Norway’s national health care system provides excellent universal health care services to its populace. The development of the life science industry can uplift this existing system in powerful ways, supporting the well-being of Norwegian citizens while also offering a range of economic benefits. With this solid foundation in place, the country is poised to develop its life science industry, which encompasses products and services concerned with human health, including biopharma, medical technology (medtech), and digital health technology—but not including health and care services, such as private hospitals or care homes. Building a stronger health and life science industry is a key political goal in Norway, and may offer significant benefits for the economy, for patients, and for the health system as a whole.
From an economic perspective, development of the health and life science sector can be among the solutions that facilitate the demanding transformation that the Norwegian economy is undergoing. Life sciences is an attractive industry, with high potential for value creation, exports, and enticing, high-paying jobs. It can contribute to diversifying the Norwegian economy. Moreover, it is marked by its resilience—a valuable feature, the importance of which has been underscored by recent global disruptions.
The benefits to patients include access to innovative services and treatments that support good health, longer life expectancy, and fuller participation in the labor force. As for the health system, a well-developed life science industry can improve the quality and efficiency of health care delivery through access to new treatments, additional competencies, and more resources.
However, life sciences is a global and highly competitive industry. Because Norway’s starting point is relatively small, significant efforts will be required to compete. Competition is strong, and several countries are investing heavily to establish a position. The Norwegian footprint is, by comparison, limited in size. Norway does, however, have key strengths it can build on. First, it boasts one of the best health systems in the world, both in terms of health outcomes and access to care. Second, it features high-quality health data sources. Third, there are niches of high-quality research. Finally—and significantly—it has a highly educated population. These strengths can help Norway overcome the numerous challenges that lie before it in terms of developing its domestic life science industry.
First, while Norway has niches of high-quality research supported by high levels of public funding, the return on research in terms of patents and companies is low compared with the other countries in our study. Thus, despite a strong R&D foundation, commercialization has not reached its full potential due to the limited presence of established industry companies with a global presence.
Second, access to risk capital and private funding is limited. Another challenge lies with scaling companies, particularly due to a lack of infrastructure, risk capital, and talent with relevant industry and commercial experience. Again, this is at least partly explained by the limited presence of global technology and pharmaceutical companies that can contribute industrial and commercial capabilities, infrastructure, and funding to the ecosystem.
Finally, a set of cultural barriers—particularly between public and private stakeholders—combine to present other challenges. There is limited understanding among the populace of the need to commercialize health contexts in a manner that will lead to profitability; as such, there is limited dialogue—and, to some degree, mistrust —between public and private parties. This is remarkable considering Norway’s strong public-private collaboration in other sectors.
These conditions combine to set the stage for remarkable opportunity, both for Norway and for life science industry players. As much as the country stands to realize its own benefits from a robust life science industry, Norway could, by putting the right foundation and frameworks in place, create a very fertile ground for international companies as well. By contributing business and industry skills, Norway can in the future drive commercialization of basic research and realize the value proposition of growth in an advanced, highly educated country.
We have identified five key priorities to support the development of the life science industry in Norway:
Norway should be clear-eyed about the reality of this endeavor. Because of the nation’s small existing footprint relative to global peers, realizing the full potential of a robust domestic life science industry will take a long time. It will take years to build the footprint required to achieve benefits commensurate with the necessary investment and efforts. Given that other countries are significantly further ahead, it is unlikely that Norway will be in a position to directly compete for the foreseeable future. However, this does not mean that the country should not act now to strengthen the industry and generate benefits. Indeed, there are numerous reasons why we believe it is in Norway’s interest to make efforts to build a health and life science industry. Opportunities to create tangible short-term benefits, such as accelerated exports, is just one such example. The opportunity to accelerate the industry based on health data is another. Importantly, in addition to strengthen Norway’s international position in life sciences, focus should remain on building an industry that can reinforce and contribute to further develop the outstanding health system the country already has.