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“The future depends on collaborations”

Individualized medicine is the future, but the road there is fraught with high costs and heavy research. One key is increased collaboration in the ecosystem. That is the opinion of Björn Arvidsson, managing director at STUNS Life Science.

UPPSALA HAS A unique position as a research hub – with short distances between universities, pharmaceutical companies, and decision-makers, there is an excellent breeding ground for collaboration and trust. At least, that thesis is the starting point for Björn Arvidsson’s work with STUNS Life Science, which was previously called Uppsala Bio. Björn is a doctor of analytical chemistry and worked on developing new methods for determining the content of substances in the body. After a similar assignment at the Swedish Armed Forces Research Institute in Umeå, he started working with policy issues at a diagnostics company. He then built a Swedish department for policy development at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, before his accumulated experience led him to his dream job as managing director at STUNS Life Science.

Digitalization helps

Björn Arvidsson defines life science as “the ability to understand and strengthen the standard of living”, which includes drug development, medical technology, and diagnostics, as well as materials research and food development.

– At the same time, the digital transformation means that borders get blurred, which opens up new types of collaborations. When everything is connected, we get an increased resolution of the knowledge we need to conduct further research and development.

He sees great potential in a still accelerating digitalization of the life science sector.

– Historically, it has been difficult to aggregate information. Now we can see correlations between different types of research that can be used as a basis for decision-making in both healthcare, the pharmaceutical industry, and the public sector. By increasing the precision, we can do more things right today than we did yesterday. Digital formats allow you to quickly find new candidates, create faster feedback loops, and get information on the use of medical equipment. The goal is for us to be treated as the individuals we are, not as the group we belong to. To get there, you have to constantly analyze and adjust.

A capital-intensive industry

Life science entrepreneurs are often frustrated over the lack of funding in Sweden. But Björn Arvidsson points out that the industry actually does receive a lot of money.

– We see quite large investments in health tech, but it is also an incredibly capital-intensive and risky industry – developing a completely new drug can cost up to 20 billion SEK. Development costs are also doubling every nine years, while the more tailored applications are targeting smaller and smaller populations.

In that perspective, says Björn Arvidsson, it is not surprising that it is difficult to take a drug all the way from the first idea to industrialization and mass market in a small country like Sweden.

– I think we should focus on the strengths we have and take advantage of the parts of the value chain that we are good at. We can not suddenly decide for the Swedish football league to become the best in the world. However, we can make sure that we produce individual players who can advance internationally. And I believe that collaborations are the way forward.

Prevention with higher resolution

When it comes to the development of a more preventive care system, Björn Arvidsson is equally hopeful and cautious. He describes the current situation as a sector with “low insight inertia and high maneuver inertia”.

– As we now start collecting more and more data from sensors, we can get a higher resolution and thus an earlier detection. At the same time, we still have a reactive funding model, which makes it difficult for organizations to find funding for the preventive approach. Analyzing DNA is a growing trend, and it generates a lot of information you can act on. But the health care sector does not have the answers yet. I’m optimistic, and I think it will happen. But revolutions often come from the side.

Who has access to the data?

At the same time, it is extremely difficult to find balance in the regulations that surround health and health care. The research must be developed while personal integrity must be safeguarded.

– It is interesting that today, our health data is stored in so many places, but in the healthcare system, there is only information about our diseases. Through the mobile face recognition, one could potentially analyze hundreds of high-resolution images every day to determine how I feel, based on various vital parameters. It could revolutionize the work on mental illness. In the future, I think that health care needs access to more of this type of data in order to make the right decisions. Of course, we must have further discussions about how our data may be used, and by whom.

People’s relationship with the global tech giants is currently strained, and trust has been damaged in many places. In the same way, the increased rollout of AI services will build on a lot of trust, says Björn Arvidsson.

– The more data points we can collect, the more powerful AI we can create. If my doctor can get a an increasingly better and faster decision support, that would, in the long run, benefit society as a whole. I believe that the boundaries between sick and healthy will be blurred, as well as the separation between reactive and proactive care interventions. In addition, more tests and more data can mean increased complexity, as synergetic diseases can be detected, resulting in new challenges. The main question is what we should do with all the information?

Vaccine development through collaboration

During the pandemic, STUNS Life Science has closely followed the development of vaccines for Covid-19, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the scientific collaboration during the crisis has been quite impressive.

– Life science has been the answer to the medical challenge during the pandemic, and we see that when there is a “sense of urgency” it is possible to quickly find new solutions together. It should also be added that society has been a good customer, and innovation procurements of this kind will hopefully become more common. Then it becomes even more important to establish understanding, collaboration, and trust. Life science is already a Swedish branch of strength, and if we continue to break silos, the future looks very bright.

Listen to a longer interview (in Swedish) with Björn Arvidsson in Heja Framtiden podcast episode 213.