with biological laboratories and more than 1.5 million college students, including more than 76,000 international students, according to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. The international science community has expressed support for Ukrainian colleagues, including efforts such as Science for Ukraine, which seeks to collect and disseminate opportunities for scientists displaced by the invasion, countless academic careers and decades of research hang in the balance.

Read more: The Russian invasion of Ukraine hinders scientific progress

Photo: iStock