‘We hold world-leading expertise in a number of life science fields’
Iris Öhrn, investment advisor for life science at Business Region Göteborg, provides insight into one of the Nordic’s most dynamic and fastest growing life science hubs.
Iris Öhrn was born in Cuba in 1975. She studied biochemistry at the University of Havana where she met her future husband, a Swedish student studying Spanish. Once Iris had completed her studies, the couple moved to Sweden and Gothenburg.
Following postgraduate studies at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, they spent a few years in Spain and Ireland, where Iris started to focus more on business development, finance and intellectual property rights. About ten years ago, Iris and her family returned to Sweden, and she's been working at Business Region Göteborg, the official investment promotion agency of Gothenburg, since 2011.
And what do you do at Business Region Göteborg?
"I'm responsible for initiatives to promote life science investments. Initiatives that do not simply aim to get companies to establish operations here, but also to promote collaborations and partnerships with foreign companies and, to some extent, to contribute to capital influx to the innovation system and our innovative companies."
What are we good at in life science in Gothenburg?
"Historically, we've always been very strong in biomaterials – we're actually the originators of many inventions in the field, ranging from orthopaedic and ear implants to dental implants. We're extremely good at wound care and surgical products as well as transplantation techniques, especially for uterine transplants. Another area we sometimes forget to highlight is cell therapy and regenerative medicine, where in terms of know-how we're among the world leaders."
Digitalisation, IT and health tech are trending strongly. How well is Gothenburg doing here?
"We have many advantages over other countries. We're very digitalised, everyone has a smartphone, we're good adopters of new technologies and consequently a test market for many companies. Furthermore, in Sweden, we have well-developed digital infrastructure with widespread internet connection. This in combination with a long-standing tradition of storing digital health data within the healthcare system gives us a solid foundation in this field - and 5G will only increase it.”
"With our values I also think we can lead the discussions on, for example, AI ethical aspects, accessibility and transparency. The democratisation of AI is field we could lead and take a much stronger position in, creating benefits not only for the patient, but also for society as a whole. Digital information should not only transform the quality and cost, but the long-term sustainability of healthcare”
It seems like there's a lot going on in life science just now – GoCo Health Innovation City, Sahlgrenska Life, AstraZeneca's BioVentureHub, the new AI centre…
"There's a lot going on, actually more than 300,000 sqm of affordable life science space. But if we're to compete we need to invest even more and become bolder. These initiatives are very good and are often grounded in the fruitful partnership we enjoy between the public sector, industry and academia. However, other cities are working just as hard on this front, so we can't rest on our laurels, we need to constantly come up with new, disruptive approaches. We need to envision things ten years from now and create the necessary conditions for that. We mustn't forget that many countries want to be leaders in life science and are investing huge amounts in research, innovation and development."
And how do you envision things ten years from now?
"Today, we're focused on logical collaborations – life science meets IT or materials, for instance. These are logical, but we need to think outside the box and break new ground. We really can't say how digitalisation will affect us ten years from now, but we need to create new meeting places where all that is to come can actually take place. I believe that Business Region Göteborg has a very important role to play here, and I've heard others express the same opinion, in shaping the future growth and development strategy for trade and industry and in forming new, unique partnerships. Companies and academia can't always achieve this alone."
"Behind every company or investor that has chosen Gothenburg, you'll probably find someone who appreciates our way of life."
How do you "sell" Gothenburg to attract investors and expertise in life science?
"I present not only the concrete business and research partnering and investment opportunities, as well as the region's holistic offer. Indirectly, the region's strengths in life science are as much about the way of life here as they are the expertise we hold, and behind every company or investor that has chosen Gothenburg, you'll probably find someone who appreciates our way of life. We live in an open society, it's relatively safe here, and we have high levels of equality. These things matter a great deal. The people who come here to work in life science are well-educated and have the luxury of choosing between jobs in various interesting cities and countries. So, they consider other aspects than simply the job offer when weighing up the alternatives for themselves and their families – schools, housing, transport, quality of life, gender equality, nature and surroundings and so on. These are the things that make Gothenburg unique."