With a combined market value of over $7 billion, the life sciences sector in Sweden and Denmark is growing rapidly, with more than a thousand healthcare companies founded during recent years. Most of it is caused by a cross-border cluster that spans the region of eastern Denmark and southern Sweden, the Medicon Valley.
Investments of more than DKK 45 billion ($6.64 billion), Medicon Valley is home to Danish multinational company Novo Nordisk, which runs the world’s largest insulin factory. A driver in diabetes treatment, his diabetes pill Rybelsus was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a first-line treatment for lowering blood sugar levels, earlier this year.
At the forefront of this cluster is the Medicon Valley Alliance, a not-for-profit organization working to strengthen collaboration between the Danish and Swedish life sciences sectors, with an interest in promoting the hub as an attractive destination for establishing healthcare companies, according to David Zepernick, director, member engagement and communications at the Medicon Valley Alliance.
About Medicon Valley Alliance activities
What the organization does is twofold, explains Zepernick. This provides a pathway for companies and universities to apply for European Union (EU) funding for projects. Additionally, it enables partnerships between biopharmaceuticals for the further development of pipeline programs.
To create a space for networking, the establishment founded in 1997 has more than 300 member companies and organizes around 30 events and seminars throughout the year.
“This is an attractive market where our company sees value in membership,” said Zepernick. “And not only was the content and discussion interesting, but we were also able to recruit and attract the right people…. My job and a key part of what we do here at Medicon Alliance is making sure we keep this engine with great content and interesting networking opportunities running,” said Zepernick, who added that the event was organized to attract companies outside the region. . access the platform and gain expertise from potential partners within the cluster.
People prefer to do business with people they have a relationship with, according to Zepernick. He explained that because it is a binational platform, seminars and networking meetings are usually held in English, which Zepernick says can not only engage Swedes and Danes – without having to choose between native languages – as well as make it more accessible to experts from around the world, in particular Europe.
Medicon Valley Alliance ReproUnion Project
One of the projects that the Medicon Valley Alliance focuses on is infertility treatment. As one in six people worldwide experience infertility, the ReproUnion Medicon Valley Alliance is a collaboration between the University of Copenhagen, Lund University, Ferring Pharmaceuticals and Skane University Hospital. This project is an effort to overcome various challenges, including male infertility. A clinical trial examining 385 men whose biological samples were collected for biobanking and biomarker identification was conducted to determine the pathogenesis of infertility, in 2020. This was undertaken to enhance research in the area of diagnostics, as a more rapid means of determining infertility. Similar studies were conducted to address low ovarian reserves. Simultaneously, the project is looking at whether the coronavirus impacts the reproductive system, a topic that has recently received attention.
“Our flagship project for many years has been the ReproUnion project, which deals with infertility, which is certainly a growing challenge in many countries, especially Western countries. Populations do not reproduce themselves. That applies both to the Nordic countries but also to many other western societies… Our project which aims to enhance R&D in infertility, both male and female infertility, (we want) to ensure that we have the next generation of cutting edge scientists who can carry this research further far in this region, We are already one of the leading strongholds in this field based on excellent research in Denmark and in Sweden and we want to make sure that we can maintain that position and also in the future,” said Zepernick.
Healthy gut, healthy mind
Within its line of work, the Medicon Valley Alliance also specializes in microbiome health. It has long been understood that balancing the microbiome can be significant for lowering the risk of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. The organization’s Microbiome Network allows members to collaborate on drug discovery, nutrition, and probiotic development.
The leading player in the field is Novozymes. Located in the heart of the Medicon Valley, the company which is a spin-out of Novo Nordisk since 2000, is investigating the effects of psychobiotics, to heal the gut and in turn maintain good mental health. Gut-Brain-Axis, which consists of a network of nerves in the gastrointestinal tract connected to long wandering nerves that extend from the brainstem. In addition to motor signals, nerves carry sensory information that can differentiate the environment in the gut. In addition, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which responds to stress by releasing hormones, can regulate pathways in the gut. The company has developed the probiotic ProbioBrain, which interacts with cells in the gut to produce metabolites. These metabolites send messages to the brain, thus targeting cognitive functions. In a four-week placebo trial, the drug was able to help individuals deal with stress and reduce mental fatigue.
