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A Scandinavian Bridge to Somewhere


Denmark and Sweden focus on personalized medicine and innovative science.

By Allison Proffitt

Nov. 12, 2008 | Copenhagen—Back in the 15th century, Denmark and Sweden were both part of the Kalmar Union. But that ended badly. The rulers in Denmark couldn’t control the Swedish nobility and a bloodbath ensued.

Today, however, things are going much more smoothly for the two countries. Medicon Valley, a biotech cluster in the heart of the Øresund Region comprising greater Copenhagen and the surrounding region in Denmark and Region Skåne and Malmö in Sweden, boasts five science parks, 26 hospitals, 5,000 life sciences researchers, 41,000 life sciences employees, 14 universities, and 3.2 million people.

The area is “easy,” advocates agree. National health care, work/life balance, progressive scale taxes, lean society, and lean businesses lead to a work culture that is deadline-driven and team oriented. Sixty percent of the life science companies in Scandinavia are based in the Øresund Region, and the impressive Øresund Bridge between Malmö, Sweden, and Copenhagen, Denmark, carries commuters back and forth to opportunities in both countries.

The Burrill European Life Sciences report last year dubbed Denmark the head of personalized medicine in Europe, and the country is home to Dako, the company along with Roche responsible for the HercepTest to identify breast cancer drug Herceptin’s likely usefulness. It also boasts “embryo to grave” health records (mostly electronic), cheap and fast clinical trials, and a cancer register containing information on cancer and related diseases in Denmark since 1943 with compulsory disclosure for the past 20 years. 

Denmark-Sweden-Oresund-biotech
The Øresund Bridge is 25,738 ft long, the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe.

Venture capital in Denmark is less common than foundation funding. The Danish Cancer Society, a private membership society, spent more than $34 million on research in 2006, and finances 50 percent of the cancer research in Denmark. The Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation instituted a microRNA Research Consortium with Santaris Pharma and the University of Copenhagen to the tune of about $3.3 million.

Vaekstfonden, a state-owned fund, facilitates financing in terms of start-up equity and high-risk loans for life sciences firms, and Denmark placed royalties from North Sea oil into a high-tech fund for local research. The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research was created with a donation of about $107 million strictly dedicated to protein research. 

The country attracts some big names. Biogen Idec relocated a manufacturing plant to Denmark in 2004. The company looked at cost, R&D access, and the quality of culture and chose Denmark to house 3900 employees, 60% of which are Danish. Several recent Big Pharma and biotech deals have also featured Danish companies: Symphogen has entered a collaboration with Genentech; Nuevolution signed an R&D agreement with Merck; and Santaris Pharma signed a GSK deal. 

Swede Science
The Swedes, on the other hand, are perfectly happy with their own accolades. It should be no surprise that the country that gave us furnishings giant IKEA has gained a reputation for innovative and functional design. It brings the same sensibility to science.

The country boasts several incubators and numerous startups. Young companies spun out of Lund University include Respiratorius, focusing on small airway treatments for COPD and asthma; SpectraCure, a device company specializing in photodynamic therapy for the treatment of tumors; and Exini, computer-aided diagnostics in the heart and brain.

IDEON, Scandinavia’s first science park, hosts more than 250 companies, 3,000 employees, and 100,000 square meters of lab space. Life sciences account for about 30 percent of the tenants, with IT and telecom holding slightly more space. Ericsson started in IDEON in 1983; Bluetooth technology was born there. Sony Ericsson now employs more than 3,000 in the area. The slightly newer Medeon Science Park is limited to the life sciences. The park currently houses about 30 companies focusing on pharma and dental research. Nearby, Lund University supports three incubators (one at IDEON) and commercializes 30-40 projects annually.

With 30-40 startups waiting for incubator space and another 65,000 square meters of lab space under construction, IDEON hopes to double in size over the next ten years. And that sort of growth takes investment. Venture Cup and other competitions help raise capital along with grants, soft loans, pre-seed funds, angels (about 100 locally), and about ten substantial Swedish venture capitalists investing in life sciences. 

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This article appeared in Bio-IT World Magazine.

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