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Is Denmark’s National Life Sciences Strategy Making a Difference?

Hans Schambye was among the first members in Denmark’s “growth team” to offer suggestions for a ­national growth plan for the life science. Almost two years after the plan was announced, he has ­received both praise and criticism for the implementation efforts to date.

Denmark’s life science industry is heavily regulated. Success and growth isn’t just a matter of securing qualified talent in great companies. It calls for the right framework for the country to operate and develop solutions. This has been articulated in a national growth plan for life science.

According to Hans Schambye, CEO of Galecto Biotech: “We have a large industry filled with skilled people, and universities doing really strong research. Our strategies strive to ensure research findings keep being turned into innovative new products that can benefit patients and that can be exported.”

While we have ministries for fishing and farming – the traditional industries – it’s important that we also have someone who deeply understands the life science industry
Hans Schambye, CEO of Galecto Biotech

As a member of the “growth team,” Schambye proposed a life science strategy several years ago, which was formalised as 36 suggestions in 6 central areas where Denmark could improve. As international competition in the life science increases, Schambye explains:

“The challenge is that everybody wants a strong life science industry. It generates good jobs and a lot of money; it doesn’t create much pollution; and it is dedicated to improving public health, so it serves a great purpose. For that reason, a lot of countries are constantly improving their frameworks, which makes it dangerous to rest on our laurels.”

One entry point to the life science

Given the comprehensiveness of the field, a lot of ministries have traditionally been involved in the industry – such as the ministries of health, education, business, and foreign affairs. This plurality of stakeholders left the field untethered in the official bodies. However, that has changed with the establishment of a life science office. While this might sound like a relatively small and simple thing to implement, a lot of companies are warmly welcoming the initiative. Schambye explains:

“While we have ministries for fishing and farming – the traditional industries – it’s important that we also have someone who deeply understands the life science industry. The life science office has provided the industry with one entry point to all the central ministries, which, in the end, provides an entrance to the parliament.”

Capital and entrepreneurship wanted

Although the need to bring more researchers and key talent to Denmark has been universally agreed upon, Schambye would still like to see more being done to promote entrepreneurship and investments in new life science companies:

“We would like to see more effort in stimulating the stock market, making it more attractive to invest in start-ups, and we’re still very far from that goal. Similarly, new benefits for investing in research and development are far from being as competitive as in some of our neighboring countries.”

He points to Swedish investors, who have been given attractive tax breaks. In fact, it has worked to such an extent that Danish life science start-ups are crossing the Øresund to make their initial public offering on the Swedish stock exchange. According to Schambye, this approach has nourished an early biotech ecosystem in Sweden, one that “stands in stark contrast to how it was only a few years ago, when Denmark was roaring while Sweden was growing a little slower.”

Danish strategy in an international landscape

While the growth strategy for the life science is ­Danish, a lot of innovation is happening in the Greater Copenhagen region between Denmark and Sweden. For that reason, Schambye would like to see the two markets become harmonized for the cooperation to flow more easily:

“Overall, it would be beneficial to ensure a lot of rules and regulations are the same. One small thing would be making sure it’s not hard for commuters. I’m currently recruiting a Swede living in Sweden, and the 20 minutes extra he must spend each way on border control is a hurdle to overcome.”

At the same time, he understands why it makes sense to frame the strategy in a Danish context, as the life science have a huge impact on Danish jobs, exports, and taxes:

“It doesn’t matter to patients if the new treatment is being developed in one country or the other. But it’s an advantage for Danish taxpayers if the development stays in Denmark, and the industry gets to grow here instead of aboard. Oftentimes, companies are moving where it makes the most sense for the business, so we have to continue the work to make Denmark an attractive place to carry out life science business.”

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