Working together to make Sweden a leading Life Science nation

By Ingela Loell

Sweden aims to be a leading life sciences nation. The Swedish Life science strategy was taken in operation one year ago which was acknowledged by a national conference (Tillsammans för en ledande life science-nation) on the 18th of January with the key aim to accelerate what’s described as ‘today’s research is tomorrow’s standard health care treatments’.

Hosted by the Swedish Government Offices and STUNS Life science the program covered the research and innovation proposition, an international perspective, regional implementation and intelligence analysis of what’s needed to put the ambitious plan forward. This summary is a selection of formal and informal discussions during the conference.

One initial, and perhaps surprising, topic was the common perceptive that a consensus for what precision medicine is, is needed, as precision and personalised medicine tends to mean different things for different stakeholders. Also, the definition of which therapeutic areas are included in the Swedish Life Science strategy. What the government’s intentions are can be found in Sweden’s national life science strategy document.

A leading life science nation must mean leading in terms of outcomes. People, citizens and taxpayers that is, have the right to see the benefit of the fantastic research that’s coming out. Research progress should not mainly be a publication as a career path in academia. This is both a structural and cultural challenge.

One of the key hurdles concerning precision medicine is the implementation. The field of precision medicine has shown many promises for the past two decades, but the deliverables have been scarce. How to practically implement new discoveries in healthcare was frequently discussed and regional politicians pointed out the need of national coordination, at least initially, as the regions are under-dimensioned to operate these matters. Examples of successful joint forces between several regions were made, however, many of the discussions ended up in the dead end of affordability. The implementation of new, very costly, treatments was constantly revisited by the question of who is going to pay for it.

One practical example of this is a local, hereditary disease mainly affecting two of the regions in Sweden, Transthyretin amyloidosis. New therapies are approved but they bare huge costs for the individual regions since three quarters of all patients are located here.

As the digital conference offered many opportunities for interactions some of the recurring topics was how to create platforms for collaborations between healthcare, academia, industry, and the decision makers. Some of the collaboration platforms are national, i.e. SciLife Lab and Max IV, but many smaller collaboration initiatives relies on individual forerunners.

No health innovation collaboration is complete without the end users – the patients. The lack of implementation first and foremost affects the patients in need of efficient therapies and there is a need for research in a real-world setting. The attainability of such approach has been proven to work during the last year, by the speed with which the society was able to adapt research findings leading to the implementation of a new RNA vaccine against covid-19.  Patient involvement was also lively discussed in the conference chat room where patient advocates raised relevant questions such as the utility of health data, AI collection of data, and governance – who owns the data?

The outside perspective

Looking at the Swedish context from a UK viewpoint our country has much of the driving force and infrastructure in place. According to UK experience putting the central strategy at the heart of the shared endeavour between all stakeholders is a crucial starting point, with a set of big and ambitious goals that everyone could get behind. Limiting the level of ambition, will limit the scope as well. Keeping that consistency over a long period of time and keeping all parties on the same page, backing up the strategy has been important for the UK.

As close neighbours, the Norway viewpoint highlighted the many things our two countries have in common, such as a highly educated, tech savvy population. The Nordic health data is internationally recognized, both from academia and industry which is especially important today as health digitalization is changing the field. The next area of life science revolution could very well be regulatory innovation to transform documentation and approval. It was regarded to turn into a demanding collaboration for all stakeholders, but regulatory innovation is the only way to help patients and realize the potential of precision medicine, and the Nordics can be forefront of regulatory innovation.

Input from abroad: the Swedish Offices of Science and Innovation

China: In China there is an interest for the high-quality data in Sweden and its contribution to high quality research and innovation.

India: The Swedish health care system has a very good reputation in India and there are several initiatives to replicate the Swedish model. There is also a special interest for the Swedish approach to e-health solutions to improve health care.  

USA: Sweden is well known for its collaboration between sectors, research and innovation with a unique digital competence combined with the access of health data.

With over 600 participants, this digital meeting raised a lot of questions in a wide variety of topics, which could be discouraging if it were not for the overall enthusiasm with the participants to use this platform and address every issue needed to proceed forward. Or as the State Secretary to the Minister for Health and Social Affairs, Maja Fjaestad expressed it: The beauty with science is that it’s never finished.