11 February 2011

Scandinavian Skolkovo

Sergey Dzhanyan, "Ogonyok"
(the article is published on the UNOVA website

The Danish-Swedish Medicon Valley is one of the largest clusters in Europe, where research laboratories, commercial structures and industrial enterprises related to the vast industry called life-sciences — "life sciences" are concentrated.

Geographically, the Medicon Valley covers both sides of the Sound (Ehresund) Strait separating Denmark and Sweden — its western part is located on the island of Zealand, where Copenhagen is located, and the eastern part includes the area of the Swedish city of Malmo.

The foundations of the science city, known today as the Medicon Valley, were laid back in the days when no one even thought of such a thing. So, for more than a century, Danish cheese factories and dairy farms experimented with fermentation processes, and the innovative research of the chemical and physiological laboratory of the Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen in the late 1800s, finally secured the glory of the cradle of biotechnology for the region. The almost century-old presence of high-tech pharmaceutical companies here, such as Novo Nordisk, Lundbeck, AstraZeneca and LEO Pharma, has made a significant contribution to the development of the Öresund region, and local universities with long traditions in the field of biological and medical research have given the world a whole galaxy of Nobel Prize laureates.

At the same time, Denmark has been and continues to be an industrial and agrarian power - mechanical engineering, radio electronics, textiles, chemical and pulp and paper industries form the basis of the local economy, and meat and dairy farming plays a leading role in agriculture. However, by the end of the twentieth century, it became obvious that the country's mineral-poor and foreign-market-dependent economy needed new sources of income. It was then, at the turn of the 80-90s, that discussions arose in Danish society about how ready Denmark was to develop world-class high-tech.

— The development of biotechnologies is of exceptional importance for the Öresund region and Denmark as a whole. After all, it is biotech that is a real alternative, in comparison with the diminishing capabilities of industry and agriculture, if we want to keep the Danish "welfare society" at the existing level. This is one of the few areas of business where we will be able to make money in the future," says Bent Christensen, one of the pioneers of the Medicon Valley project, director of the University Clinic of Scone.

The task of creating a powerful technopolis, bringing together academic science and industry and contributing to the formation of jobs in this desert area, was very difficult. The ambitious plan required investing a lot of money so that Denmark could survive in competition with such serious players in the high-tech market as the USA and Japan, which means it was necessary to look for partners. However, they did not have to look for them for a long time — in neighboring Sweden, they also puzzled over similar problems.

By the mid-1990s, the authorities of Denmark and the South Swedish region of Skåne, together with business representatives, reached agreements on the project of an international biotechnology cluster called the Medicon Valley — by analogy with Silicon Valley in California. And in the fall of 1996, with the financial support of the European Union, the Medicon Valley Academy was founded, the purpose of which was to establish cooperation between all players in the region.

Left bank, right bank...Economics explains the emergence of clusters by three main reasons.

The first two of them lie on the surface — it is a gain from the distribution of costs for the maintenance and development of common resources for companies, as well as geographical proximity, which ensures cheapness and speed of delivery of goods or services necessary for business.

But there is a third reason — the close proximity of interconnected companies contributes to the spread of implicit knowledge, that is, knowledge and experience that are transmitted only through training and are closely tied to the people who carry them. Thus, a market of skilled labor is being created, which allows, instead of organizing the transfer of knowledge, to involve their bearer in the ranks of the company, and the path from fundamental research to a real product becomes much shorter. "Such a close neighborhood should create, according to our plan, an explosive mass of scientific ideas and at the same time provide favorable conditions for their application," says Ulv Oberg, development manager for the Swedish region of Skone.

To date, the entire territory included in the Medicon Valley occupies approximately 14 thousand square kilometers — topographically, the zone is a square with a side of 120 kilometers, from end to end of which you can get in a couple of hours. More than 3.5 million people live on the Danish and Swedish sides of technopolis, while only in private business more than 40 thousand people work in the field of "life sciences" — every hundredth resident. This is an extremely high concentration of representatives of one specialization.

There are 11 universities on both sides of the Sound, five of which teach biomedical sciences, all of them form the Ehresund University Community. 150 thousand students study at the universities of the Medicon Valley, a third of whom specialize in the same "life sciences": they will provide personnel for a growing number of biomedical companies. In addition, there are 33 clinics in the valley, as well as 12 scientific parks and scientific incubators, of which six are specialized mainly in life-sciences.

Most of the enterprises of the Medicon Valley are small companies, numbering from 2-3 to several dozen employees: however, it also happens that several specialists unite in mobile groups to solve an urgent research task. Small companies coexist here with scientific laboratories, universities, pharmaceutical and biotech giants — and this is the main power of Medicon Valley.

A bridge to successThe Medicon Valley project had all the initial data for implementation — the presence of large companies in the region and the availability of venture funds, high-class universities and qualified human resources, a favorable business environment and a high standard of living.

Nevertheless, infrastructure played a decisive role in the development of the cluster — it was this issue that the ideologists of Medicon Valley from the very beginning attached priority importance to.

For an island state like Denmark, the issue of transport communications is extremely important. And if for centuries different parts of the country were connected by ferry crossings, then the key to the success of the Danish-Swedish project was the land connection of the two states separated by the Sound Strait. The role of the Sound, generally speaking, in Scandinavian history is invaluable — the sea routes from Western Europe to the Baltic Sea countries run through the local waters. With the development of civilization, the importance of the strait only increased — by the end of the twentieth century, ferries transported up to 2.5 million cars each year.

