Putting neighboring-city rivalries aside, government agencies and the life science communities in Stockholm and Uppsala, Sweden, have joined forces with plans to create an internationally renowned life science cluster. The region is boldly ambitious. Its ultimate goal is a position among the top five life science clusters globally. As this would mean unseating the likes of Boston, MA, San Francisco and San Diego, CA, the New York/New Jersey area, Cambridge, U.K., or France, this could be an arduous journey.
As many regions have learned the hard way, establishing a vibrant life science cluster is anything but easy. It is horribly naive and terribly expensive to think that you can build it and they will come.
But Stockholm-Uppsala is building it. Right now a new city district in Stockholm is taking shape to enhance an already burgeoning community. The university hospital New Karolinska Solna, which will be at the center of Hagastaden, is being conceived as an innovative healthcare provider. The surrounding neighborhood will also include almost 6 million square feet of business space intended for the life sciences as well as 5,500 new apartments (housing is in short supply in Stockholm). Upon completion in 2025, approximately 50,000 people will work in the city district, according to Ylva Williams, CEO, Stockholm Science City Foundation.
“This project is focused on building an environment promoting collaboration, and also unexpected meetings. We do have deep life science competence at the universities, the companies, and the hospitals. I am convinced that increased cooperation will be key to success,” Willliams adds.
This life science hub is being built in close proximity to Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and Stockholm School of Economics. It is expected that the 100,000 students and 5,300 researchers at these universities will help entice multinational and nascent businesses to the area, Williams explains.
It’s not just the city and regional governments focused on building a world class center. Last fall, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrick Reinfeldt committed $320 million to the life sciences in Sweden. The majority of the investment will be made in the Stockholm-Uppsala regions. Sweden’s Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab) will receive $100 million, and an additional $220 million will be invested in drug discovery, clinical research, antibiotic research, health in aging, and the use of patient registers.
SciLifeLab “combines state-of-the-art research infrastructure with a broad knowledge in translational medicine and molecular bioscience in order to translate discoveries into both tools and therapies,” explained Ola Bjorkman, CEO of Stockholm-Uppsala Life Science. The $100 million investment from the Swedish government more than doubles the government’s current funding of this research powerhouse.
SciLifeLab has two nodes: Stockholm and Uppsala. Both centers opened in 2010 and are considered to be national resources, providing services to the research community. Facilities include genomics, affinity proteomics, mass spec, functional biology, and bioimaging platforms. An R&D platform for commercializing drug targets is in the works at SciLifeLab Uppsala and should be operational in 2014.
Innovative research has long been a staple of the region. The first recorded life science invention from the area was the ultracentrifuge invented by Nobel Prize winner Theodor Svedberg in 1926. Twenty years later, in 1948, electrophoresis was conceived by another Stockholm-Uppsala based Nobel Prize winner. More recently, Pyrosequencing technology was invented at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and commercialized by Pyrosequencing AB, an Uppsala-based company that has since been acquired by Qiagen.