This post is partly based on my speech at the inaguration ceremony today, Friday
Today is a historic day at Karolinska Institutet. On this very day we inaugurate Biomedicum – our new research center for world-class biomedical science. Here our researchers will unravel the fundamentals of life. Here our researchers will work across disciplines in pursuit of new ideas and breakthroughs. Here our researchers and staff will reach out to other research environments in the Stockholm region and beyond. And here we will live up to what a university is all about: the creative meetings between generations, between teacher and student, between mentor and mentoree. Biomedicum is about research, but also about education.
On a personal note: the Biomedicum project is one of the reasons why I took up the position as president of Karolinska Institutet – one of the reasons why I came here in the first place. The potentials of this project were persuasive. I have travelled to many campuses across the world, and in few if any places have I seen potentials and possibilities on a comparable scale. Obviously, the potentials and possibilities reside in the layout of the building and in the quality of the infrastructure, but first and foremost they reside in the competence of those that work and study here.
Proximity counts even in the digital age
What attracts lies not only in what Biomedicum contains, but in what surrounds it. In our digital age, it is paradoxical how much proximity counts. Proximity is important, because ideas develop and grow when and where researchers meet. Physical encounters matter even when colleagues are only keystrokes away. Biomedicum enjoys a proximity to SciLife lab, a proximity to the new building for comparative medicine – and Solnavägen is the only gap that separates Biomedicum from the clinical research environments in Bioclinicum and Campus North. Now we need to make Solnavägen even narrower, and this is what the skywalk shall help us do.
Collaborative partners within short distance
If we look further beyond we realize that Biomedicum is within short distance of two leading universities – Stockholm University and KTH. This is important. We must be humble enough to realize that we – as a medical university – need access to the humanities, to the social sciences, and to technology. The complexity of modern medicine is such that our own discipline must be complemented by insight offered by others. Medical research and education must be seen in the widest of contexts. We cannot allow new medical technologies to be introduced to societies that are ill-equipped to handle them.
Improving human health
Biomedicum will facilitate interaction, collaboration and the sharing of experiences, ideas and technologies across scientific borders. The vision is to be a catalyst for ground breaking medical science, aiming at improving human health. With this new laboratory building now in place and a new hospital building close by, and with a matching development of the Flemingsberg campus, I see few regions in the world that surpass ours when it comes to prospects for just this – improving human health.
The largest project
The inauguration of Biomedicum marks the end of an eventful year in the history of Karolinska Institutet. In the course of 2018, 60 percent of our personnel and approximately 80 percent of our experimental research activity have moved into new buildings. It has been a pleasure to see how our personnel has conquered new premises at Flemingsberg and new buildings at either side of Solnavägen. Biomedicum is by far the largest project in KI’s major infrastructure programme. With an area of 44,000-plus square metres, this laboratory building accommodates five KI departments with a capacity for 1600 employees. Apart from research laboratories, Biomedicum contains offices and meeting spaces for conferences and other large gatherings.
Benchmarking with the best
The new infrastructure – at Solna and Flemingsberg – represents major investments for the future. For these investments to bear fruit we must benchmark with the best.
A few days ago I engaged in a telephone conference with Sir Paul Nurse, director of Francis Crick Institute in London. In many ways, the Crick Institute is an ideal benchmarking institution for Biomedicum. Like Biomedicum, it brings disciplines together in the realms of basic research. Like Biomedicum, it promises to deliver breakthroughs for the benefit of human health. In our telephone conference we agreed to exchange visits on an annual or biannual basis. I do hope that there will be an interest in this. These visits could be coupled to top level lectures as nodal points for a broader discourse and sharing of experiences between twin institutions.
Speaking of lectures, time should now be ripe for establishing a lecture series more locally, alternating between Bioclinicum and Biomedicum. I know that initiatives already have been taken in this direction, and I appreciate this. Such lecture series could promote the much needed interaction across Solnavägen and facilitate translation and implementation of new results and ideas.
Seamless movement of ideas
The most important thing about Biomedicum is not the building itself, but what happens within. The architects have beautifully designed a building that encourages interaction – that inspires people to move between quarters and between floors. If there is any common denominator of successful research institutes it is exactly this: the smooth and seamless movement of people and ideas across disciplines and departmental borders. The recipe for success is removal of constraints. Academic freedom has a physical connotation.
We have much to build on
Past performance bodes well for success. The researchers that now have moved into Biomedicum have excelled in gaining external funding, in sharp competition nationally and internationally. Many have been awarded prizes and honors, many have extensive international networks, and many have developed their research into innovations or products. In the period 1995 – 2010 – the last period for which we have complete statistics – more than 3300 patents were filed by KI researchers. Close to 40 percent of these emanated from the five departments that now inhabit Biomedicum. A number of extant enterprises and companies build on discoveries that were made by Biomedicum researchers. We have much to build on.
Based on past performance, there are all reasons to predict that Biomedicum will constitute a hub in what will emerge as a vibrant life science cluster in the Stockholm region. My vision is exactly this: that our new infrastructure will form the core of a world leading life science cluster. This ambition is aligned with the ambition embedded in the political program of the new Stockholm County government. This program states that by the year 2023 the Stockholm region should be among the top five life science regions in the world. Rest assured: we will help our politicians realize this ambition.
I have talked about Biomedicum in the context of research and education. My vision is that Biomedicum will contribute significantly also to the so-called third task; public outreach. Space has been allocated to a visitors’ center. Let us make this space into a dynamic meeting place between excellent science and those that are curious to know what excellent science is all about. Trust in science is paramount, and trust in science is something that must be gained by hard work. It does not arise all by itself.
Many are those that deserve our thanks and gratitude on this occasion: C.F. Möller Architects; Nyréns Arkitektkontor; Akademiska Hus; Skanska; our Property Department and Facility Management. Biomedicum was completed within budget – in fact, the costs incurred were more than 350 million SEK less than budgeted. We should also thank all the individuals inside and outside of KI that have been involved in this groundbreaking project from the early planning stage until its completion. I cannot mention them all.
The hurdles of transition
“It hurts when buds are breaking” as Karin Boye famously wrote. “It hurts for that which grows and that which bars.” Indeed, the transition into Biomedicum has not been without its trials and tribulations. First and foremost for the personnel in the Biomedicum itself, but also for KI at large. I know that the Facility Management does its utmost to reduce the pain and hurdles of transition – and I can assure you that the university leadership will continue to keep a keen eye on how Biomedicum develops. That Biomedicum will flourish is beyond any doubt.
More about Biomedicun on this blog (in Swedish). Read also about the nomination of Biomedicum as the “Building of the year” (Årets bygge).