Danish life science exports nearly tripled in 12 years: "We have yet to reach our goal"

The life science industry in Denmark now accounts for 20 percent of domestic exports and one third of all research and development investments, according to a new analysis. "We are on the road but we have yet to reach our goal," says Minister Simon Kollerup.
Simon Kollerup, Danish minister for industry, business and financial affairs in Denmark | Photo: Martin Sylvest
Simon Kollerup, Danish minister for industry, business and financial affairs in Denmark | Photo: Martin Sylvest
by ANDREAS LØNSTRUP, translated by daniel pedersen

Denmark's life science industry is close to having tripled its exports over 12 years, according to an annual analysis of the industry's economic footprint conducted by the Danish Ministry for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs.

In 2020, the Danish life science industry exported for DKK 152bn (USD 23.2bn), corresponding to 21.5 percent of all exports from the country. The industry also invested DKK 16bn in research and development in the sector, making it responsible for more than one third of all R&D efforts in domestic private business in 2018.

"There is no doubt that the life science industry is doing something very special in Denmark. It is a position of strength, similar to the food and maritime industries," said the Danish minister for industry, business and financial affairs in Denmark, Simon Kollerup, when he presented the conclusions from the analysis in the Danish Chamber of Commerce.

"Things are full steam ahead in the life science industry," he added.

The footprint analysis also shows that exports made up over half the Danish life science industry's revenue in 2018, which amounted to DKK 246bn. In the same year, the industry contributed over DKK 24bn to public finances through income taxes from companies and individuals.

"My hope for the coming years is that the solutions developed by the life sciences industry are used even more quickly by the Danish healthcare system, acting as the obvious display window on behalf of Danish life science," Kollerup says in his speech.

He also points to the political need to help the life science industry become even stronger.

"That's why we took a very good step forward with the broad political agreement entailing a life science strategy, whose initiatives are already being rolled out, becoming reality," says Kollerup, who highlighted the new national partnership pertaining to healthcare data, the new vision for healthcare data and the stronger focus on healthcare diplomacy following the strategy, which was adopted in 2021.

"We are on the road, but we have yet to reach our goal," he underscores.

"The development potential is still enormous despite the very impressive figures already, which are presented year after year, and I'm looking forward to contributing in the many years to come," Kollerup says.

Denmark is a health nation

Peder Søgaard-Pedersen, who is head of life science at the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI, Dansk Industri), highlights that the life science industry in Denmark exported for DKK 152bn in 2020 despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which massively affected all business in the country.

"In our eyes, this makes it very clear that health is one of Denmark's biggest export successes, and with 22 percent of total exports, Denmark has to be described as a health nation. We live through research, development and exports of drugs, medical equipment and health IT in the same way we live through exports of food and energy and climate solutions," Søgaard-Pedersen says.

He also highlights the fact that employment in the life science industry is up by 23 percent from 2008 to 2018, whereas employment in the private sector has fallen by one percentage point in the same period.

"That's impressive, and it tells the story that when life science and health exports do well, Denmark also does well," Søgaard-Pedersen says.

Political attention

The strongly increasing key figures from the life science industry have been noticed by Danish politicians, too. During the past few years, they adopted two life science strategies to support the framework conditions of the industry.

Nevertheless, CEO at the Danish Chamber of Commerce Brian Mikkelsen recently told Danish business daily Børsen that the life science sector is "relatively neglected within politics."

DI's Søgaard-Pedersen thinks that politicians have opened their eyes to the life science sector but points out that there are still challenges.

"Taking into account this analysis, which has been released for a couple of years, and the ambitious life science strategy from April, one has to say the political focus has become bigger, and we would like to credit the government with having created a bigger political focus on how this sector is important for the Danish economy," Søgaard-Pedersen says, adding:

"The challenge right now, if we are to realize the potential within the life science industry, which points in the direction of us increasing our export from around DKK 150bn to over DKK 350bn in 2030, is the need for qualified labor. Our members say that there are 1,000 vacant positions in the industry – positions that they have attempted to fill by qualified people but have failed to do so."

He adds that the shortage could ultimately result in companies either not taking orders or offshoring activities to where there is more recruitment potential.

Does this mean that the access to labor is the biggest bump on the road toward reaching DKK 350bn in exports by 2030?

"Right now, labor is the warning sign blinking the most. In the longer term, there are also different business conditions, for instance the research tax deductions that the Danish government has proposed become permanent. We support this 100 percent and hope to see political support to remove the limitations on the industry's research and development muscles," Søgaard-Pedersen says.

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