Sweden’s burgeoning biotech boom

Inside Europe

Although it lacks cleanroom manufacturing capacity, the country has all the tools to be a potential global leader

By Hank Hogan

STOCKHOLM, Sweden-Known for the prestigious Nobel Prize and a world-class ski team, Sweden is now making an all-out push to become a recognized leader in biotechnology.

Affibody AB is one of many biotech firms blooming in Sweden. Affibody is a protenomics and biotherapy company that focuses on protein engineering for use in drug discovery and the development of bio-therapeutics and diagnostic products.
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The country currently has a number of promising biotech startups and established companies, offering everything from cancer cures to living microorganisms with scientifically documented positive health effects-or probiotics.

Sweden also has some native cleanroom expertise. Carmetic AB of Uppsala offers cleanroom rental, consulting and manufacturing for European clients. Carmetic originated in the medical industry, and the company still focuses on medical and pharmaceutical applications.

Thus, Sweden has many of the needed elements for a thriving biotech industry. What it doesn't have, at present, is a large base of biotech cleanroom manufacturing.

“We are currently producing products for the food and beverage side. When it comes to the pharmaceutical side, we are working through third party production facilitates,” notes Niklas Bjärum, marketing and sales director for the probiotic company Probi AB of Lund.

The same outsourcing philosophy holds for many other Swedish biotech companies, both large and small. For instance, Active Biotech AB, also of Lund, had 2001 revenues of over 100 million Swedish kronors (SEK) or just over $10 million USD.

Active Biotech focuses on developing pharmaceuticals for medical applications in which the immune system plays a central role. Current efforts involve a pancreatic cancer trial in the United Kingdom and a prostrate cancer product being developed in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the United States.

But according to company officials, Active Biotech farms out much of its production. The company does do small, laboratory scale and developmental work at its own site. When a product moves into mass production, however, third parties handle manufacturing. Active Biotech does monitor such activity to ensure quality, but the company itself doesn't produce the product.

At just over 20 million SEK, Probi's income in 2001 was a fifth that of Active Biotech. In the case of Probi, the company's products fall somewhere between food and pharmaceuticals. Scientific studies have shown that Probi's patented bacterium Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (Lp299v) reduces several cardiovascular disease risk factors.

The company's main markets are Sweden and Japan, although there are plans to expand both in Europe and the U.S. There are no plans, however, to expand into large-scale production. That will continue to be handled by a third party.

Finally, for an example of a very small company, there's Got-a-Gene AB, which is housed in the Chalmers Innovation business incubator of Göteborg. According to Leif Lindholm, Got-a-Gene's head of research and development, the company's unique technology uses the adenovirus as a gene carrier.

Targeted types of cancer cells incorporate the virus and thus become susceptible to destruction by specific drugs. Got-a-Gene's primary focus is the development of a prostate cancer treatment. Clinical trials may be initiated next year, with any large scale manufacturing occurring after that.

When it does, though, Lindholm predicts Got-a-Gene will follow a familiar path. “We are not in a production phase and will outsource this activity,” says Lindholm.



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