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Helene Hellmark Knutsson is no longer a government minister, Minister for Higher Education and Research


Speech by Helene Helmark Knutsson, Minister for Higher Education and Research, Swedish American Life Science Summit, House of Sweden


Washington, 12 April 2018.

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Honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen! It is a great pleasure and a privilege to be here today. I would specifically give my thanks to Barbro Enhbom and the Swedish American Life Science Summit for inviting me here today.

As the Minister for Higher Education and Research in Sweden, one of my top priorities is to enable excellent research and innovation. And I firmly believe that through collaboration between our countries – we can further strengthen the Life -Science sector.

The Swedish government is strongly committed to supporting continued rapid development in the life science sector, benefiting the whole society. And we welcome and value our relationship with the US in this endeavour.

While many countries decrease their investments in research and development, Sweden has chosen a different path. The government's research and innovation bill contains an increase of 300 million Euros of government funding over the next few years.

One of the top priorities in the research bill is life science. Sweden is a major player on the life science arena, offering a thriving life science environment which is technology-driven and characterised by close collaboration between academia, health care, industry and patient organisations.

As a logical consequence of this, life science is a dominating line of business and a cornerstone of the Swedish economy. Supporting research, innovation and co-creation in the life science sector has been a long-standing strategic priority of the Swedish government.

The threats to human health are escalating rapidly across the globe, rendering human health a major global challenge. Accordingly, in 2015, our National Innovation Council, which is chaired by our Prime Minister Stefan Lövfen, launched a strategic programme in life science to further accelerate progress in research and innovation, and promote co-creation involving all major stakeholders.

Further, in February 2018, an Office for Life Science was established in the Government Offices, a first assignment of which is to develop a national strategy for life science.

However, there is so much more to be done. The process of turning research results into clinical practice is of uttermost importance. If new knowledge is not converted into new treatments and other innovative solutions, patient benefit will be lost. Efforts must be made to speed up this transformation and make it easier for researchers, industry and healthcare to join forces.

Clinical studies Sweden is one such effort. It is a national infrastructure that supports and optimizes conditions for conducting clinical trials. The aim is to make it easier – both for academic researchers and for companies – to do high-quality clinical trials in Sweden.

To further strengthen life science in Sweden, the Government has made other several efforts during recent years and I would like to mention a few examples.

The area of biological pharmaceuticals is a Swedish priority. Sweden has the chance to position itself as one of the leading countries for the development and production of biological drugs. Broad efforts have been made within the area, including a national research programme for protein research, method development and production of biological pharmaceuticals.

In parallel with the Government's initiative, the Wallenberg Center for Protein Research has been established. The center is run by three universities, (The Royal Academy of Technology, Uppsala University and Chalmers), in collaboration, with main funding from Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. AstraZeneca and the Novo Nordisk Fund also contributes financially to the Center's operations.

The total investment is close to 100 million Euros and is a brilliant example of the kind and level of resources that can be raised when government and private actors work together.

To further strengthen this field, a test center for industrial scale-up of the production of biological pharmaceuticals will be launched this summer. The center is a joint venture between the Government and GE Healthcare.

The Government also promotes the start and scale-up of new companies in the life science sector. In 2016, the Swedish Parliament gave Government the mandate to launch an investment company.

Starting in 2017, Saminvest Incorporated, with a capital of SEK 5 billion, is entrusted with the task of capitalizing new venture capital funds that are expected to vitalize the Swedish venture capital market. Experience so far indicates that there is a major interest from the life science sector.

A further initiative that is currently being considered includes prolongation of the period of tax reduction available to international experts who are recruited to Sweden as well as provision of options to personnel as a means of attracting and retaining key competences in Small and medium enterprises.

I would like to mention something about the digitalisation revolution in life science. Digitalisation has been a prerequisite for efficient handling of 'big data' arising from the new technologies and will continue to speed up progress in life science and clinical medicine.

Here, Sweden has competitive advantages. Our public health care system, along with the personal identification numbers introduced in 1947, has made generation of unique, comprehensive patient registers and functional biobanks possible.

Sweden's patient registries can provide data from ongoing patient care ("real world data"), including diagnoses, use of drugs and medical devices, compliance with prescribed treatments, and follow-up of outcomes on a large population scale. Combining the use of registries with biobanks paves the way for more in-depth studies on, for example, genetic factors and biomarkers.

The Swedish government has invested more than 150 million euros over the last 5 years, and work is under way to further enable the use of patient registries for research, development and follow-up.

While the health threats and challenges have increased, new opportunities for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure have emerged in parallel. Major advances in areas such as genomics, molecular biology and protein science have revealed the specific causes of disease and, increasingly, offer possibilities for finding cures.

These new tools for identification of causal mechanisms of disease, on the level of individual molecules, and for production of drugs targeting specific molecular mechanisms have turned treatment tailored to the individual into a reality.

Lastly, I would like to mention that neither Sweden or the US can't do it alone. We need to strengthen our relationship further if we are to face our global health care challenges together. Only by building a strong knowledge-based society will we be able to take on the challenges ahead of us. And this can only be obtained by continuous efforts into research and innovation in both the US and Sweden.

Thank you very much for listening!