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Do life sciences have a future in Sweden?

Published fredag 24 oktober 2014 kl 12.52
"We have to be damn good"
(4:33 min)
Does the life science industry in Sweden, like companies AstraZeneca, have a future here? Photo: Claus Gertsen / TT.

When US drugmaker Pfizer launched several bids to acquire the Anglo-Swedish pharma company AstraZeneca this summer, the move sent alarm bells throughout the Swedish government. The offer had many wondering about future of the life-sciences sector here.

The Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum says the country has lost 4,000 jobs in the life science sector in the past five years. 

Despite those cuts, life science companies – everything from local biotech start-ups to international drug manufacturers – are still a big part of the Swedish economy. Johan Eklund, the forum's Research Director, says the industry accounts for 40,000 jobs and employs about 20 percent of Sweden's PhDs working in the private sector.

But the road ahead for life science companies will be a tough one. Competition in the marketplace is growing globally and attracting qualified workers and money to Sweden is proving to be difficult.

Leif Johansson, chairman of AstraZeneca, says Sweden is getting better at bringing in and retaining international talent, but there is still room for improvement. He says Sweden needs to import workers since there won't be enough to fill the void

"We will actually have a fairly dramatic lack, say 20,000 to 25,000 people, by 2025 in this area, and therefore we will actively need to make sure we can recruit people from the outside," Johansson says.

Hans Wigzell is a professor of immunology who has advised a number of biotechnology companies. He says one way the life science sector can thrive is through innovation, stemming from entrepreneurship.

"If they are good entrepreneurs on top of the good science you get some extremely interesting companies," he says.

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