This illustration depicts a three-dimensional (3D) computer-generated image of a cluster of barrel-shaped Clostridium perfringens bacteria. The artistic recreation was based upon scanning electron microscopic (SEM) imagery. Illustration: Jennifer Oosthuizen

University research increases competitiveness of life science companies

Friday 16 Jun 17


Marianne Thellersen
Senior Vice President - Innovation and Entrepreneurship
+45 45 25 10 08

What is life science?

In connection with the analysis ‘Danish life science under the microscope’, the IRIS Group and DTU are working with the following definition of life science:

“Life science research comprises all areas of science involving research into biological systems and living organisms (such as cells, bacteria, plants, animals, people), as well as research into technology (including bioengineering) for the development and production of life science-based products within medicine, health technology, food, industrial biotechnology, the environment, and bioenergy.”

Life science environments at DTU

  • The life science research environments at DTU comprise 14 departments and centres which either specialize within life science research or have life science research as one of their main areas.

  • All 14 departments and centres cooperate closely with a number of life science companies.

  • Moreover, the interplay between DTU and the outside world often involves hospitals and other universities.

  • The research being conducted by the DTU departments is relevant for the entire value chain in a life science company: From conducting research into completely new technologies and product development to production, quality control, and documentation.
According to a new analysis, Danish life science companies see that collaboration with Danish universities boosts their competitiveness.

Danish universities play a key role in development and growth in life science companies. This is the finding of the ‘Danish life science under the microscope’ analysis conducted for DTU by IRIS Group

The analysis shows that four out of five companies in the life science sector have collaborated with a Danish university between 2014 and 2016. This corresponds to over 400 companies.

Most collaboration projects lead to specific business improvements in the companies, and overall companies find that collaboration improves their competitiveness.

Universities contribute to entire corporate value chain
The life science sector’s collaboration with universities differs from that of other sectors. While other sectors primarily work with universities on issues early in the value chain, the life science sector uses universities to solve complex problems at all levels.

In other words, universities are important across the entire value chain—from the development of brand new technologies, to product development, documentation, and quality assurance for existing products.

The companies’ close ties with the research environments at universities is further demonstrated by their locations. Over 50 per cent of all Danish life science companies are less than five kilometres from a university.

Danish life sciences with high growth potential
The analysis shows that Denmark has strong life science research environments, and is one of the leading countries in the field. Together with Switzerland, Denmark is the country with the highest per capita production of scientific articles in the field of life sciences.

Life science is one of the sectors contributing the most to the Danish economy, and has seen grown in all metrics since 2005. There are more companies, more jobs, an increase in added value, and greater product exports and turnover. Over 70 per cent of Danish life science companies expect the employment growth to continue in the coming years.

“One quarter of Denmark’s revenue from product exports comes from the life science sector—an increase of 40% from 2005 to 2015,” says Marianne Thellersen, Senior Vice President, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Much more than pharma
The sector is best known in Denmark for the big pharmaceutical companies. But life science has branched out over the last 15-20 years and now includes a large number of high-tech SMEs. Some of these have arisen from life science research at Danish universities, which have seen scientific breakthroughs in areas like the human genome, cell factories, protein research, bioactive substances from plants, nanotechnology, and microbiological process.

“Today, life science draws on knowledge from electronics, mechanics, biology, chemistry, IT, and upscaling, because companies need to master all these disciplines in order to be successful,” says Marianne Thellersen.

Examples of life science research at DTU

Cell factories and biomanufacturing

The design of cell factories is a major field of research at DTU. The aim is to replace the existing oil-based production of several chemicals with biologically manufactured substances. By genetically engineering a microorganism (for example bacteria, yeast, and animal cells), it is possible to create a cell factory (a production organism) which can produce large quantities of certain, valuable substances (biomanufacturing).

At DTU, cell factory research is being conducted at several departments, including DTU Bioengineering, DTU Environment and DTU Biosustain, which specializes in the development and design of cell factories. DTU conducts research into:

  • Designing cell factories where sugars or residual products(biomass) are used to produce substances and ingredients for, for example, the cosmetics, food, and chemical industries.

  • Designing cell factories for converting organic materials (e.g. waste and plant walls) into bioenergy.

  • Designing cell factories from animals for producing biological medicinal products such as antibodies and proteins.

  • Identifying gene clusters from bacteria for coding antibacterial substances which are subsequently manifested and produced in other production cell factories and developed for new drugs.



DTU has a strong research environment within bioinformatics, which is made up of a variety of researchers working within natural science, computer science, and computer studies. Bioinformatics involves the analysis of large volumes of biological data and register-based health data, which can be used, for example, to identify correlations between patient types, genetics, different treatments, and diseases.

The research is primarily based at DTU Bioinformatics, which specializes in handling large volumes of health data and developing tools for analysing and using health data (sales are also made to industry on license terms). The department operates, for example, a supercomputer, which is specially designed for life science analyses.

DTU Bioinformatics cooperates closely with Danish hospitals on the collection and analysis of patients’ genome data. The aim is to develop an understanding of the interrelationships between genetics and the risk of contracting certain diseases, and to develop forms of treatment which are tailored to the individual patient’s genetics (otherwise known as personalized medicine). DTU Bioinformatics also carries out research into methods and tools which can strengthen private-sector research into the development of new medicinal products and enzymes for industrial use.

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