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Life science innovation strategies in Sweden, Ireland and Ontario: lessons learned for Scotland


The research was conducted in order to help put Scottish life science policy efforts in context with other countries and regions around the world. Focusing on Sweden, Ireland and Ontario, it aimed to describe these regions’ innovation programmes and evaluate what has been successful, what may need adjustment and whether a new approach to solving a particular problem has been useful. In particular, it aimed to define the state of development and structure of the regional/national life sciences sector; highlight similarities and differences as regards regional and innovation policy (R&IP) design and implementation, focusing predominantly on healthcare-related policies; and provide some evidence-based insights in relation to planning and/or implementation of R&IP in different contexts. The report’s ultimate objective was to learn useful lessons to inform the process of policy planning in Scotland.


A case study approach was adopted with the countries of Sweden and Ireland, and the province of Ontario in Canada selected for comparison. The comparison was conducted by surveying secondary sources including government documents, assessments, industry reports, news releases and academic journals, outlining the policies, programmes and progress in innovation, R&D and life science across the three cases. This research was supplemented by a series of interviews with public sector and industry representatives from each case.


The research shows that both the Swedish and Irish innovation systems are well coordinated while overall coordination with key stakeholders in Ontario is a challenge. In all cases there is a generally horizontal approach to innovation policy although Ontario has the most life science focused policies. Sweden has the strongest industrial history of the three cases, and its life sciences are characterised by high levels of Business R&D expenditure (BERD) dominated by large multinational companies. Ireland on the other hand has a relatively young industry characterised by its ‘Celtic Tiger’ ascendancy and dominance by foreign firms. Ontario is characterised by a strong, long standing university-based R&D system. In terms of challenges, increasing the level of commercialisation of locally created knowledge is something all three cases need to do. With regard to programme evaluation, both Sweden and Ireland’s use of evaluation has aided their strategy development while Ontario is weak in terms of programme evaluations and economic assessments, which may be hindering its own strategy development and coordination. Based on the three case studies, it is found that: there is a need for a focus on systemic correction rather than targeted BERD improvement; evidence-based policies and long-term commitment programmes are important; and there is a growing interest in convergence technologies and niche markets, the role of procurement in innovation strategies and the benefits of clinical trials.


A number of lessons for Scotland are outlined in relation to R&D policy; funding gaps and investor preferences; evidence-based policies and evaluation processes; programme design; and improving knowledge exploitation capacity.

Author ESRC Innogen Centre, University of Edinburgh
Published Year 2010
Report Type Research
  • Innovation
    Innovation system
  • Sectors
    Life Sciences