Sweden needs new regulations and ways for collaboration to stay ahead in healthcare and the life sciences

In the report “Where is life science heading in the future?” Stockholm Science City claims that the future of healthcare will be predictive, preventive, participatory and personalized. Technology is pushing both life science and healthcare forward and the gap between basic science and clinical practice is shrinking. This creates opportunities for totally new types of therapies and health promoting solutions, but it also challenges current regulations and ways of working. Sweden has a leading role in healthcare and the life sciences today and has a good position to stay ahead in the race if Sweden’s national assets are used wisely.

As technology becomes increasingly important but also more advanced and expensive, it is important to secure access to both equipment and technical know-how. Hence, from a national perspective, it is essential to plan and coordinate infrastructure investments carefully to support the scientific and clinical communities. Cross-disciplinary collaborations are also an essential part of the recipe. As biology, medicine, engineering and computer science continue to converge, new ways of working together are needed. It is also necessary to prepare students for collaborative and cross-disciplinary work. This might need new organisational structures such as institutes and centres since paradigm changes are often met with resistance. In the healthcare system, it is necessary to adopt a patient-centric way of working instead of today’s system that is more discipline-bound to ensure best possible treatments. Here, strong leadership that is open to change and based on a sound knowledge of future opportunities is important. It is also important to form trustworthy models for collaboration between industry, healthcare providers and academia. Collaborations like that seen at SciLifeLab, where equipment, premises and expertise are shared between organisations, will be increasingly important if Sweden is to stay ahead in the future.

There is also a need for a national strategy for harmonising the regulations that steer how research and clinical work are allowed to be carried out since these areas become more intertwined and dependent on each other, allowing fast access to novel and personalised treatments. With increasing costs for new treatments, industry and healthcare also need to establish strategies and guidelines for precision medicine so that only those patients who can benefit from treatment get access to the them. Biopharmaceuticals are in many cases very expensive, and this raises concerns about future access to new therapeutics since the healthcare system is under pressure to maintain its current cost level.

To fully grasp the opportunities given by the digital revolution, the regulations for gathering and handling of medical data need to balance the benefits of advanced data utilisation with personal integrity. Increased gathering, improved access to, and methods for linking different types of data will be essential for increasing patient involvement, improving conditions for clinical trials, supporting the healthcare system and creating new opportunities for research and business. However, the new European General Data Protection Regulation will certainly affect the way data can be utilized and it is not clear today how this will affect data driven life science research and healthcare.

Sweden has many of the prerequisites for taking a leading role in the future thanks to our strong life science and ICT communities, together with extensive health data registries, biobanks and digital connectivity infrastructure. Non-hierarchical ways for collaboration is also well rooted in Swedish culture which is needed for cross-disciplinary and transcending collaborations. There is also a high degree of trust in Swedish society and a well organised healthcare system that can provide the stability needed for transformation in the health sector. However, it is important to fully take advantage of these assets and transform regulations and organisational structures. 

The report is based on presentations made and discussions occurring during a conference at Engelsbergs bruk, 4-5 May 2017, which was arranged by the Stockholm Science City Foundation and the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation. The conference aimed to bring together representatives of different organisations and fields of interest to discuss the present status and future development of the life sciences. Various aspects ranging from global political standpoints to new technologies and ways of working were covered. Several challenges and opportunities for countries wanting to take a leading role in the life sciences were highlighted, with the focus on the future role of Sweden.

The report can be downloaded here.

Johan Gómez de la Torre
Johan Gómez de la Torre
Business Development Manager
Stockholm Science City Foundation

Stockholm Science City is an expert organisation that create relations and strengthen Stockholm’s competitiveness in the health area. We are a non-profit organization that increases cooperation between academy, industry and society and support the development of Stockholm as an internationally attractive environment for research and business.

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