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Cellink's CEO: 'We want to help create a biotech hub in Gothenburg'

7 December 2021
Since it was started in 2016, Gothenburg company Cellink has gone from university spin-off to global leader, with its bioprinting products used by scientists and R&D labs across the globe. The company is also the starting point and foundation for Gothenburg’s first tech unicorn, BICO.  

In an interview, Cecilia Edebo, who took over as CEO of Cellink in April this year, tells us more about their plans to help revolutionise healthcare and why they have invested in new premises in Gothenburg.  

Can you tell me briefly about Cellink?

“Bioprinting has been available as a technology for more than 30 years. But it's been completely unaffordable. For us, the starting point was really cell ink - doing bio inks that could enable the researchers to bio print with the cells. However, the systems themselves were also not affordable. So basically the company decided to democratise the industry by making the first affordable instruments that cost less than USD 10,000. Before they used to cost millions of dollars, which makes it not accessible to the researchers of the world.”

“Cellink is still about bio ink, but Cellink also ventured into bioprinting, and then ventured into what we call the bio-convergence, which includes all the technologies required to create, understand and master biology by combining biology and technology into something that can create a future for medicine. So Cellink acquired other technologies under their platform – and that became what is now the BICO Group. The Bioprinting business maintained the name Cellink.”

“At Cellink we currently have about 200 employees, our products are available in more than 60 countries, and we have seven offices: two in the US, two here in Gothenburg, two in Asia and one more in Europe.”

Can you tell me about the journey so far? 

“Cellink has had an impressive growth journey. 3D bioprinting is an expanding field, and I believe Cellink itself, injected growth into the industry and the market, because of the fact that we made it affordable and accessible to researchers. We are the leaders in the industry, which is a difficult task to have. After five years, a lot of companies are copying what we do across the globe. But it's still a very early industry.”

What have been some of the key success factors?

“We are out there talking to the researchers of the world, and many are still unfamiliar with what bioprinting is and what it can do. We have taken it upon ourselves to be the missionaries of this industry, which I think is also part of the success. We're out there listening to what customers need, but also explaining to them what they need and what the instrument or technology can do.”

“We believe that there are a lot of things Cellink and 3D bioprinting can do to contribute to the future of health. And we are passionate about making it happen which I believe has been a key strength of this company since it was started.”

What was it that attracted you to the company? 

“It's the mission and ambition, because I've always wanted to be able to contribute to something good. I've been in healthcare and the hygiene industry for many, many years and built businesses across the world. In one of my previous jobs, part of the mission was making sure that 1.2 million babies survived in India, because of the hygiene that we could provide. The mission of Cellink is really to make a difference and contribute to healthcare for the future. That's what makes me tick every day when I come to work. That's why I'm here.”

You have been in the position for about eight months now, what's your vision for Cellink?

“The mission for us is to be the leaders in this industry and revolutionise healthcare. That's why we're here. Understanding biology and then adding technology, that's our forte.”

“We have four core areas. One is drug development and drug discovery, where we of course can provide constructs that mimic the human biology so that we will get more precise medications but also a more individualised medication. Then we have tissue engineering, which could also move into what you call regenerative medicine: creating new organs, whether it's skin or heart. Then we also have food printing, because everyone is looking to alternatives to eating beef. So there's a lot of research programmes that we are also involved in to recreate or print beef, so it looks like a beef, and tastes like beef. Or it could be printing fish for that matter.”

“I think there's a lot we can do, it is just to pick and choose the right things to do. But we are focused on healthcare and printing the future of healthcare.”

What role can Cellink play in future healthcare?

“Today in health care there are three really key challenges. One is drug development. And most drugs, nine out of 10 fail, and it costs billions of dollars to develop a drug that can actually go to market. But we can shortcut that because we can create human biologically relevant models, instead of testing on animals, which are poor indicators.”

“I think the future is really to create organs. We can create some organs today. We can create skin, we can do cornea, we can do bone, and we can do cartilage. But of course, to mimic the human body perfectly, we need vascularization and that's where it starts getting tricky. We need to advance technology in order to be able to do a fully vascularized heart for instance. That is the challenge and where we want to go.”

“Our task is to provide the researchers with the tools to do it. But we very often also embark on research projects to achieve what they want to achieve. The aim is to have a bioprinter at the bedside at the end of the day. We can actually take the cells from the unique patient and build whatever part of the body that needs to be replaced. I mean, regenerative medicine is the future of bioprinting.”

Cellinks new office in Gothenburg where the company will gather all of its Swedish operations under the one roof
Cellink's new office in Gothenburg, where it will gather its Swedish operations starting in January 2022. Photo: Cellink 

 

You will soon move into a newly built 4,600 sqm space in Kallebäck, Gothenburg. Can you tell me about that?  

“The fact is that we have outgrown this space [at the Biotech Center]. But I think the key is actually to create a collaborative space where we have not only R&D and sales, but also operations under one roof. Because the more we collaborate together, the better we build on each other's knowledge, and the faster we can achieve what we want to achieve.”

“We also want to engage others, because I would like to see Gothenburg as a biotech or biomedical hub, which it could be. We have Sahlgrenska [University Hospital], we have Chalmers [University of Technology] and we have Astra Zeneca. But it's not really there yet. And that's actually something we want to foster, to invite other companies to come to us and learn what we can do. We learn from them what they can do, and together we get the multiplier effects and we achieve or we contribute together at a faster pace to the future of health.” 

Why did you choose to invest in Gothenburg? 

“Cellink is from Gothenburg and the founders have their roots in Gothenburg and in the US, but the core is here. We want to help create a biotech hub here and Gothenburg has the potential to do that. I'm amazed at what Lund has achieved, but I think here we could probably do it on an industry level. But again we need all the companies to become more open and work together much closer.”

“I would really like to see that we are a community that collaborates more. Swedes can be very protective and careful in that sense. And I think we need to change that. And Gothenburg being quite an international hub could do that.”

What do you think are some of the strengths of the biotech scene in Sweden?

“I think the strength is that we have a lot of good thinkers. I think there are a lot of good ideas out there. But I do think we need more innovation hubs that are willing to bet on ideas. And of course it's the early investment scene. It's becoming better and better, I must say and I think that's partially why Gothenburg is probably more advanced than other places in Sweden. But everywhere in the world, if you look at where investments are happening, it is in the biotech space. So in order to keep our position, I think we need to invest even more and attract probably more companies to the region.” 

In what ways has Business Region Göteborg been able to help Cellink?

“Business Region Göteborg has helped a lot from what I understand and I've also seen it in other companies where I worked - and especially in the networking. It's again, connecting the people, connecting the companies and building on each other. Creating that collaborative space was very vital at the starting point.”

 

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To learn more about business opportunities in life science and how we can help you establish and invest in the Gothenburg region, please contact:

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Investment advisor life science at Business Region Göteborg
+46313676130 or iris.ohrn@businessregion.se

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