Ráðstefna á vegum sænska sendiráðsins, KB banka og Íslenskrar erfðagreiningar
Valgerður Sverrisdóttir iðnaðar- og viðskiptaráðherra
Chairman - ladies and gentlemen.
It is interesting to note that the two most active research sectors here in Iceland are the fields of * Geo-Sciences and * Life-Sciences. In view of the unique geology of our country, with -volcanoes, -geysers and -glaciers, it is probably not unexpected that the Icelanders are greatly involved in Geoscience reearch. It is however not so obvious why we have emphasized research in Life Sciences to the same extent.
There are probably several reasons for this. One could be Iceland’;s unique resource in human genetics, a population with a known genealogy database, stretching back to the Nordic settlement of the country more than a thousand years ago. Another reason could be the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes the R&D community. This is of course influenced by the fact that it has always been necessary and natural for Icelanders to seek knowledge and new influence abroad.
Icelandic scientists have accordingly graduated from universities all over the world and brought back a great diversity of knowledge and experience. With reference to this, the Icelandic research community was said to be a melting pot of North American and European knowledge, which I feel is in a good correlation to the fact that Iceland is sitting on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that geologically divides these two continents.
Our small population of 300.000 people has a positive influence on the development of the Biomedical Sector. The widespread public acceptance and participation - is one of the distinct advantages that a small population offers for the development of the Life Sciences. Public trust in scientific research is high. People asked to take part in research projects generally respond positively - as they recognize the importance of scientific progress and in particular - within the field of Life Sciences. Without such a consensus the progress that we have seen in this field would have been much more difficult to accomplish.
Although general trust towards scientific research is high in Iceland, the topic occasionally enters into public debate. The question of a centralized genetic databank was for example debated heavily in the media – a few years ago. The debate raised several important issues, - some of which have since been resolved by legislation and regulations - primarily concerning biobanks and data protection. I belief that this debate has made it easier to utilize our genetic resources in the future by creating a general consensus on where to draw the line between scientific utilization - and protection of privacy as regards the processing of personal data.
Biobanks and Life Science Registers have been operated at the National University Hospital ever since 1934. The Icelandic Cancer Registry dates back to 1955 and contains records of all patients diagnosed as having cancer since then. A similar data registry of the Icelandic Heart Association has been operated since 1967 and is an important contributor to the research of heart diseases. More recently we have the Icelandic Genomics Corporation and deCode Genetics that carry out extensive genetic research using samples collected with informed consent from unidentifiable volunteers.
In spite of these long research traditions within the healthcare system our investments in R and D on national basis were relatively low until some 40 years ago. It used to be almost fully government-funded research - aimed primarily at the harnessing of our energy- and fisheries resources.
This has all changed now – and presently only about one-third of our R&D investments are government funded – half is financed by the private sector and almost one-fifth comes from abroad - through international co-operation. Now with R & D expenditure in excess of 3% of GDP, - technical sophistication and - progressive business environment, Iceland has experienced rapid economic growth – that is clearly evident in - the Life Sciences - the Pharmaceutical industry and - the Medical Technology Sectors.
The Globalization and the forces of the free market, have brought us prosperity. International R&D co-operation, as within the Nordic Alliance, has been important contributors. I have for several years participated in the co-operation of the Nordic Council of Ministers and witnessed what we can accomplish together. With this in mind I am in particular pleased to be here to day at this Iceland- Sweden Life Science Forum.
Ladies and gentlemen. I want to congratulate the organizers on putting together this conference and this excellent program – and for choosing this unique and dynamic venue here at deCode. I wish you all the best in your endeavors her today.
With these words I declare the Conference open