Life science – what is it?

Life science – what is it?

What is Life Science? This is our definition:

  • Life Science is an interdisciplinary research branch devoted to the study of biological life as well as internal and external conditions for continued life. The scientific discoveries within this research branch have a practical application in the Life Science sector, among other areas.
  • The Life Science sector includes the companies, higher education institutions as well as public stakeholders at municipal, regional and national level that contribute to promoting human health through their activities. The sector includes research, higher education and innovation, development of pharmaceuticals, medical technology products and treatments, as well as prevention, implementation and follow-up. (Source: Swedish National Life Science strategy)
  • The Life Science branch includes companies in biomedicine, bioengineering, medical engineering and pharmaceutical development and manufacturing, including specialised subcontractors and consultants. It also includes companies that work with the development of diagnostics and treatment methods, as well as companies that develop products and services linked to e-health.

Strengths of Life Science Sweden

Sweden has a strong international standing with a history of world-class research and development in both pharmaceuticals and medical engineering. Several vital innovations originate from Sweden, such as Losec, the pacemaker and dialysis machine.

The private sector comprises approximately 42 000 jobs, and today accounts for a significant portion of Sweden’s export revenue and shows an increasing number of small research companies.

Sweden’s strengths can be attributed, among other things, to

  • high level of education
  • strong research tradition
  • high-quality clinical trials
  • well-developed quality registers and biobanks
  • a tradition of collaboration between academia, industry and healthcare.

Challenges to the entire Life Science system

  • Lack of a tradition of collaboration and collective action throughout the Life Science ecosystem.
  • Since Life Science products are largely developed through testing on patients and in clinical activities (i.e. within healthcare), collaboration between industry and healthcare is often a prerequisite for the development of new drugs, medical technology and diagnostics.
  • Swedish healthcare is under immense pressure (financially and in terms of staff).
  • Municipal self-government in the 21 Swedish regions has, among other thing, prevented integration of the computer systems across regional borders. Many solutions (e.g. computer systems, but also “soft processes”) are unique to a specific hospital.

Concerns on the horizon

Global competition is increasing throughout the field of health.

Today, Swedish startups in Life Science are rarely listed among the “hottest startup companies in the world” – only when the competition narrows down. Several of Sweden’s neighbouring countries have succeeded in creating a rapidly growing Life Science sector, while Sweden is stagnant (seen over time). Denmark, for example, was quick to embark on a growth strategy for Life Science. However, the focus has, for better or worse, been on the pharmaceutical industry alone.

New stakeholders also affect the market – everything from new pharmacy chains and online doctors to pure IT and gaming companies.

Great opportunities

Swelife’s areas of strength are in need of vigorous further development in order to maintain Sweden’s competitiveness.

Healthcare in Sweden has major potential as a

  • competent contracting authority,
  • developer together with industry,
  • recipient of new innovative solutions.

Patient participation is an increasingly important part of innovation for improved health, and in recent years, several initiatives have been taken to reinforce the patient’s role in healthcare development processes – through both traditional patient organisations and new constellations.

In recent research and innovation bills, the strategic significance of the Life Science field is noted.

Among other things, Swelife is to promote collaboration between healthcare, academia and industry, as this strengthens Sweden’s position in the field and contributes to improved health and societal development. Such collaboration boosts innovation power, expertise and efficient use of existing resources.

New, innovative medicines, methods and techniques are under development, and herein lies an opportunity for Sweden to be a contender. However, this requires long-term investments in, for example, genomics within healthcare as well as cell and gene therapies.

Sweden’s relatively advanced skills in IT, AI and quantum computing can generate enormous benefits for Swedish Life Science, but only if we act fast.

Sweden has an advantage with its expertise in sustainability work, and this could also create an innovative advantage for the Swedish Life Science ecosystem, not least within ecological sustainability.

As of December 2019, Sweden has a national Life Science strategy, and it provides an opportunity for consensus and cooperation. It states, among other things, that “Sweden is to be a leading Life Science nation. Life Science helps to improve the health and quality of life of the population, ensure financial prosperity, develop the country further as a leading knowledge nation and realise Agenda 2030.”