Faculty of Pharmacy facing the future with optimism

2020-08-26

The playing field has been redrawn many times since Sweden's only Faculty of Pharmacy was established at Uppsala University, but neither political squalls nor industrial giants in exile prevent researchers at Uppsala Biomedicine Center from facing the future with optimism.

“We have without a doubt come far in our 52 years at Uppsala University, and today, our faculty is internationally renowned, but we also know that every time the industrial landscape changes shape, we are faced with new conditions.”

Margareta Hammarlund-Udenaes, has every reason to be pleased while looking back on her recently completed term of office as dean at Uppsala's and Sweden's only Faculty of Pharmacy. Not least the jubilee year of 2018, a great success as the organization consolidated its increasingly central position in Swedish pharmaceutical development, and with a series of well-attended symposia gathered both national and European expertise in Uppsala.

“When the pharmaceutical giants left Sweden, they made room for the wave of smaller biotech companies now sitting in the driver's seat. Unfortunately, some of the new companies lack adequate pharmaceutical expertise, and if our country is to remain a competitive base for pharmaceutical development, we have to meet at the same table and act with coordinated efforts.”

The pharmaceutical arena has undeniably been fundamentally redrawn since July 1968, when the Pharmaceutical Institute in Stockholm moved north to be integrated into Uppsala University. Håkan Rydin, who was appointed first dean, and his three fellow professors were given a temporary home in the Wallenberg Laboratory while awaiting the completion of Uppsala Biomedicine Center. The faculty's initial focus was on education and among one of the early baches of students was Uli Hacksell, later a portal figure in international pharmacy.

“When we began our studies, technical development was still in its infancy and the winds from the political left had reached the pharmaceutical world, which among other things resulted in the state monopoly on pharmacy operations. So today's students often have a hard time understanding when I try to describe the educational environment we experienced,” explains Uli Hacksell, who earned his Master of Science in Pharmacy in 1976.

In parallel, Pharmacia's Managing Director Gösta Virding was cultivating great plans for the company's future. At Uppsala's southern approaches, new offices were shooting up and the proximity to the Faculty of Pharmacy soon became a vital success factor in the company's journey from a regional affair to an international conglomerate.

“In 1973, the adjunct professors were established, employed and paid by industry but teaching and supervising research at the University. They became a bridge between academia and business, and it’s easy to see a connection to the dynamic development that the Swedish pharmaceuticals industry was on the verge of at the beginning of the 1970s and that culminated over the next two decades,” reasons Richard Bergström, who graduated with a degree in pharmacy from Uppsala in 1998, recently appointed Sweden's vaccine coordinator and for many years President of the European Pharmaceutical Industry Association, EFPIA.

Today, Pharmacia has long since abandoned Uppsala. Fragments of the company's biotech activities indeed remain, but are now under the direction of GE Healthcare. The exclusive rights of the stateowned Apoteksbolaget to conduct retail sales of pharmaceuticals ended in 2009 when the market was reopened to private actors, and do we possibly sense a return to the playing field of the early 1960s? No, on the contrary, according to Hacksell.

“Pharmacy today is characterised by major technological gains that have contributed to the almost explosive development of pharmaceuticals and therapies. Fantastic progress is being made in natural remedies, antibodies and gene therapies, creating conditions for curing more and more diseases, and managing chronic conditions to enable patients to live normal lives.”

In medical terms, all is well then, but globally successful pharmaceutical industries also play an economical role. In Sweden, Big Pharma has been a pillar of both job creation and exports. Smaller individual companies do not have the capacity to take over this role, which places further responsibility on the currently nearly 300 employees of the Faculty of Pharmacy.

Margareta Hammarlund-Udenaes

“Swedish pharmaceutical development is in a critical phace. Life Science is today a national success factor, but if we want to experience fifty more years of success, we must combine our strengthsand move forward unitred. Here, our faculty plays a key role as a coordinating force, and we have recently taken a leading position in a number of important collaborative initiatives,” says Margareta Hammarlund-Udenaes.

These include ENABLE, the European collaboration aimed at supporting the development of potential antibiotics against gram-negative bacteria. Also EATRIS, a European research infrastructure for the development of medical tools and treatments. Uppsala University is Swedish node and Mats Larhed, national director and professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, describes the wide interest in the possibilities now opening up.

