BIO Europe 2018

Medicon Valley: How Denmark and Sweden are ‘bridging’ the biotech gap

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/gabrielasauciuc)
(Image: Getty/gabrielasauciuc)

Related tags Denmark Sweden Biotech companies

The Nordic life science cluster aspires to become the most prominent in northern Europe, says Medicon Valley Alliance executive.

Spanning Greater Copenhagen and southern Sweden, and connected by the Øresund Bridge, the Medicon Valley region is attracting increased attention from the biotech, medtech and pharma industries.

Last week, the region hosted its first BIO Europe, welcoming 4,500 attendees from across the globe. Biopharma-Reporter (BPR) ​caught up with Medicon Valley Alliance’s head of communication and public affairs, David Munis Zepernick (DMZ)​, at the event, to find out what attracts biotech investment in the region and how the cluster sets itself apart from growing competition in Europe.

BPR: Where and what is ‘Medicon Valley’?

DMZ: ​Medicon Valley covers the southern part of Sweden – the Skåne County – and the eastern part of Denmark. It is not a valley in any topographic sense – in fact, it is absolutely flat.

The ‘valley’ dates back to the 1990s, when Danes and Swedes inspired by Silicon Valley decided to do something similar in the region, but within the life sciences.

At that time, there was already a strong regional stronghold within the life sciences spanning both countries. The Medicon Valley concept was conceived when the Øresund Bridge joining Denmark and Sweden was under construction.

This crucial piece of infrastructure made it possible to conceive of this area as an integrated region.  When the bridge opened in 2000, there was a relatively small but well-established life science cluster centred around the University of Lund and AstraZeneca in the southern part of Sweden. There was also a medium-sized life science cluster centred around Greater Copenhagen – driven by the University of Copenhagen, Novo Nordisk, and Lundbeck, among others.

Rather than having two separate small- and medium-sized clusters, the idea was to literally ‘bridge’ the two into one life science cluster with more critical mass.

'Medicon Valley is home to the largest pool of life science talents in Scandinavia', says MVA
'Medicon Valley is home to the largest pool of life science talents in Scandinavia', says MVA

BPR: How does Medicon Valley attract biotechs to the region?

DMZ:​ A crucial component is having a strong academic environment, as is having access to funding. It is also important to have access to role models and talented professionals with academic and entrepreneurial expertise, as well as a strong track record.

It also involves ‘softer’ issues, such as good living conditions and work/life balance. If you want to attract the best people, you must understand you are often not attracting just one person, but sometimes an entire family. If the family is happy and wants to stay in the region, the relevant professional will stay longer.

BPR: What competition does Medicon Valley face from biotech clusters in the Nordics?

DMZ:​ The second strongest life science cluster in the Nordics is centred around Stockholm and Uppsala, which has been greatly influenced by the Karolinska Institute.

Obviously, there is a bit of competition between our Danish/Swedish region and the Stockholm/Uppsala region. Between 20 and 25 years ago, the Stockholm/Uppsala region was definitely the most prominent life science cluster in the Nordics. That balance has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, largely due to the successful export-driven growth of the Danish life science sector – led primarily by Novo Nordisk – and a less favourable development within Sweden, whereby some big pharma companies merged or moved out of the country.

While this was obviously a negative development for Sweden, it has also benefited our ‘Medicon’ region. Some of the employees laid off when AstraZeneca moved out of Lund were absorbed by the Danish life science industry. Fortunately, for Denmark, the bridge had been built and a lot of highly educated and talented professionals in southern Sweden found employment in Denmark. Others set up innovative life science companies in some of the life science parks in Sweden’s Skåne County.

BPR: Medicon Valley must be one of the more expensive life science clusters in Europe. How does the region compete with EU competitors?

DMZ: ​It is a matter of quality. When you are more expensive than most of the other [clusters], your quality has to be higher to present a more convincing business case. We make sure we have excellent rankings, and while we are not Boston – so we cannot be number one, or in the top three of every therapeutic area – we aim to excel in specific areas. These therapeutic areas are based on our region’s tradition in diabetes, dermatology, central nervous system (CNS) and reproductive health.

As a rather expensive region, we must compete in some of the other parameters: quality in general, and quality of life. In addition, our business culture is open, reliable and transparent.

In addition, the region serves as a stepping stone in and out of the Nordics. We are the largest and the most vibrant life science cluster in the region, and we want to be the ‘go-to’ place if a company is considering investing in the Nordics. We want companies knocking on our door.

BPR: What should we expect from Medicon Valley in the future?

DMZ: ​We are relatively small, but we have the ambition to be the leading life science cluster in northern Europe. We are already the most prominent in the Nordics, now we want to take it one step further.

In doing so, we try to take inspiration from Switzerland, Israel, Boston and Massachusetts to find out what is going on in some of the most innovative life science hot spots in the world. It is only by reaching out and tapping into other innovative networks that you are able to grow.

Medicon Valley Alliance is a non-profit member organisation that aims to strengthen the development of the cross-border region.

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