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Denmark has potential to develop another strong life science region

Companies who focus on biotech, pharma and medical equipment are becoming increasingly important to Denmark’s prosperity and export. Let us utilise all of the potential of Denmark’s life science industry so it can continue as a growth driver in the stringent international competition.

2021.03.04 | Lars Bo Nielsen, Lone Ryg Olsen, Poul Blaabjerg og Anders Kühnau

The government strategy for Danish life science is right around the corner, and many of us are eagerly awaiting its publication.

With an annual export of more than DKK 150 billion, there is no doubt that the life science sector is becoming increasingly important for Danish welfare and growth. The commitment to a strong ecosystem for health innovation and entrepreneurship is also crucial for our ability to find new, smart and sustainable solutions for the transformation of the healthcare sector that Denmark is facing.

But if the growth potential is to be realised, it is vital that the Government acknowledges and focuses on the potential throughout the country. Aarhus and the rest of central Denmark have the potential to become a central part of the Danish growth plan for life science. We are ready to help create both more workplaces and better patient treatment.

Brian Mikkelsen from the Danish Chamber of Commerce and Enrique Alvarez from Merck have recently argued in Altinget that clinical research should be at the centre of the government's life science strategy.

Significant potential for greater commercial exploitation  

The key stakeholders in a strong life science region are world-class knowledge institutions, hospitals and companies – and none of the three can be dispensed with. It is therefore important that we continue to prioritise both basic research and the clinical research at the hospitals. Every time the basic funds given to research at Denmark’s universities are reduced, we miss out on discoveries and new knowledge that has the potential to be converted into commercial innovation.

The Central Denmark Region has significant potential for greater commercial exploitation of research at the hospitals and Aarhus University. For this reason, we encourage the Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs to take a broad geographical view when implementing the life science strategy, and to invest in all the places where there is potential.

Aarhus University has delivered strong examples of promising business adventures that stem from basic research. Three of the companies that researchers from the Department of Biomedicine founded in the period 2015-18 have alone attracted almost DKK one billion in private investment through seed and venture capital. The companies work with cholesterol lowering drugs (Draupnir Bio), immunotherapy & cancer (STipe Therapeutics) and medicine for muscular diseases (NMD Pharma), and they have maintained a marked level of collaboration with the research environments from which they originate. These are only a few of the many examples of relevant life science basic research at Aarhus University with the potential to attract investment and create new private-sector workplaces.

Visiting the laboratories, we sense the researchers’ passion for carrying out good research AND ensuring its application. A change has taken place among the younger researchers in particular, as they strive to see new research insights quickly applied for the benefit of others, and view entrepreneurship as an opportunity.

Important to focus on the business aspect

For almost a century, Denmark has invested in constructing strong environments that deliver a world-class level of basic research, education and patient treatment with its foundation at Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital. With a new national life science strategy, Denmark can utilise these strengths even better. It is therefore important that we also focus on the business aspect.

If the inherent potential of life science in Western Denmark is to be realised, efforts to build bridges between research and business and industry need a boost, and this is one the reasons why we eagerly await the government's new strategy.

Because while knowledge institutions and the hospitals hold a strong position in Jutland, the business sector within life science is growing too slowly. Relatively slow growth in the business sector makes it more difficult to ensure broad employment opportunities for graduates, researchers and business developers who are educated in the life science sector, and who could elevate both the region and Denmark.

Commercial exploitation of ideas  

A successful life science region is reliant on good framework conditions and support functions. There is a need for a significant national effort to bring the commercialisation of research to the next level. There needs to be funding to finance both good ideas and the fully-fledged projects. Here we mean venture capital throughout the entire phase from basic research to marketing of new products or sale of companies. Several reports have established that the commercialisation of promising research results requires support functions in the areas of patenting and business development, and help to cultivate research results, access to funding and a good physical framework for life science entrepreneurs.

The reward will be that Denmark as a whole – from east to west – will have a strong life science growth driver. There will be a price to pay after corona, and we owe it to ourselves to strengthen export and welfare by bringing all competences into play.

If we wish to strengthen the life science industry in Denmark, we must continue to carry out ground-breaking science and be better to get it into the public sphere. Aarhus University and the Central Denmark Region have a strong position within research in key areas such as cancer, molecular biology, personalised medicine, brain disease, heart disease, the immune system and infectious diseases. If we add capital to this knowledge, it will trigger a ketchup effect of potential within a wide range of fields.

Many talented researchers in Aarhus and the rest of the Central Denmark region are carrying out ground-breaking research and innovation that can support major investments. It makes sense to pave the way for commercial exploitation of these ideas as part of a national life science initiative.

In fact, it makes no sense not to.

Policy and strategy, Public/Media, Health, Health, Talent development, Academic staff, Department of Clinical Medicine, Education, Students, Department of Biomedicine