In August 2012, the city of Södertälje, AstraZeneca and UIC invited former AstraZeneca researchers to a start up-information meeting on AstraZeneca’s headquarters in Södertälje and about 80 researchers attended.
One of the researchers at AstraZeneca in Södertälje, Johanna Haglund, had together with many colleagues received notice of termination.
– I thought, “Everything that we have built up may just not go to waste!” she says.
So, she went to the meeting purposeful and immediately felt that UIC offered her exactly what she needed at this time.
Today, Johanna Haglund is CEO of the new company MetaSafe which houses in Biovation Park at AstraZeneca’s former premises. Here sits several companies started by former AstraZeneca employees, but also UIC and other actors in the innovation system of Södertälje. MetaSafe is a contract lab that supplies data regarding metabolism.
– We study how the drug is converted in the body, where the data generated will be used by the customer in the development of effective and safe drugs, says Johanna. These are the correct complex studies that require extensive experience and expertise, something MetaSafe can offer pharmaceutical companies in an efficient manner, she says.
Dirk Weigelt, chemist and CEO of KeytoLead is also one of the researchers that started a new company and became entreprenur with support from UIC. His company aims to conduct preclinical research, specifically in the so-called lead generation step.
Dirk and Johanna realized that if they could continue to work with what they are passionate about, they had to jump on the entrepreneurial train, but it was with mixed emotions.
– There have been many sleepless nights, but as I say – finally you sleep from exhaustion, says Johanna.
Also, the city of Södertälje is satisfied with UIC’s work.
– After AstraZeneca closed down its R&D in Södertälje UIC has built up a well-functioning business incubator, which soon could help develop ideas into new products and services from former AstraZeneca researchers, says Boel Godner, Mayor of Södertälje city.
A new dimension
Now, over a year later, the focus is on marketing for the companies. And of course being able to sell their products and services in order to drive businesses forward. While Stina and Anders starts up a new UIC Business Lab, Meta Safe, KeytoLead and six of the other companies continue in the UIC Business Prep where they get their own business coach and one more individual support.
– It will be an exciting continuation of the journey, says Johanna. But I will miss the community and the network!
Fresh start with Biovation Park
Not only the skills, ideas and entrepreneurial spirit are utilized in Södertälje. AstraZeneca’s research facility with associated laboratory instruments in Snäckviken also gets a fresh start when Acturum based Biovation Park Telge. The park is owned and operated by the development company Acturum Development AB, FAM, Wallenberg Foundations management and construction company Peab. Both Uppsala Science Park and Uppsala Business Park is a model for the new research park consisting of 130,000 square feet of office and laboratory space for the life science business.
– The goal is a vibrant development park with competitive rents and a prime location that promotes national and international cooperation. We are confident that we can offer companies a very large value that the incubator, says Janet Hoogstraate on Acturums Biovation Park.
Northern Light Pharmaceuticals refines drug projects
Northern Light Pharmaceuticals is another company that is sprung from AstraZeneca and included in the UIC Business Prep in Södertälje. The company is currently developing their work to pursue and refine drug projects within pain mainly in pre-clinical phase. It means that they show that the drug candidate is safe enough to be tested on humans in the next phase. Achim Orzechowski is CEO and runs the company along with two colleagues, Rolf Johansson and Stefan Berg who all come from AstraZeneca, which according to Achim has many advantages.
– Everyone of us has 18–25 years of experience in pharmaceutical research and we know what the pharma companies look for, ie what our customers want, Achim says. Moreover, our and the projects’ origin in AstraZeneca gives credibility and serve as quality.
High risk – high reward
The company’s biggest challenge now is to find sponsors who are willing to invest in early stage pre-clinical testing involves. To make a reality of ideas for new, effective and above all essential drugs multi-million dollar venture capital is often a prerequisite.
– There are few venture capital companies willing to invest in early phase projects like these in Sweden, says Achim. It is “high risk – high reward”.
The support and also the encouragement from UIC and UIC Business Prep also strengthens the company’s hopes for the future.
– We get confirmation that we are thinking along the right lines, UIC asks the right questions and helps us find a structure, said Achim. Our business coach Anders Nordström has helped us think in different scenarios and has also given us several important contacts that have led us in the right direction. We believe in our project and won’t give up easily, says Achim.