As Medicon Valley‘s visitors introduced themselves to their Research Triangle Park hosts, members of the Scandinavian delegation took care to note whether they speak Danish, Swedish or both.

Medicon Valley is the life sciences cluster in Northern Europe, encompassing eastern Denmark and southwest Sweden. The cluster, spanning the Oresund Strait, includes 4 million inhabitants; 10 universities; 14,000 univeristy researchers; 32 hospitals and 450 companies and seven science parks.

But although Medicon Valley has firmly established itself as a European sciences hub, the region has always cast its eyes for opportunities beyond Europe.

For two days, those eyes were set on North Carolina as a group of 30 Medicon Valley representatives toured the Research Triangle. The visit was capped by a Tuesday night gathering at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center that brought scientists and companies from Scandinavia together with their counterparts in North Carolina.

Their common language was nanotechnology.

Medicon Valley’s formation sounds much like the development of Research Triangle Park more than 50 years ago. In the mid-1990s, the life science industry and public officials in Denmark and Sweden joined together to market the region as a life sciences hub. The Oresund region already had a strong biotechnology presence. Pharmaceutical companies Novo Nordisk (NYSE:NVO), AstraZeneca (NYSE:AZN) and Lundbeck (CPH:LUN) are based there or have major operations in the region. From those foundations, Medicon Valley grew to become one of the most prominent research hubs in Europe.

The North Carolina visit was coordinated through the Center of Innovation in Nanobiotechnology, the North Carolina nanobiotech group better known as COIN. Jim Roberts, COIN’s business development director, met with Medicon Valley representatives last year during the annual conference of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. COIN arranged the delegation’s tours of North Carolina State University, RTI International, Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and RTP nanotechnology company Liquidia Technologies.

Over the course of the two days, researchers shared their nanomedicine work on targeted drug delivery. Vaccine delivery. Drug toxicity. Scandinavians and North Carolinians shared the same language with the same terminology. And in the end, there was one more shared word: beer. It was at that point I caught up with Thomas Andersen, a researcher at the Technical University of Denmark whose work focuses on nanoparticles. He explained his research into developing imaging agents that could illuminate the distribution of a drug or the presence of a tumor.

The nanotechnology community is collegial and Andersen said that he knew of the work of North Carolina nanotechnology pioneer Joseph DeSimone from his published work as well as through meetings at conferences. Andersen has yet to partner with anyone in North Carolina. He hopes to share what he has learned as well as gain from partnerships that could include research or even clinical trials. Even though Andersen has a wealth of connections in Europe, he’s optimistic U.S. partnerships could help him even more.

“If everything stays locked in, you move much more slowly,” he said.

Words every researcher can understand.

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