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Sweden's $320M Investment to Bolster Life Science Research

By Cormac Sheridan
Staff Writer

Sweden is making its largest ever investment in life sciences research, in the form of a $320 million funding package that is intended to secure its future as a global location for high-quality research.

The country's prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, led a delegation of four government ministers who announced the spending plans to the Swedish parliament Tuesday. It forms part of a four-year $1.7 billion research spending package it is introducing in this fall's budget.

"It's a very necessary step forward in order to be one of the world's leading life sciences clusters in the future," Ola Bjorkman, CEO of Stockhom-Uppsala Lifescience, told BioWorld International.

SciLifeLab, a collaborative initiative involving Stockholm University, the Karolinska Institute, the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Uppsala University, will receive some $100 million of the total funding.

It is quickly emerging as a cornerstone of the country's life sciences infrastructure. "This is becoming a powerhouse, with one site in Stockholm and one site in Uppsala," said Bjorkman, who was involved in the early planning stages of the project. "A large part of this will be used to attract new recruits and to invest in research infrastructure." (See BioWorld International, Dec. 10, 2003.)

Another $220 million will be earmarked for life sciences research, with the funding spread across multiple themes, including clinical research, drug discovery, infection and antibiotic resistance, healthy aging, outcomes-based research and research based on patient registers.

SciLifeLab's Stockholm site is currently home to some 40 principal investigators and a total of 350 scientific staff, site director Fredrik Sterky told BioWorld International. The funding will help it to double that figure to 700 next year, and it will add 10 to 15 new principal investigators.

"It will make it possible for us to strengthen the infrastructure for biomedical research, which we've been working to establish for several years," Sterky said. "We will also be able to fund more large-scale projects and take on studies which are much bigger than what we have been able to fund so far."

The Uppsala branch of the organization is structured differently, site director Maria Sorby told BioWorld International. Some 160 principal investigators and 800 scientific staff, from Uppsala University, Uppsala University Hospital, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Swedish National Veterinary Institute, are affiliated with the laboratory. The area has a well-established genomics facility, which will be further strengthened, with a particular emphasis on bioinformatics. "There is a huge demand for analyzing the data that are generated," she said.

The news from Sweden is in sharp contrast to what is happening in many other parts of Europe, which is four years into an economic crisis with, it seems, little immediate prospect of an exit. Ireland's R&D budget has been frozen and is someway off its pre-crisis peak. The UK's science budget has been largely frozen since 2010 under the present government's spending plans, and capital spending has been scaled back.

Spain's R&D budget has been heavily slashed, an issue that is likely to get some airing at the BioSpain meeting in Bilbao next week.

"Sweden may be an exception in this case," Bjorkman said. Because of its strong economy, the government has more room for budgetary maneuvering than most of its counterparts elsewhere.

The research funding should, in time, help revitalize the life sciences industry in the Stockholm-Uppsala region. A report, which Stockholm-Uppsala Life Sciences published last month, stated that industry employment has dropped in recent years, due to pharmaceutical industry restructuring.

"This drop will continue for probably one to two years more before we'll see a turnaround," Bjorkman said. Earlier this year, London-based AstraZeneca plc announced plans to shutter its Alzheimer's research facility at Sodertalje, near Stockholm, which will lead to 1,200 layoffs.