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Catalonia and Sweden are both known for their high level of excellence in research in the life sciences. Both hold noteworthy spots on global rankings: Barcelona and Stockholm are ranked 10th and 12th in the European Union in scientific publications (Nature Cities Index, 2020), and the technology hubs in Sweden and Catalonia are 4th and 5th in terms of venture capital investment (Dealroom).

An online event on December 9 (“Sweden and Catalonia: minds and talent at work: the answer is in innovation and science”), organized jointly by the Delegation of the Government of Catalonia to Nordic Countries and Biocat, captured the power of these two ecosystems and discussed new trends and work methods that have come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. The participants from Sweden were Björn Arvidsson, managing director of the STUNS Life Science cluster in Uppsala - a region with just 200,000 inhabitants that is one of the most cutting-edge ecosystems in the country- and Mia Ekdahl, head of Communication for the Sahlgrenska Science Park -one of the country’s five most active. From the BioRegion, the participants were ICREA researcher Núria Montserrat, from the IBEC, and Biocat CEO Jordi Naval. The session was introduced by Francesca Guardiola, head of the Delegation of the Government of Catalonia to Nordic Countries.

Key concepts during a pandemic

Collaboration, global market and digitalization are key concepts for this new era we are living in, all of which were highlighted by the speakers as assets during this global pandemic, which has transformed how we work and socialize forever. 

Mia Ekdahl highlighted that for Sweden and Catalonia, both being small countries, collaboration among the stakeholders in the life sciences ecosystem, as well as cross-sector collaboration, is essential: “Collaboration is the foundation for promoting success. The healthcare sector can’t grow on its own; it has to interact with other industries like automotive, ICT, etc. Our companies are already doing this.”

For Björn Arvidsson, “Interaction between the private and public sectors is essential, as the pandemic has shown. This new scenario is driving us to be more efficient, and also to switch from a technology push model to one based on technology pull.” Digitalization and data-based economic activities make it even easier for stakeholders in different territories to collaborate. 

Same level of excellence: greater capacity for growth

Jordi Naval emphasized Barcelona and Catalonia’s excellence in science, technology and education, comparable to Sweden and other European countries like Belgium, while also highlighting the potential for growing investment in startups in the BioRegion. For Naval, Catalonia, which raised €302 million in investment between 2017 and 2020, is now where Sweden and Belgium were in 2014-2017. Taking into account that the BioRegion has the same scientific and technological potential as these two countries, Naval predicts the upward trend in investment in Catalonia these past few years will continue. Sweden saw €2.13 billion in investment between 2017 and 2020, while Belgium raised €6.82 billion (biotechnology firm Galapagos is based there, which received €1 billion in investment from Gilead).  

“We have companies with great potential that are seeing significant investment. Now we need them to grow and go public. They have to be the Moderna and BioNTech of the future in our country,” says Naval, who believes that future collaborations between the Catalan and Swedish ecosystems will come through investment funds from both countries make in the two territories.

The CEO of Biocat also highlighted that the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards putting together teams that work remotely from anywhere on the globe, and has made companies more open to working with stakeholders from other territories.  

ICREA researcher Núria Montserrat, who just received a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), presented her research project, in collaboration with a group at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Montserrat and her team are studying the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on kidney organoids. This collaboration with the prestigious Swedish research institute began in February, at the beginning of the pandemic, and is an example, according to Montserrat, of the “importance of sharing knowledge to further science. With this collaboration, we’ve seen that stem cell research in Catalonia and Sweden has a lot in common. This country has a very interesting ecosystem in this arena. And they discovered that in Catalonia we’re also doing incredible things in this field.

The session finished off with a video featuring Catalan citizens living in Nordic countries explaining the activities in their cities to raise funds for La Marató de TV3. 

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