Life science has really become a buzzword; in the Gothenburg region several stakeholders are engaged in the area. Business Region Göteborg, small and medium sized bio- and medtech companies, global pharma like AstraZeneca as well as politicians within Region Västra Götaland stresses the need to develop a strong life science presence in the region. But do we see any effects so far?
The Swedish Government has an ambition to strengthen the innovative capacity and climate for innovation, to enhance our competitiveness, but also to secure we have a modern and effective health care sector.
The last couple of years we have seen several initiatives with the ambition to position southwest Sweden as the place where the life science sector thrives. In Gothenburg there are currently about 480 companies involved within life science, with almost 9,000 employees.
Earlier this year, the Sahlgrenska university hospital announced the investment to build a new Science Park site – a place where clinicians and researchers can work side by side to increase innovation and collaboration. It is anticipated that approximately 1,000 new jobs could come from this investment. The main objective for Sahlgrenska Science Park is to support entrepreneurs and innovationists to develop promising ideas to successful, international growth companies, but also to give guidance and financial support in different phases.
But is there a strong life science cluster in Gothenburg? Some people might say ‘yes, definitely’ while others are more hesitant and think there is an ambiguity on how well collaboration between academia, hospitals and business really work out and if the different stakeholders have been able to team up.
In order to find out current status, we asked Carl Bennet, CEO Carl Bennet AB and chair of the Getinge Group board, and Magnus Björsne, CEO AstraZeneca BioVentureHub to give their view on the situation and what they expect for the future.
Vertical collaboration bring success
Both Carl and Magnus agree that the Gothenburg region is specifically strong when it comes to IT, med tech and pharmaceuticals – but it is a combination of all these capabilities that is a prerequisite for future success.
“I’m absolutely convinced that the success factor is to be found in creating a vertical collaboration,” Magnus Björsne says. “It has to be a mixture of all value chains using the combined knowledge as a catalyst. As said, we are really strong on IT, med tech and pharmaceuticals. That’s good. But what would be even better is to have a holistic view and mixed competencies working collaboratively.”
It is not enough to focus on science, if research is to result in launching products that can make a difference, and then we need both science and innovation.
What are your views on how well the collaboration between business, hospitals and academia currently works in the region?
“I have the feeling that there has been a somewhat suspicious attitude, from both parties,” Carl Bennet says. “I think that has to do with two things: first, not everyone in academia really understand business and can’t see that companies not always primarily search for collaborations to sell more products. Secondly, it hasn’t been, and still isn’t, a merit to engage in clinical studies.”
Could this potentially be where the new Sahlgrenska Science Park could become an important change factor?
“Having great facilities and top class equipment is of course nice, but it’s what we do that really matters. Another situation that needs to be changed is the way we have looked upon incentives in the past we rewarded cost saving initiatives rather than creating value,” Magnus continues. “But it’s a fact that no one can shrink to greatness.”
Empower the entire value chain
Incentives mean many different things, not necessarily connected to monetary bonuses. Creating value for patients is definitely something the county council would need to have on their agenda, as that would empower the entire continuum of care.
“We should talk both about incentives and motivation. I’m absolutely swayed that one key to success is introducing measurements, and to measure the right parameters,” Carl adds. “The focus can’t solely be on costs, we need to measure quality. If we focus on quality we will see an increased demand of innovations. The proof is in the pudding.”
Measuring costs normally leads to smaller budgets, and cuts in staff. But the job still needs to be done – with fewer resources. To openly talk about the value of the efforts healthcare workers make every day and reward a good job could create a huge engagement within the organisations. And it would most definitely create good value for both patients and caregivers, as well as for research in general.
Carl continues: “You’ll have to concentrate your efforts in the crossing point between academy, business and health care. If Sweden is to succeed we have to show what we are doing and that it actually gives good results. We need to build bridges both within Sweden and globally, bridges that takes us to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Boston. Let what is important lead the way by measuring quality.”
“From what I can tell, many Swedish life science companies are lacking business acumen,” Magnus says. “Of course, you could argue that we are dealing with a very complex area, but it doesn’t help to whine. And because it’s a complex business we’re in, discussions need to be held within top management levels.”
It goes without saying that the industry would need to change as well. Researchers and clinicians cant’ change the system by themselves. Collaboration is key to success.
A catalyst for science innovation
There are many initiatives on-going in Gothenburg, though not always as visible as needed if we want to show progress. And what AstraZeneca has achieved with the BioVentureHub is a brilliant example where the industry, the region and Vinnova joined forces and developed a place where emerging biotech/med tech companies and academic groups get a unique opportunity to co-locate and interact with big pharma, and each other, to advance the life sciences.
“What made that initiative successful was that no stakeholder acted solely based on an individual interest,” concludes Carl Bennet, who is part of the investment in AstraZeneca’s BioVentureHub.
“We recently had the privilege to welcome the Swedish minister for enterprise and innovation, says Magnus Björsne. “He was very impressed and thought this was a smart Swedish industry in action, and that the BioVentureHub is an inspiration to other companies and an exciting innovation model for strengthening competitiveness and collaboration in the life science industry. BioVentureHub is a new concept with which we have confirmed that it is possible for big pharma to really make things happen. We’ve launched the first step, but there is so much potential for further development.”
Nurture a willingness to remain in Sweden
So, we agree it’s important to secure companies, and competencies, can stay in Sweden, and not leave the country in times of restructuring and business fusions. A strong life science focus could play a crucial role. Coming back to the original question, do we see a strong cluster?
“I would say there are more than one cluster in the region but not a strong cross-functional cooperation,” says Magnus Björsne. “At the same time, I’m beginning to see an increasingly growing willingness to collaborate more broadly. That’s good. But all stakeholders in the area need to contribute.”
“We have a really good opportunity to create a mutual platform and benefit from the existing trans boundary knowledge”, Carl Bennet concludes. “By that we will get a situation where more people can access the knowledge. Getinge Group, for instance, moved its headquarters to Gothenburg just two years ago, with the objective to strengthen the competence. Looking back it’s obvious that this has given the company a big boost in skills.”
Summarizing let’s say that Gothenburg still has some work to do – but that we are on a good way. When other Swedish cities are talking about what needs to be done – it is in Gothenburg it will happen.