“EATRIS is like a network where you can quickly access the right expertise, and the response among Swedish universities and pharmaceutical companies is very positive. Small-scale industry is eager to access the knowledge and resources of academia, and researchers see added value in contributing their expertise. Extensive European collaboration has already already begun and show sign of considerable synergies.”

In Sweden, in the summer of 2020, SweDeliver, a new national competence center with a focus on drug supply, was launched. With an academic hub at the Uppsala Biomedical Center, academia and industry have gained a meeting place that among other things comprises a research program focusing on science and effective industrial research utilisation.

“We conduct the work through three different platforms where interaction and forum-wide activities guarantee transparency and influence for all parties. Vinnova's financial support enables us to build for the long-term and contribute to new pharmaceuticals, better treatments and stronger conditions for the Swedish Life Science sector over time,” says Christel Bergström, professor of molecular galenic pharmacy, leading the work at SweDeliver.

Despite several high-profile commitments, the faculty needs to further increase its visibility. One of the challenges is that pure pharmaceutical research often tends to fall in between chemistry, medicine and health in the major calls for proposals. An investment in doctoral educations is also high on the wish list.

“If Swedish pharmacy is to continue to translate ideas into pharmaceuticals, the industry must have access to a competent workforce, but the fact is that the number of dissertations at our faculty has not increased in 30 years,” states Margareta Hammarlund-Udenaes. “Several companies are aware of the situation and co-finance doctoral positions in pharmacometry, among other subjects, but this is far from enough. We are therefore now devoting considerable energy to our outreach agenda, though at the same time we have to maintain our focus on continuing to conduct high-quality research.”

Several of the faculty's researchers are active on front lines of pharmacy, but positions are constantly shifting and the tug-of-war for new talents is becoming harder. One rapidly advancing science is immunotherapy, where the body's immune system is used and reinforced against cancer cells. Uppsala University's Thomas Tötterman and Angelica Loskog established leading research environments early on, a platform that today is continuing to develop under the leadership of Sara Mangsbo, Associate Professor and Aassistant Senior Lecturer in antibody pharmaceuticals.

Sara Mangsbo, Associate Professor
Sara Mangsbo, Associate Professor

“I arrived from industry in 2016 when a grant gave me scope to resume my research. Our team does well at the faculty, and today I divide my time between universities, business and the network I started in order to strengthen the ties between laboratory and clinic. Given the right conditions, I am convinced that within fifteen years we will have better immune-oncological diagnostic tools and more biological pharmaceuticals. Right now it is easy to feel enthusiastic in our field, and Uppsala increasingly clearly stands out as the right city to be in.”

The Faculty of Pharmacy

1968  Farmaceutiska Institutet is integrated into Uppsala University as the Faculty of Pharmacy.
1973 Adjunct professors are established with employment in industry and service at the university, thus forming a bridge between academia and business.
1975 All of the faculty's departments are on site in Uppsala's Biomedicine Center.
1976 The National Board of Health and Welfare's pharmaceutical department (from 1990 the Swedish Medical Products Agency) moves its operations to Uppsala and becomes a neighbor of the Faculty of Pharmacy.
1977 The faculty appoints Arvid Carlsson, pharmacologist and later Nobel laureate, as honorary doctor.
1990 The faculty takes an active part in the formation of the ULLA consortium, the purpose of which is to strengthen European research and postgraduate education in the field of pharmaceuticals.
1992 The faculty reorganizes and eleven departments become three.
1994 The Wallenberg Foundation and Astra allocate SEK 30 million to the faculty's doctoral programs in Galenic pharmacy.
1999 Uppsala University's faculties of pharmacy and medicine unite in the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy.
2001 Thomas Lönngren, a faculty alumni graduated in Uppsala in 1976, is appointed head of the European Medicines Agency.
2006 Anders Hallberg, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, is appointed rector of Uppsala University.
2018 The Faculty of Pharmacy celebrates 50 years at Uppsala University.
2020 SweDeliver, the national competence center with a focus on drug delivery is inaugurated with the Faculty of Pharmacy being the academic hub.

text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt et al.

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Last modified: 2021-06-22