Northern Lights 2.0

A deep dive into the to-do list for Scandinavia's new ecosystem creators

A sea change is taking place in the Scandinavian biotech ecosystem, as an uptick in acquisitions and international investor syndicates shows science coming out of the region's academic institutes is increasingly able to find a role on the global stage.

The upswing is taking place in a second-generation biotech ecosystem in Scandinavia being built by almost a completely different cast than the first-generation that BioCentury profiled in 2002.

The region's new story reflects a transition to company building from company creation.

The original efforts included translational initiatives by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, state-run funding organizations such as Tekes in Finland, and a cluster of science parks in Denmark. However, a dearth of dedicated and experienced VCs - especially at the seed stage - meant many companies withered on the vine when they failed to advance to value inflection points.

Now, the push is to ensure companies are advancing assets that can attract capital from around the globe. This has prompted a few of the original players to alter their strategies. For example, Karolinska's Karolinska Development AB is morphing into a pure VC and no longer funds broad swaths of science that emerges from the institute.

In addition, wealthy foundations behind H. Lundbeck A/S and Novo Nordisk A/S are investing upstream in Denmark and throughout the region, while local venture firms have shown enough wins in Scandinavia to begin attracting the attention of international investors.

The hope for the new ecosystem is a steady stream of globally competitive companies.

"All the prerequisites are there to create another international biotech in Scandinavia," said Genmab A/S President and CEO Jan van de Winkel.

Remaining challenges include forming companies that are loaded with enough resources to pursue big idea platforms or therapeutic modalities from the outset, and then financing them once they go public.

Science first

Scandinavia has never hurt for strong science, but until the late 1990s the region lacked money and entrepreneurs to fund and pilot assets with translational potential. The talent side of the equation was partially remedied by the acquisitions of Sweden's largest pharmas: Astra and Pharmacia.

The takeouts led to the spin-off of several businesses and to the availability of experienced researchers and managers

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