Meanwhile, one of the newest members of the Medicon Valley Alliance, the US-based Organon with facilities in Denmark, focuses on women’s health. With channels focused on bacterial vaginosis, breast cancer, contraception, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and menopause, the company produces biosimilar drugs. These are similar to biologic drugs – which contain complex molecules derived from microorganisms – but offer a wider range of treatment options and reduce healthcare costs when compared to biologic drugs.
“We have a very passionate startup community in oncology,” said Zepernick, who added that the Medicon Valley Alliance, while realistic about its position globally where there are larger groups such as those in Boston, Basel and England, aspires to rank the top three in several specific research areas, including diabetes, microbiomes, central nervous system (CNS) diseases, and microbiomes.
Medicon village: connecting Sweden’s life sciences ecosystem
While the Medicon Valley Alliance pursues binational development in the life sciences, Medicon Village, which is a member of the Medicon Valley Alliance, seeks to strengthen the industry in Sweden.
Founded in 2012 in Lund, this science park was previously a facility run by AstraZeneca which has closed operations in the city. This led to a crisis in the life sciences ecosystem in southern Sweden, as AstraZeneca is renowned for driving growth in this sector. As a result, stakeholders from universities, the municipality of Lund, the healthcare district and private sector investors came together to form Medicon Village. Since then, the park has grown, with approximately 2,800 employees and 180 companies currently operating.
The science park, which is owned by two organizations – one is a real estate company that manages infrastructure and facilities, and the second is Medicon Village Innovation, which aims to promote research and development within the hub. Along with building labs and office space for companies, science parks, such as the Medicon Valley Alliance, provide spaces to encourage interaction between researchers from academia, according to Petter Hartman, CEO of Medicon Village Innovation.
In addition, the park is involved in the NOME project – funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation – which is a mentoring program where science parks in the Nordic region come together to offer companies support on their journey with experienced entrepreneurs who can help them through it. steps – such as how to talk to investors and how to grow your company for international markets – explains Hartman.
As the organization seeks to attract investment to the area by working with municipalities, Hartman said: “We need to illustrate how we can work together to form an attractive offering, and what we can come up with that makes us more attractive than others. region in Europe. And pushing for some bigger initiatives where we can get international funding and national funding from innovation agencies.”
One of the leading healthcare companies located in the science park is Xintela, which specializes in stem cell therapy and targeted cancer therapy. Based on its stem cell marker, α10β1 integrin, biopharma has developed XSTEM, for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Last month, the company announced that its preclinical trials had success in stabilizing blood circulation, reducing damage to lung tissue, and blood clots in people with ARDS.
Securing funds: the battle for all
Financed by company-paid rent, Medicon Village has adopted a non-profit model of re-investing in academic research each year.
However, one of the main challenges facing science parks is the need for capital. “Because many companies are quite small, it is very important to help them reach new markets which can be very expensive. So, you know, the internationalization trip is important. Companies here in the Medicon village are not the only ones experiencing this challenge,” said Hartman, who added that engaging with policy makers can help lighten the burden of not only acquiring capital but also attracting talent.
Hartman believes that as the life sciences sector in the Swedish economy grows, politicians are becoming more interested in driving its growth. “And that became even more obvious during the pandemic, because suddenly, it was very clear to everyone, that if we don’t invest in our healthcare system, if we don’t have, you know, academic excellence and kindness. medical research, and if we don’t have companies that can manufacture and develop new vaccines, then we’re in trouble. So that the political interests of this sector become even greater,” said Hartman.
This led to the emergence of the Swedish life sciences strategy, which emphasizes the creation and strengthening of partnerships.
Could the Nordics influence life sciences globally?
As Medicon Village steers its progress towards launching its newest home lab in 2024, Medicon Valley Alliance faces a similar challenge regarding raising funds, as it aspires to be at the forefront of Nordic life sciences.
We currently have a binational life science cluster, which is the largest in the EU, but is not even mentioned explicitly in either the Swedish or Danish national lifestyle strategies. And I think that’s one of the things that we’re trying to reach, to reach relevant decision makers, national decision makers, and make them aware that we’ve actually built something here, which is quite unique,” said Zepernick. And we are trying to convince national decision makers in both countries to embrace this vision, and not just focus on your narrow national interests. And sometimes it becomes a challenge.”
“We want to be at the center of gravity for the life sciences. In the Nordics, I think we’ve arrived. So why not aspire to also become the leading life sciences group in the EU? That will be the next step. And maybe, that’s a long-term perspective… But I think we want to be a stepping stone to life sciences in the Nordics and eventually Northern Europe.”
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