The way by water was perfectly debugged, but the prospect of land communication did not cease to excite the engineering thought of the Scandinavians. There were talks about laying a railway tunnel along the seabed as early as 1888, but only a century later Danish and Swedish politicians came to the decision to build a land crossing connecting the Danish capital with the Swedish city of Malmo.

The result of the work of an international team led by the Danish architect Georg Rothe was a cable—stayed bridge with separate roads and railways and a system of underwater tunnels, which was put into operation in 2000 - there is no equal in engineering complexity to this structure in the world yet. The total length of this longest combined ferry in Europe is 16 kilometers, and its construction cost 30.1 billion Danish crowns (about 6 billion US dollars).

The construction of the Danish-Swedish bridge gave a serious impetus to the development of not only economic, but also interethnic relations: over the 10 years of its existence, thousands of residents of Denmark and Sweden have chosen a neighboring state as their permanent place of work and residence. The journey from one coast to the other takes 33 minutes, and all trains running from Malmo in the morning and from Copenhagen in the evening are crowded. At the same time, Danes who have purchased houses in Sweden, taking advantage of low housing prices in Malmo, go to work in their homeland. But it is still more profitable for Swedes who travel to work in a neighboring country to live, own property and buy goods at home.

On average, up to 12 thousand cars and 17 thousand railway passengers are transported on the Ehresund Bridge per day. The tourist business is not at a loss either: the number of shop tourists has increased more than 5 times over the years - after all, you can now safely get from one country to another by taxi, which is allowed to take passengers both on the Danish and Swedish shores.

Therapeutic indposhivToday, the Medicon Valley is one of the largest centers in Europe for the development of chemical, pharmaceutical and biotechnological science.

The main directions in which the Danish-Swedish cluster occupies a leading position in the world are new approaches in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, inflammatory processes and pathologies of the nervous system. At the same time, entire districts specialized in the treatment of these diseases are being formed within the valley, and fundamental research and specific developments are being carried out taking into account personalized medicine — in other words, individual therapy and individual medications are being developed for each patient.

Experts are sure that soon the so-called blockbuster model of mass medicine will become a thing of the past: there is no treatment that is 100 percent suitable for everyone. The reaction to any drug depends on the genetic characteristics of each person, his diet, living conditions, habits and behavior, and these factors are not taken into account when prescribing standardized therapy. Personalized medicine can make a revolution in medical care, increasing its safety, profitability and, most importantly, clinical effectiveness: after all, at least a third of patients suffering from various diseases do not receive the effect of prescribed medications.

The Medicon Valley is already actively working on the implementation of the concept of medicine of the future. One such example is the Pharmacogenomics Center, established in 2004, which unites 14 research groups from the University of Copenhagen, the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, three clinics and the large Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck. The aim of scientists is to study the relationship between the human genotype and the effect of drugs used to treat depression and obesity. Similar consortia, bringing together university scientists, clinicians and pharmacists, are engaged in solving the same problem, but already in application to diabetes, neurological and oncological diseases.

Life with a view to the futureThe basis of Danish welfare is pig farming — everyone in Denmark knows this textbook truth from childhood, although not everyone remembers the exact figures.

Much less is known about the fact that biotechnology and the medical industry have long pushed the Danish pig off the pedestal: for the first time it happened in 2001, when the profit of Danish exports in the hi-tech sector amounted to 30 billion kronor, thus exceeding the income from pig farming by one and a half billion.

Only 10 years have passed since that time — today the Danish authorities are building plans for the development of the country until 2020, largely relying on the potential of the Ehresund zone. It is assumed that by this time Denmark should gain a foothold in the top ten richest countries, enter the top three world leaders in creating the best conditions for business and acquire a university in the top 10 best universities in the world. But that's not all — the average life expectancy of Danes is planned to be increased to the level of ten world long-lived nations.

— These are quite real tasks if we manage to fully utilize the capabilities of the Ehresund region, — says the director of the Aleris Hospital, Jacob Axel Nielsen, in the recent past, the Minister of Health of Denmark.— I believe that decisive steps in the field of stem cell research should be taken now: American President Obama gave the "green light" to these works, the UK did the same, India, China, Russia are next in line. Currently, the Danish government has allocated 65 million kronor for stem cell research: of course, state support is only a drop in the bucket, but if budget funds work in conjunction with investments and grants from private and public funds, much more can be achieved. In any case, the support of the state will force potential investors to take a closer look at developments in the field of cellular technologies...

In the Medicon Valley, they expect that every year the number of companies located here will grow both due to the formation of new, own, and due to the appearance of branches of global pharmaceutical and biotechnology giants. And these expectations are gradually being met: to live and work in a quiet, green area with an extremely low crime rate, in well—maintained houses and offices that the best designers have worked on, an hour's drive from the large Kastrup International Airport - these are just some of the benefits for highly qualified specialists choosing Medicon Valley. Combining work and family life is very attractive for both local and invited "mediconians": organizations, as a rule, offer flexible working hours, and foreigners working in the country enjoy the same social benefits as local residents. However, there are nuances: companies that have decided to settle in the valley are increasingly opting for the Danish rather than the Swedish part of the cluster, which is explained by some difference in labor legislation and taxation, and today it is in favor of Denmark.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru11.02.2011

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