Powering Life Science and Biotech Innovation: Nordic and Baltic countries join forces in ScanBalt

This initiative was later known as ScanBalt. Scanbalt would connect eastern Europe to the Nordics across the Baltic Sea. What started as an initiative to kick-start a research network has today become a leading actor in interregional cooperation. It also spurred on the establishment of one of the very first mega-regions.

“Our lives are about to change!”

The very heart of the ScanBalt project was to bridge European life sciences and biotechnology research. The promotion of dialogue and exchange of knowledge became key targets of the project. The advantages of Baltic Sea cooperation within life sciences were first raised high on the political agenda by Novo Nordisk vice chairman Børge Diderichsen in a meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in 2001. By January 2002, a working group had been formed, aiming to create a project proposal.

Nordic Innovation had already funded and organized several projects that included the Baltic region, and during 2002, Nordic Innovation Centre (Later known as Nordic Innovation) decided to co-fund a pilot project to develop the concept of a ScanBalt BioRegion. By December 2002, the vision of a project targeting four key areas was born. Educational mobility, economic barriers to borderless cooperation, organizational set-up as well as the “biotech – one click away” initiative, were the initial target areas for the project. The latter became essential to democratize research in life sciences. The project spanned 11 countries with 85 million inhabitants, 60 universities and 870 bio-related companies, creating a ‘mega-region’ that could compete in the international emerging biotech market.

“I don’t think anyone can imagine what revolutionary possibilities biotechnology will offer the health sector. Our lives are about to change!” Bergsråd Matti Sundberg, a profiled business owner from Finland, exclaimed after the launch and continued: “The industry is in a situation where it will need enormous resources to navigate the right ways. The problem is that there are not enough resources in each separate Nordic country. If we don’t cooperate there’s a risk the development will be fragmented or stop all together.”

In the infancy of the project, setting up a network for research institutions was key. With the help of this network the institutions were able to connect and exchange information. It also served as a guide to the institutions, helping researchers seek out opportunities for cooperation in the field. The ScanBalt forum came out of these initiatives.

Building lasting impact

By 2004, several ScanBalt Forums had been organized. The third was arranged and hosted by Bio-Turku in Finland. The ScanBalt Forum was established as a meeting place for the project in the ScanBalt umbrella. It also included other key stakeholders and decision makers to promote coordination and dialogue.

2004 also marked the year when ScanBalt became an independent, non-profit membership organization. This was an important step towards concretizing what had started as a vision to promote research cooperation across the Nordics and Eastern Europe.

Digitizing research and turning brain drain into brain mobility

“Biotech – one click away” was revolutionary in many ways. Today, research has never been more available, as googling has become a verb and access to knowledge is limitless. However, this has not always been the case. In the early 2000s, the internet was still new to many of us. The website saw the light of day in 2006. The website represents the very core of the project, as a bottom-up initiative where anyone can access relevant news and information from the project. “With the new website we have an effective tool for creating a one-stop-entry to the ScanBalt bioregion and for communication within the region. The aim is to provide a clear identity to the region, which will help to attract human and financial resources.” Jørgen Dirach, web steering group chairman, pronounced when the website went live.  

Mobility is another cornerstone of the project, including both mobility of humans and financial capital. Nordic Innovation co-funded the creation of databases along with EU FP6. One challenge for Eastern European countries is brain drain resulting from the mobility of people across Europe. With ScanBalt, the network sought to decrease the brain drain through educational mobility. Exchange possibilities in the ScanBalt region were able to turn brain drain into brain mobility through the introduction of the ScanBalt campus. Promoting a shared curriculum and network opportunities, students from the participating countries can explore their research fields from other countries, offering new ways of interacting in R&D.

Scanbalt today

Scanbalt is still alive and kicking and is today one of the most important innovative networks in Europe. Serving as a think tank, accelerator of projects, communication and match-making hub, it contributes to many regional projects. The ScanBalt Health Region is an EU flagship project, with the aim of developing the Baltic Sea Region into a globally leading and prosperous “Health Region” using the ScanBalt BioRegion as a model. And the ScanBalt Business Club facilitates business development and market access, reaching out to 3000+ companies, 50 university hospitals, 50 health care clusters and networks and 75 health care sector science parks.  

Nordic Innovation has continued to work on health and life science-related projects. The potential of expanding Nordic health and medtech companies in Nordic and international markets is still high on the agenda. So is the utilization and sharing of health data, in both public and private sector. From 2018-2021 the Health, Demography and Quality of Life program focused on health data, preventative health, healthy cities, and value chain collaboration. The initiatives have been continued through the AI and Data program and Life Science and Health Tech program running until 2024.


Nordic Innovation Center (now Nordic Innovation) was a key player in funding and starting the ScanBalt BioRegion

The organization became an independent, non-profit membership organization in 2004, however Nordic Innovation has continued to work with the organization

The ScanBalt BioRegion encompasses Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the northern part of Germany and northwestern Russia

Today, ScanBalt® MTÜ is Northern Europe’s Leading Accelerator for Inter-regional Cooperation envisioning the region as a Global Hotspot for Health and Bio Economy


Lena Henriksson - Head of Communication

Lena Henriksson

Head of Communication
Visionary change maker who believes in a good strategy. Combined communication and marketing expert with working experience from the broadcasting businesses Swedish Radio and UR. Walked from Media to Business and became responsible for marketing, corporate communication and PR in startups and institutes. Interested in making a difference with great communication.

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Sarah Hitz - Communication Adviser

Sarah Hitz

Communication Adviser
Sarah has a broad experience within marketing and communication from both the private sector and public organizations with the European Parliament as her proudest reference. Her main focus at Nordic Innovation is social media, but she is open to all aspects of communication. She has a strong passion for international collaboration with business development, education and freedom of movement as her main areas of interest.

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