Collaboration is the key to success, whether in terms of research, education or Sweden’s future. All the parties agree with this view. The private sector and academia often speak different languages and have different goals, however, and this is a challenge. Solutions to this problem include more incentives for researchers to work with companies, shorter paths between small companies and academia and a national agreement on intellectual property rights.
Sweden is strong in the life sciences, but also dependent on them. Jenni Nordborg feels we need to be stronger and more agile. She is the newly appointed national coordinator for life sciences and has just moved into the Government Offices of Sweden. She kicked off the seminar “How Do We Strengthen Sweden as a Life Sciences Nation?” It was organized by LIF (the trade association for the research-based pharmaceutical industry in Sweden), Swedish Medtech (medical technology) and SwedenBIO (the association for Sweden’s life science industry).
A national strategy has identified three priority areas (read more at Färdplan life science – vägen till en nationell strategi, Life Science Roadmap – the road to a national strategy). These are:
- Health and health care data. Legal aspects need to be managed. Infrastructure and ehealth vision.
- Precision medicine. The future of diagnostics, treatment and cure, ethics, privacy. The opportunity to create infrastructure. Ethics – patients as research subjects for product development.
- Health care and nursing of the future: integration of innovation and research.
The UK has been one source of inspiration, where they have long worked with a national life science office. Denmark has also provided inspiration. “They have a tempo and focus and already have 36 concrete measures. We need to get better at regarding access to competencies and clinical studies as an investment and not an expense.”
LIF President Anders Blanck argued that this is why managing health data for research is extremely important, so the county councils need be associated with life science work.
“There is a need for a long-term perspective and political coordination. Progress in solving the use of health data is moving forward too slowly. There is money and commitment, but a lack of focus and coordination.”
In 2006 Sweden was a world leader in the number of patients in clinical studies in relation to population size. “But we have lost a lot. Patients want to participate, but today’s health care sector perceives this as less important. Consequently, several projects are under way where the value of clinical studies is being calculated.”
Another key issue that emerged was the specific role of procurements in spurring innovation.
“Procurements need to be more strategic and take the whole picture into account, such as financial benefits elsewhere,” said Lena Svendsen, Swedish Medtech project manager. “It’s what you want to achieve that should be specified, not the technology.”
Lars Hjälmered, a member of the Swedish Parliament and a business spokesperson (Moderate party), also pointed out that procurements are an issue. He stressed the importance of measures such as a talent visa, labor immigration and lower tax rates for experts. MP Jennie Nilsson, the Social Democrats’ group leader on the Swedish Committee on Industry and Trade, agreed on the need for tax reform, preferably across political blocks.
Increased collaboration – but how?
What can be done to encourage researchers to increase their collaboration with the private sector? This was one of the questions addressed at the seminar organized by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA): “Increased Utilization of Research in the Private Sector – How Is It Done?”
“We have to work together to solve global challenges and strengthen the Swedish private sector, but we need to increase incentives for utilization,” said Fredrik Hörstedt, vice president for utilization at Chalmers University of Technology. “More basic funding, a faster track to become a professor, impact on salary…”
This is especially important in relation to small and medium-sized companies, since it’s difficult for them to join large projects, explained Klas Wåhlberg, CEO for the Association of Swedish Engineering Industries. And Anna Ragén, CEO of Örebro University Holding AB, added that there currently is a lack of incentives for researchers to work with small companies.
“One solution can be to jointly own the innovation. Another problem is that universities often focus on research, but the next step is product development. There’s too little innovation and too much research collaboration. We would like to see more testbeds,” said Klas Wåhlberg, “but that requires development of technology that generates commercial opportunities.”
Marianne Dicander Alexandersson chairs the Research2Business IVA project that is working on making the leap from knowledge to commercialization.
“This involves practical things that bring together the commercial world and academia.” Dicander Alexandersson is also chair of Sahlgrenska Science Park. “It’s extremely important for this work to be based on business needs.”
An important issue to resolve is intellectual property rights.
“It’s a priority area,” Frederick Hörstedt said. “There is a need for a national agreement on intellectual property rights. Previous discussions have gone nowhere.”
This involves such issues as various rules for confidentiality.
“When partly funded by a company, the results of a project risk being made public,” said Christina Wainikka, policy expert on intellectual property rights at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.
Open dialogue and early agreements are necessary, but also an understanding that the regulations are complex. Read more in IVA’s article about the seminar.
Matching is a key issue
Matching and professional development are key aspects of utilization. But for this to work, both parties have to be open, according to the seminar “This Is How We Reduce the Distance Between Higher Education and Industry!” (Uppsala University, Sweden’s Engineers).
“For example, companies often have a short perspective, two to three years,” said Klas Wåhlberg, “but we need to take a more long-term view of the need for competencies.”
He cited collaborations between University West and GKN Aerospace and between Jönköping University and companies in Småland as good examples.
Eva Hamilton, chair of IVA’s Business Council (and former CEO of SVT, Swedish public television) argued that there is a great need for professional development in society. Stefan Bengtsson, president and CEO of Chalmers University of Technology, agreed, but also pointed out that higher education institutions invest heavily in program education.
“Matching has evolved greatly in the past ten years, particularly with regard to larger companies, which we have included in our Program Council. But the situation is not as good with smaller companies.”
And maybe we are more capable than we think?
“It’s a myth that we’re not good at matching in Sweden,” stated Tuula Teeri, president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences(IVA) and former president of Aalto University (an amalgamation of the Helsinki School of Economics, the University of Art and Design and Helsinki University of Technology).
The most important role of universities is preparing students to enter society.
– Pam Fredman
MARGARETA GUSTAFSSON KUBISTA
ANNA von PORAT