Prize to fast-growing firm counting on new drugs

porträtt av Mats Karlsson

In 2001, Mats Karlsson was appointed the world's first professor of pharmacometrics at Uppsala University. Photo: Marcus Holmqvist

The 2024 Uppsala University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Prize goes to Mats Karlsson, Professor of Pharmacometrics. It all started when ten researchers and pharmaceutical experts founded a consultancy firm together. Ten years later, Pharmetheus has 100 employees in Uppsala and other countries.

The citation for the prize, which will be presented in April, reads as follows: “Together with his research team, he has successfully transformed academic excellence from a world-class research environment into a prominent and viable consultancy firm.”

“It's great to be recognised in this way, not only for me but also for everyone who works at our company,” says Karlsson.

Pharmacometrics involves using mathematical models based on physiology and pharmacology to improve pharmaceutical therapy for patients. At Pharmetheus, staff mainly work as consultants to large pharmaceutical companies to help them design and analyse clinical trials.

“We help design studies, analyse and interpret studies, and inform decision-making. A lot of work goes into preparing companies before an application for approval of their medicines. It’s a matter of how drugs should be dosed, but also about quantifying their effects and side effects,” explains Karlsson.

World's first professor of pharmacometrics

Back in 1994, Karlsson began to build up a large research group in the then relatively new subject of pharmacometrics at Uppsala University. In 2001, he was appointed the world's first professor of the subject.

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Alongside his research, he has spent the last ten years helping to set up the fast-growing consultancy Pharmetheus, which now employs over 100 people.

“When I work at the company, it's as a consultant, so it doesn't take much time. I’m also on the board and was the chairperson for the first ten years, but stepped down last year. The company is getting so big now that it feels more secure to have a professional chair. But it has been great fun to learn how to run a business,” he says with a smile.

Today, Pharmetheus has 100 employees and customers all over the world. Half of all the consultants work at the Uppsala office, with the others scattered across ten offices globally.

International research team

Much of Karlsson's work still takes place at the University, where he teaches and supervises doctoral students. The research team is also very international, attracting doctoral students from every corner of the globe.

“Less than a tenth of our doctoral students and postdocs are Swedish, so it's a very international environment. We’re also very welcoming and never say no if someone wants to come and visit us for a few months and collaborate with someone in the group,” he adds.

Many people trained by the group go on to work for pharmaceutical companies or consultancy firms such as Pharmetheus. Karlsson views mobility between the University and industry as something positive.

“Sometimes our doctoral or postdoc students take a sabbatical for a temporary position in the company, perhaps for six months. It’d quite popular and many people find it useful to try it out.”

Internationally renowned research environment

Uppsala University's pharmacometrics research group is internationally renowned. The group's methodology development and software are used all over the world.

“Every year we hold a large summer school in Uppsala that attracts doctoral students from many different countries. We also award scholarships to some of the students,” explains Karlsson.

He sees it as a great advantage to be able to conduct both innovative academic research and more applied activities at the consultancy firm. The company Pharmetheus has won the Dagens Industri “Gazelle of the Year” award five times for its rapid expansion, demonstrating the success of its model.

Annica Hulth

Uppsala University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Prize

From the prize citation:

“The recipient of the 2024 Uppsala University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Prize has paved the way for a completely new field of research that creates great value for patients, the pharmaceutical industry and society. Together with his research team, he has successfully transformed academic excellence from a world-class research environment into a prominent and viable consultancy firm. Their collective commitment and expertise have created a strong link between academia and the pharmaceutical community, and has been instrumental in positioning the company as a key player in drug development worldwide.”

The founders behind Pharmatheus

Pharmetheus was founded by an entire team together with Mats Karlsson. All of them are currently active at the firm in different roles: Mats Karlsson, Lena Friberg, Ulrika Simonsson, Martin Bergstrand, Andy Hooker, Marie Sandström, Elodie Plan, Joakim Nyberg, Niclas Jonsson and Mats Magnusson.

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