Photocredit: Medicoindustrien

Combining Strongholds Will Carry Denmark’s Life Sciences Forward

The field of life sciences is in a state of constant development. However, ­according to Morten Sommer – who leads a laboratory at the Novo Nordisk Center for Bio-sustainability at DTU – Denmark shouldn’t strive to invent the wheel anew. Rather, we should build upon our strong foundation.

The life sciences are playing a crucial role in the Danish business environment, as evident from the stronghold of industry leaders like Novo Nordisk, Chr. Hansen, Leo Pharma, and Lundbeck.

According to Morten Sommer – who leads a ­research laboratory at the Novo Nordisk Center for Bio-sustainability at DTU – Denmark has several positions of strength and an immense skill base thanks to these huge companies.

As one of the industry talents who is ­expected to carry the field forward, Sommer is focusing on what Denmark does best – i.e., bacteria, biopharma, and dermatology – and has set his sights on transforming them. In his own words:

“It’s important to build upon existing strongholds and find new applications for it. Our region already has various positions of strength that we can build upon to create next-generation approaches.”

The stronghold is company-made

Denmark’s life science hub of experts have one thing in common: they are each the offspring of big, successful companies. This has contributed to their strength by heightening interest in their research from local universities.

We have been the first movers when it comes to big data analysis in microbiome research. This, combined with our microbial manufacturing experience and Denmark’s public databases, provides some very interesting possibilities in using microbiomes as new targets for the treatment of a wide range of diseases
Morten Sommer

Although Sommer is an academic, he attributes most of his success in the field to companies that have been around for decades. In more detail:

“The ecosystem is a stronghold in itself, as we have several huge, fund-owner companies – Lundbeck, Novo, Leo – who have managed to keep their business Danish. In turn, they keep giving back to the ecosystem to a smaller or larger degree through research and grants to both universities and new start-up companies.”

Crossovers: the key to success

Although cancer research has not carried the same weight as, for example, diabetes in Denmark, it is on the rise following the launch of successful new companies. Sommer points to the emergence of Genmab and Y-mabs as sites of home-grown knowledge and skills in biologics and proteins. Their research has been used in new settings within antibodies and oncology thanks to these companies. In fact, Sommer believes oncology is “on its way to becoming a strong field in the region, separate from the established industry.”

Sommer anticipates similar developments in microbiome research, which is becoming increasingly recognised in Denmark:

“Knowledge of bacteria is one of the core skills which will become really important when we get a better understanding of what bacteria and microbiomes mean for human health. And we are in a really good spot thanks to the strength we have in this field already.”

Sommer forecasts the same for applying digitalisation and big data to the equation:

“We have been the first movers when it comes to big data analysis in ­microbiome research. This, combined with our microbial manufacturing experience and Denmark’s public databases, provides some very ­interesting possibilities in using microbiomes as new targets for the treatment of a wide range of diseases.”

A framework of trust

Infusing the knowledge and skills from Denmark’s life sciences throughout the public and private sector will carry us into the future. But that will only be possible if stakeholders trust each other. Optimistically, Sommer points out the “trusting way” of doing business and partnerships in the Nordics, and its power to facilitate cooperation. He describes how “this makes it possible to bring different competencies together, which in other cultures is quickly slowed down by legal issues and distrust.”

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