Lessons learned from the Medicon Valley Alliance

Originally posted at https://dariovazquezalbacete.wordpress.com/

November 2016

Scandinavia offers a unique science and technology ecosystem. One of the best examples of how Nordic countries work together and unite their strengths is the Medicon Valley Alliance initiative (MVA). This life science cluster located in the greater area of Copenhagen gathers some of the most influential life science companies and universities in the region Øresund region (Copenhagen area and south Sweden) and provides a framework to attract international funding and talent. I had the pleasure to attend to the MVA annual meeting 2016, representing the Society of Spanish researchers in Denmark, thanks to the  kind invitation of Petter Hartman CEO of the MVA. There I joined also Eva Ortega, the representative of the Society of Spanish researchers in Sweden who is a key person in our close collaborations within the Øresund region.

The MVA annual meeting 2016 was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the challenges and successful funding strategies for life science companies at different stages. One of the first aspects that stroke me from the beginning of this meeting was the emphasis the MVA, companies and policy-makers on how important it is to attract international talent and the value of the scientific staff in the life science sector. This emphasis was not only reflected in the content of speeches but also in the ongoing policies of such institutions. During the introduction to the event, Petter Hartman brought up some interesting figures found in the MVA report 2016. For examples, since 2008 the number of employees in life science has grown in Denmark, while in Sweden has been decreasing.


Source: MVA annual report 2016

Such negative figures in the number of life science employees in Sweden were partly due to the restructuring of AstraZeneca from 2007 to 2012, which relocated some of its research and production facilities. A big difference between large Swedish and Danish companies such as Novo Nordisk, Carlsberg or Lundbeck lies in the composition of the shareholders and the management board. Danish companies have traditionally held nearly 30% of the shares in private Danish foundations hands, while 70% of the management controlling the company is also Danish. This composition not only ensures high revenues for the remaining 70% of the shareholders but also protects the interest of Danish companies and allows a high investment stream into education through research dedicated foundations.


Source: Website Novo Nordisk and Carlsberg

The Swedish Minister of Education and Research, Helene Hellmark Knutsson, gave the first speech. She also stressed the importance of attracting talent to Sweden in order to make the life science sector grow strong. The minister pointed out that research and education should not be separated at a political level. Sweden is strategically incentivizing the growth of the health care, epidemiology and bioengineering areas amid of the concern of an increasingly globalized and aging population.


The Swedish Minister of Education and Research, Helene Hellmark Knutsson

Following the talk of the Swedish minister, Peter Høngaard Andersen CEO of the Innovation Fund Denmark (IFD), outlined the main funding schemes of the IFD aspects that for him have a major impact on the growth of the life science sector. Here education is mentioned as one of the pillars of the IFD’s for improving the productivity of life science companies. More specifically, industrial PhD and postdoc programs, which provide companies with qualified workforce coming out from universities to develop high-risk projects. Public investment is another important activity of the IFD. Peter Høngaard Andersen emphasized that everything has to start with public investment, for example, to build core facilities to give specialized services to Small and Medium Size companies (SME’s) that can help them develop added value products. This, in turn, generates more qualified job positions in companies as they need to develop high-tech products. In addition, the IFD invest in start-up incubators, as a way to boost the growth of a large number of tech companies, including life science. Here public investment is also needed, but again it translates into a larger number of companies that creates more high-quality jobs. The CEO of the IDF regretted that the institution has suffered some budget restrictions. He explained that the success rate of the grant calls is an indicator of the funding capacity. In Europe, many institutions have a low success rate of funding, which in many cases indicates the lack of enough financial resources to fund more projects.


Peter Høngaard Andersen CEO of the Innovation Fund Denmark (IFD)

Finally, it is worth mentioning the presentation given by Venture Capital (VC) firms such as Sund Capital. These investors are specialized in rising private money for start-up companies with a high-risk project. Both David Horn Solomon, Managing Partner at Sund Capital and Kristopher D. Brown, Partner at Dechert LLP, indicated that in Europe there is not so much tradition of raising private funds and the current mechanisms are more conservative. However, David Horn Solomon, encouraged entrepreneurs to be open to talking to private investors, be very proactive making phone calls, and develop convincing pitch talks that make the assets appealing to such investors. Pitching is an activity traditionally taught in the US, but in Europe still remains as an underdeveloped skill, yet critical for the successful funding of life science projects. The talks were closed by the US ambassador in Denmark, Rufus Gifford, who gave some keys for the incoming US election results.


David Horn Solomon, Managing Partner at Sund Capital

At the end of the event we had the opportunity to network with some of the participants, strengthened our collaborations with our counterparts in Sweden and met some Spanish institutions such as CataloniaBio and the company Mind the Byte established in Copenhagen. Overall the meeting was a great success and we gained really good insights into some of the funding strategies that the Nordic countries are applying. I also thank Petter Hartman for inviting us to the event and we hope to establish future successful collaborations with the MVA.

Darío Vázquez-Albacete

Chairman of the Society of Spanish researchers in Denmark

Postdoctoral researcher

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