Swedish CGT sector is growing but talent shortage must be addressed, says SwedenBIO

BioProcess Insider spoke with SwedenBIO CEO Helena Strigård about the cell and gene therapy industry in Sweden and its future.  

Strigård has been at the private non-profit organization firm SwedenBIO for four years and discusses its focus on driving the cell and gene therapy (CGT) sector in Sweden, the challenges it faces, and her predictions for the future.

Helena Strigård CEO at SwedenBIO. Image c/o SwedenBIO

BioProcess Insider (BI): Is there a trend you are seeing in the CGT space in Sweden?

Helena Strigård (HS): We see a cool macro-trend , since most of the companies are small and medium sized, they like to group together, and they want to be part of a community. You see a trend towards [companies] wanting to be part of a community, be it on a national level where we are, or on a regional sub level.

BI: What advantage does this have?

HS: I would say it’s mainly about competence. If there’s one thing holding Swedish life sciences back right now, it’s access to competence. It is by far, the scarcest resource. We used to talk so much about financing, but that’s not the issue, we have lots of investors being interested in Sweden now, but the scarce resource is competence. So, if you can manage to share the competence in between companies in an efficient way, then that helps.

BI: Why are companies coming together?

HS: The life Swedish life science companies are increasingly seeking business to business interactions and even sharing competences. Not just advice to one another but you might even have companies where almost the entire C-level (CSO, CFO etc) is made out of consultants, that could also be a consultant in our company. So, the companies coming together, and we are growing very quickly.

BI: What does the act of sharing competency include?

HS: [It includes] staff, we have manufacturing companies [and] they will need more people but it’s also research in various fields. We are recruiting from the UK and all over the place because we can’t find enough [employees] in Sweden. It is also expertise in boards as you need to have a board which have the right experience. It goes from manufacturing all the way to the boardroom I would say. I think that is also one of the reasons why an organisation like us is now playing an increasingly important role.

BI: What would you say the general advantages of operating from Sweden in the CGT space are?

HS: Well, there are several. One is that it’s so clear that there is an ambition from decision makers [in Sweden].  There are so many actors in this, you need to have academia and strong research in this field. We have had this for a long time but one thing you need to have is a critical mass of companies, and that is now starting to form.

BI: What effect does the ambition from decision makers cause?

HS: A catalysing effect is how clearly the government shows that we want to be really good at gene therapy and it has a symbolic value for the whole system coming together. We are working together now in the industry on behalf of the government to look into where can and how can we can [form] major infrastructure in the CGT [space].

BI: Is there lots of government funding to push this incentive?

HS: Not lots and lots of money. There is now governmental funding going into this field but what’s interesting is that you don’t need that much governmental funding to make actors and the private actors come together.

BI: Do you think the Coronavirus pandemic drove the industry?

HS:  We have seen during the pandemic how each country is more focused on their own needs. Everyone woke up and understood that it having facilities here makes more sense than before. That being said, we need to keep certain key functionalities here but at the same time the importance to connect internationally has time to grow. It’s so important to be interactive internationally, and for companies to not just have a focus on Sweden, but also to not just rely on international actors.

BI: What do you picture the future of CGT in Sweden to look like?

HS: I believe that we will have find a good way to quite build upon the strengths that we have in the manufacturing pillar, but at the same time, make use of the interaction of academia and healthcare in Sweden. Maybe we will even see this big infrastructure being created like the CRM in Toronto, we pretty much want to do the same thing here.

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