Despite its industry stronghold and reputation throughout Europe, Denmark’s life sciences industry is ever-changing. This calls for dedicated efforts and strategic discussions on training and building the capacity of new talent, so that they can become tomorrow’s leaders in the field.
Denmark’s life sciences field is alive and well. World-class research continues to inform the development of life-changing products that are some of the country’s top exports. At the same time, the industry is changing. If the Danish life science ecosystem wants to maintain their global stronghold, it requires new talent.
According to Søren-Ulrik Rolsted Fangholm, the head of Atrium and the director of marketing and business development at DLI Market Intelligence:
“If you look at the industry right now, it’s going really great – both locally in Denmark and as an export business reaching 100 billion Danish krone. But the demands for the industry are changing. Across Europe, and in Denmark as well, governing bodies are tightening regulations for clinical testing, regulatory approval, and market access. Both patients and society as a whole expect the industry to find new solutions for severe diseases. Some of these are very niche-oriented; sometimes as few as 5-10 Danish patients require very complex and expensive treatments.”
Atrium is the life sciences educational unit. As part of LIF, the Danish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry, each year Atrium educates 2500 employees in the life sciences sector. New competency requirements are felt across the value chain – from research and development to regulatory affairs and market access. Seasoned experts, as well as newly-minted graduates from universities and business schools, need to understand the changing regulations and mechanisms that are now being applied industry-wide.
Rolsted Fangholm explains: “We need more focus on lifelong learning in order to create the best possible conditions to drive research. This can keep the industry innovative, effective, and attractive.”
Complexity drives the need for talent
One of the biggest changes in the industry over the past years is that the blockbuster companies are diversifying from the primary sector – the practitioner – to producing hospital products. This is in an effort to develop complex and advanced treatments for diseases like cancer.
The costs and diversification – combined with the governing body’s increased demands for justifications of the clinical effectiveness and cost-benefit ratios across the value chain – have increased the demands for personnel across the board.
The lack of qualified labour is already an issue now, and if we don’t solve it it’s going to turn into a problem which will affect Denmark’s competitiveness as a leading European life science nation
Søren-Ulrik Rolsted Fangholm
While the sector’s employees are highly educated, even those who possess 2 master’s degrees need to keep learning to stay on top of this ever-evolving industry. As Rolsted Fangholm points out: “There has to be a balance between expertise in the professional field, such as clinical development or regulatory affairs, and understanding the surrounding market. Not just in a financial sense, but also in regards to the complex healthcare system the solution is going to be a part of.”
New skills for the future of the field
It is one thing to keep employees up to speed on changes in the market. It is quite another to meet the increased demand for new competencies and expertise. In Rolsted Fangholm’s words:
“There is a problem in Denmark and that is the lack of candidates for the life sciences sector. There is a huge demand for competences, such as data scientists and health economists. They have not traditionally been a core part of the life sciences industry, but now those skills are becoming increasingly crucial.”
It is no surprise that the life sciences field, like all other industries, is becoming increasingly data-driven. This bears not only on development, where big data and artificial intelligence play a role in streamlining the time it takes to get a new drug to market, but also collecting real-world evidence about the drug after it’s been launched.
More broadly, Rolsted Fangholm points out: “Research-wise we’re an industry with a huge margin of uncertainty. If we’re able to solve the puzzle of eliminating some of that risk using algorithms and artificial intelligence to find that one molecule among 10.000 worth betting on, there’s a lot to be gained. For that reason, developers and IT-personnel are being hired like never before.”
The sheer number of professionals entering the industry who possess a depth and breadth of expertise is creating an urgent need to bridge the gaps between knowledge systems. For example, Atrium has created a new project management education program for the life sciences in order to make clinical trial units in the hospitals, clinical research organisations, and the pharma industry work seamlessly. As Rolsted Fangholm sees it: “In order for the 3 parties to work efficiently they need a common language and an understanding of each other’s interests – which is what the project manager brings to the table.”
Understanding systemic changes
The widespread change throughout the industry has shifted the provider’s role from explaining and promoting a product to a practitioner to being a partner in the healthcare system with many stakeholders involved. This means that, before they can design the right solution for the right problem, developers must understand not only patients, specific disease entities, and hospital processes, but also the entire life sciences ecosystem. Sharing his “insider” perspective, Rolsted Fangholm explains:
“We already have great treatments for many of the large, common diseases, and are now focusing on smaller disease areas – such as severe types of cancer and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This requires highly specialized treatments for smaller populations. Although the products are developed for fewer people, the development cost is essentially the same. And this calls for an understanding between society, the public healthcare system, regions, hospitals, and the industry. We all have to agree on how to prioritize responding to such questions as: Which product is the optimal solution for the individual patient, in balance with costs and the treatment effect of using it?”
Competitiveness is at stake
The good news is that Denmark has all of the prerequisites in place. What’s needed is a fulsome discussion about the next steps required to fulfil the potential. For Rolsted Fangholm:
“We’re evolving for the patients’ sake. The industry secures the patients the best possible treatment and helps doctors do it in the most optimized way. At the same time, the life sciences is a huge export industry securing lots of jobs in Denmark.”
The takeaway is clear: new talent is required in order for Denmark to maintain its stronghold as one of Europe’s most renowned life sciences nations.