Life Science is an important sector for western Sweden’s business community, and the life science cluster in Gothenburg is growing quickly. AstraZeneca has been a driving force in this rapid development, and Matti Ahlqvist, who is site manager in Gothenburg, tells BioStock that there is a know-how within the cluster that will be broader than that of each individual player. He calls it “an extremely successful experiment.”
According to a report from Business Region Göteborg, there are 485 life science companies in Gothenburg with a total of 11,000 employees. In 2021, the life science companies in the area raised 2.5 billion SEK and 34 per cent of Sweden’s private investments in research and development were made in the Gothenburg region. The region includes Scandinavia’s largest university hospital, Sahlgrenska, and one of AstraZeneca‘s three global R&D centers.
AstraZeneca, with around 3,000 employees at its R&D facility in Gothenburg, is the region’s largest employer within life science. Matti Ahlqvist, who is head of the research facility in Gothenburg, tells BioStock that the location has been carefully selected.
“The research centre in Gothenburg is one of three major research centres that we have across the world and our only one in Sweden. We work for openness and cooperation. We want to be in clusters that provide added value for our facilities. We have actively placed our facilities in such locations, our research centres are located in Gothenburg, Cambridge in the UK and Gaithersburg in the US. We will also open a fourth facility in Boston,” says Matti Ahlqvist.
A reshaping of the company
Matti Ahlqvist notes that AstraZeneca has developed in parallel with the development of the cluster in Gothenburg.
“We’ve evolved tremendously. Ten years ago, we had a good profit, but no pipeline of new products, while many patent expirations were in the pipeline. It wasn’t sustainable. Since then, we have reshaped the company and rebalanced the portfolio. Greater openness to collaborations has been important in the transition.”
During this period, AstraZeneca established BioVentureHub in Gothenburg, an ecosystem where growth companies and academic groups operate on AstraZeneca’s premises. In this way, they can interact with AstraZenenca’s experts and together promote development.
“With the help of both public and private funds, we have created opportunities for growth companies that have been able to work on our premises. They can benefit from our know-how and from the infrastructure while we can learn from them. It’s been an incredibly successful experiment.”
200,000 square meters for the sector
In 2017, AstraZeneca sold land to property developers Vectura Real Estate and Next Step.
“We have worked with them to put Sweden and Gothenburg on the global life science map.”
The collaboration has resulted in GoCo Health Innovation City where 200,000 square meters will be used by organisations from the entire sector.
“Now the first building is ready and has been occupied. Now, the pressure is high. Mölnlycke Health Care will situate its head office in GoCo. It will be a new district with a strong cluster effect where different players have the opportunity to run into each other and experiment with the innovations of the future.”
Academia is crucial for the cluster
Matti Ahlqvist says that both Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg are involved in the cluster, which has been important in creating a sustainable ecosystem.
“There is a know-how here that will be broader than that of each individual player. We are working to establish a cutting-edge research centre that will be a powerful attraction for other players and in the future generate new companies.”
Health Innovation West is a coordination network for life science actors in western Sweden. The steering group includes BioVentureHub, AstraZeneca, Business Region Göteborg, Region Västra Götaland, Sahlgrenska Science Park, Getinge, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Halmstad University, University of Gothenburg, Chalmers and GoCo.
Matti Ahlqvist is a member of the steering group and says that they work actively to identify collaborations that can create added value for the patients of the future. He notes that collaboration has been a winning concept.
“If we look at our BioVentureHub, we see that the companies have had a performance that far exceeds all comparable indices. The fact that they share knowledge with each other is a big part of that.”
According to Matti Ahlqvist, the key to a successful life science cluster is to have diversity among the sectors.
“It is important to have deep cutting-edge expertise and breadth in everything from pharmaceuticals, biotech and diagnostics. Then you cover the entire value chain and become broader than each individual player and the companies can access skills that they themselves may not have recruited.”
Aiming to put Sweden on the world map
Now the sights are set on national collaborations.
“We also work actively to create collaborations with other parts of Sweden. This is something I am passionate about. The more good initiatives we have, the better. We work actively to create collaborations with other parts of Sweden. Last year we recruited 150 employees from other countries – Sweden as a life science nation is a selling point for bringing them here. Together we can create something that puts Sweden on the world map.”
When Matti Ahlqvist looks at the future of the life science industry in Gothenburg, he is positive and predicts more and larger collaborations.
“All signs point to the region and the city continuing to invest here, including Sahlgrenska Life, which will be an expansive environment between academia and healthcare. This will be a fantastic complement.” he says and continues:
“We will see even more collaboration between our cluster and those in Oslo, the Öresund region, Stockholm and Uppsala. It will make Swedish life science grow significantly. The sector already accounts for large exports; AstraZeneca’s manufacturing in Södertälje accounts for 6.3 per cent of the value of Sweden’s total goods exports. In Gothenburg, we have 3,000 employees from more than 70 countries. We currently spend 18.7 billion SEK on research and development in the Swedish company. All this will continue to increase. If we get tight collaboration throughout Sweden and Scandinavia, then we will really become a global player within life science.”