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Strong university research benefits Danish life science sector

Tuesday 13 Mar 18

DTU’s definition of life science

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

Source: The definition has been prepared by IRIS Group in collaboration with DTU in connection with the ‘Danish life science under the microscope’ analysis.

The life science sector is an important growth driver in the Danish economy. University research plays a decisive role in life science companies’ development and growth.

The Danish life science sector is closely linked to the universities of Denmark. This is reflected not only in the geographical distance to the universities, with more than half of all Danish life science companies being located less than five kilometres from a university. It is also reflected in the companies’ development, growth, and competitiveness. This is shown in the ‘Danish life science under the microscope’ analysis, performed by the Danish consultancy company IRIS Group for DTU.

The analysis shows that four out of five companies in the life science sector collaborated with a Danish university between 2014 and 2016. This corresponds to more than 400 companies. Most of these joint projects have resulted in specific business improvements in the companies, and, overall, the companies find that collaboration improves their competitiveness.

Interaction throughout the value chain

The life science companies’ close interaction with the universities is important throughout the companies’ value chain—ranging from the development of completely new technologies via product development to production, documentation, and quality assurance of existing products. This distinguishes the life science sector from other sectors, in which collaboration with the universities most often benefits the companies in the early stages of the value chain.

The ‘Danish life science under the microscope’ analysis is—among other sources—based on a questionnaire among 561 active life science companies in Denmark.

The analysis operates with a broad definition of life science, comprising more than the pharmaceutical and medical field (please see fact box).

169 companies participated in the analysis. Of these companies, nearly 80 per cent respond that they attach great or very great importance to Denmark having international elite research environments, and the respondents believe that it is an important framework condition for the companies’ future growth and development.



The background picture shows a T cell, a special white blood cell type which plays a central role in the immune system. DTU develops methods for recognizing specific T cells to use them in personal diagnostics in immunotherapy.

Read more about this work in the case: Immune defence system T cells to fight cancer (please learn more in the article: 'Life science research at DTU').

Photo: Shutterstock

   Photo: Shutterstock

Industry with huge growth potential 

In spring 2017, the Danish Government’s Growth Team for Life Science presented an analysis with 17 recommendations for ensuring growth in Danish pharmaceutical and medical companies

The team’s first recommendation is that Denmark must allocate more resources to and target public research. The analysis describes increasingly sharp competition for public research funds as a result of cutbacks in grants in recent years. The cutbacks will have consequences for Denmark, the wealth of which is not based on natural resources, but on knowledge, the growth team finds.

“The life science industry is one of the most important contributors to the Danish economy, exports, and growth, and it still has great potential, which we can only realize if the framework conditions are world class,” said the chairman of the growth team, Kåre Schultz, President and Chief Executive Officer in Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, in a press release at the presentation of the 17 recommendations.

Extremely mobile sector

In the autumn of 2017, the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) presented the same conclusions in the analysis ‘Global Growth—Record Exports for the Life Science Industry’. The analysis shows that the Danish life science industry’s exports of pharmaceuticals, medico-technical equipment, and medico-technical aids constitute a higher percentage of Danish exports than ever before.

According to the analysis, the life science industry increased its annual exports from EUR 885 million to DKK 15 billion in the period from 2010 to 2016, which is an increase of 63 per cent. In comparison, other Danish exports grew by 11 per cent in the same period.

In the analysis, DI concludes that the life science industry is an important growth driver in the Danish economy. But Denmark must not take the sector for granted. For if companies in the life science sector do not have favourable conditions, they will establish themselves in other countries, says DI’s Director Healthcare Policy, Mie Rasbech:

“It’s important that these companies’ needs are heard, as it’s an extremely mobile industry. Life science companies can quickly choose to relocate to another country which offers more favourable conditions such as lower taxation or higher public investments in research. It’s a real threat, and we’ve seen it happen in Sweden, which previously had a large life science industry,” says Mie Rasbech.

Increase investments in research

DI fully supports the Danish Government's growth team’s recommendations and thus believes that one of the decisive framework conditions for Danish life science companies is increased and targeted public investments in research.

“The universities’ life science research forms part of an important ecosystem in which the education of highly qualified labour is crucial to the companies’ recruitment and development. In addition, the generation of ideas at the universities and commercializable innovation are also an important contribution to the industry. Spinouts can be acquired by large companies and thus realize the companies’ growth potential. Spinouts which remain independent companies provide volume to the life science industry and support Denmark's strong position in life science. This may draw international attention to Denmark, so that we can attract foreign researchers, business profiles, and investments to Denmark,” says Mie Rasbech.

Life science—much more than pharmaceuticals

The sector is best known in Denmark for the big pharmaceutical companies.

But life science has branched out over the past 15-20 years and now includes a large number of high-tech SMEs. Some of these originate 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, for example, plants, as well as nanotechnological and microbiological processes.

Source: the ‘Danish life science under the microscope’ analysis.

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