Cool life-changing stuff from the Nordics

"In digital health, we only invest in Nordics and the USA." (An international life sciences investor)

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Pekka Simula 18.02.2020

One of the great things being a Life Sciences CEO is getting to meet others in our field who also target breakthrougs in unmet medical needs. A handful of interesting Nordic life science projects were presented recently at the Swiss Nordic Bio event in Zurich. Here are a couple of examples that could help shape the future of healthcare:

  • A tiny winy pressure sensor capable of functioning inside our body. So small it could be placed in our brain or even in the eye, to measure the pressure inside. The first application may also surprise you: When inserted in the bladder, this sensor can help patients suffering from urinary incontinence due to compromised sense of bladder fullness. An elegant solution to an unpleasant condition – and most of all: this kind of technology will eventually revolutionize in situ diagnostics, inside any organ. (See Uro Bionics)
  • Improving diagnostics. For instance in oncology, a large thanks for the continuously better prognosis goes to earlier diagnosis: The earlier cancer is detected, the more likely it can be cured. Pancreatic cancer remains a nasty exeption that continues to be detected too late. A novel blood based diagnostic could revolutionize the situation especially for those with an elevated risk of pancreatic cancer. And its impact on survival could be much more significant than the development of a new therapy. (See Immunovia)
  • Bone lengthening. One leg can be considerably shorter than the other; the traditional treatment involves cutting the bones and extending the short leg with a device that looks and feels like a medieval torturing mechanism. Now, the same can be accomplished by a strong pipe assembled inside the leg, adjusted wirelessly, and capable of supporting the full body weight of the patient during the entire treatment. Someone in the audience suspected that the Nordics will also begin to excel in basketball… (See Synoste)
  • A bioreactor in your head! One challenge in drug development is how to deliver therapeutic proteins in the brain. A small bioreactor developed in Sweden can be implanted in the brain whereby the cells contained in the reactor will produce the proteins directly where needed. (See Sinfonia Biotherapeutics)
  • FINGER program, which aims at personalized, holistic management and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is becoming one of the biggest societal challenges, and the dozens of billions invested in the related drug development haven’t so far reached the desired outcomes. FINGERS, started in Sweden and Finland and expanding globally is deciphering Alzheimer’s risk factors, causes, and the efficacy of preventive and therapeutic approaches, and has already delivered very promising results. This the direction I believe healthcare will take also more generally: True patient centricity, with healthcare professionals selecting the optimal combination of treatments, exercise, diet, changes in life style, etc. for each individual, based on all cumulated wisdom from all over the world. (See World Wide FINGERS)

This is just a scratch on the surface of the hundreds of Nordic life sciences startups and programs. Some of which will only make it so far, and even then they will generate new expertise and knowledge. And others that will succeed, and eventually their products will become part of routine clinical practice – that we won’t even stop to wonder. Any more than we stop to wonder x-rays, or painkillers, or vaccines, or any other life-changing inventions that we take for granted.

This kind of projects usually have their roots in academic basic research on a shoestring budget, especially when compared to industry budgets. Data is often a common denominator as the projects analyze or utilize the huge amounts of existing healthcare data, or produce more data that will further strengthen our understanding on diseases and their treatment.

And these programs are largely thanks to the Nordic welfare society, which guarantees an excellent basic education and high quality of academic research. On the other hand, I also believe that such programs can help us maintain our welfare societies also in the future.

The author believes in science and considers the high quality of basic research as one of the cornerstones of the Nordic welfare societies.