Doing things the Danish way
Denmark’s tradition of successful pharmaceutical companies and clinical trials stretches back more than a century, and over the past decade the country has emerged as a major global player in the field of biotech research.
Denmark is currently home to one of Europe’s strongest life sciences clusters, which employs some 42,000 specialised experts in an industry composed of more than 160 biotech companies and more than 20 clinical research organisations. Additionally, more than 5,000 life sciences students graduate annually from eight universities and four major university hospitals in the Danish life sciences cluster. Close collaboration between Danish academia, industry and public health institutions has led to strong academic track records and industry solutions. With more than 230 drug candidates in preclinical and clinical development in 2011, Denmark has the third largest commercial drug development pipeline in Europe in terms of absolute numbers according to a 2011 Ernst & Young report. That strong pipeline is backed up by a proven ability to take drug candidates into preclinical and clinical development (Science 2010, Vol. 327, issue 5963).
The address of one of Europe’s most successful clusters
The Danish life sciences cluster is spearheaded by Medicon Valley, one of Europe’s strongest life sciences regions. It comprises a dense conglomeration of universities, hospitals and companies located in the eastern part of Denmark and the southern area of Sweden.
The importance of having a strong biotech cluster has become particularly obvious throughout the current financial crisis. Medicon Valley has helped the country remain attractive to both investors and knowledge-intensive talent.
That has in turn allowed Denmark to maintain its leading position in the field of biotechnology, despite unrest on the markets and the current lack of funds in general in the sector. Another reason for the success is that many Danish biotech companies have chosen to pursue a long-term financial strategy. One aspect of that forward-looking planning is that many companies realised funds and investments when they became available, rather than waiting until circumstances or need forced them to do so. This strategic approach prepared Danish biotech companies for the new leaner era, leaving them less susceptible to pressure when it comes to delivering results within certain time-frames – the fate of many of their foreign competitors.
Denmark – a major exporter of pharmaceutical products
Danish pharmaceutical product exports saw growth of 23% in 2010 despite the ongoing financial crisis, which is an important indicator of the Danish life sciences cluster’s ability to weather the economic storm.
Danish biotech and pharmaceutical exports are the biggest export sector in the country, and when the field as a whole profits, it benefits the Danish life sciences cluster overall, since capital is often reinvested in new projects and businesses. Because of the sector’s significance, the biotech and pharma industry also has a high political profile in Denmark. In terms of government policy, it is important that the general life sciences sector is not only doing well, but is also provided with the conditions for conducting solid research and development.
Denmark excels in translational research & personalised medicine
One big advantage of a small country is that networking is easier than in a large one, with less psychological and physical distance between the scientist or scientific entrepreneur and decisionmakers such as government ministers, policymakers, and industry leaders. It also facilitates the connection between academia and industry, which is a big benefit for those professionals in translational medicine who are endeavouring to turn basic research into clinical applications. And it of course provides a big boost to research in personalised medicine overall. Denmark particularly excels in this new field of translational research, and not just because of the ease of communication between scientists in labs, researchers in industry, and clinicians in hospitals, but also due to a history of such collaborations dating back well over a century – long before the term ‘translational’ moved into common parlance.
Denmark’s commitment to a knowledge economy is clear. Despite the challenging economic conditions encountered at the end of this first decade of the 21st century, our country is determined to stay on track with its pledge to boost spending on R&D to 3% of GDP. Training programmes for PhD candidates are being expanded, including a special one for industrial PhDs that focuses on both the academic and commercial sides of science. A large number of domestic funding programs – such as the country’s Innovation Consortia programme – are also in place to fund research and development in new technologies and therapies.
This commitment sends a clear message to local scientists, as well as those working internationally and considering Denmark as a destination: we are serious about science, as well as about supporting key collaborations between academia and industry.