Alumna Nina Rawal - Making better use of knowledge from a global sustainability perspective

During fall of 2019, Karolinska Institutet (KI) received a visit from alumna Nina Rawal, who gave an inspiring lecture on alternative career paths for researchers at the CHASE career fair. Nina, who holds a MSc in Biomedicine and a PhD in Molecular Neurobiology, both from KI, is a role model for this with her own focus on connecting research and entrepreneurship.

Nina Rawal

Nina Rawal has just published a white paper highlighting the importance of mobilising capital for investments in companies that develop products to treat diseases affecting low- and middle-income countries.

The white paper focuses on so-called venture capital investments, where companies in early stage development and with great potential, receive capital and support from investors to help bring their products to market faster. Venture capital companies primarily prioritise projects with scalable, unique products that can generate a good financial return, and the life science industry is no exception. Since low- and middle-income countries have limited health budgets, most drugs and other medical solutions are largely developed to meet the needs of the Western world.

It is possible to do good – and generate good returns

Nina wants to turn the idea on its head and show that it is possible to combine commercial benefits with human benefits, something that she herself has experience with. For example, Nina was rewarded the title 'Investor of the Year 2016' by Life Science Sweden for her work at Industrifonden, where she was Head of Life Science.

“After my dissertation at KI, I had set my sights on a postdoctoral fellowship in New York. I interviewed in several labs, but something didn’t feel quite right. I realised that I wanted to explore different things and was looking for the opportunity to put research into practice, rather than just delving further into research”, Nina says.

The answer was a position at Boston Consulting Group that paved the way into the business world. Changing her focus from scientific issues to profitability proved to be somewhat of a cultural challenge at first. Nina was born and raised in the Swedish city of Örebro, but had also spent parts of her childhood in the United States and India, where many of her relatives live.

“A large part of my family is active in health care, so it was the topic of many dinner conversations while growing up. Having spent time in India and the US from an early age, I have also seen injustices and differences in care compared to, for example, Sweden”, Nina continues. “Combined with my academic background from KI, the sole focus on profitability felt a bit narrow.”

White paper by Nina Rawal

Development with a global perspective

In order to balance her profit-oriented work, Nina chose, among other things, to work on pro bono projects in New York as well as with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in Stockholm.

Eventually, Nina began working as an investment manager within the area of life science at Industrifonden, a venture capital fund. The fund evaluates early stage life science with the purpose of making investments. When the fund chooses to invest, it becomes an active partner and a member of the board, with the aim of driving and accelerating the company through clinical trials and thereafter to market. Over time, however, Nina began to think more about how science and research could be combined with a commercial purpose to create tangible benefits for people – not just in the Western world, but globally.

“After a while I came to a point where I had spent many years building companies developing medicines for high-income countries. I felt a strong desire to focus on a more global perspective”, Nina explains further.

The importance of collaboration

Nina's thoughts are fully in line with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in particular the goal of Good health and well-being. Currently, there is only one fund in the world with a focus on low and middle-income countries, created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nina is now working to start a new fund with a similar approach – to invest in companies that develop cost-effective products that can benefit more people.

“Today, there is a huge funding gap, which is one of the main reasons why the global sustainability goal number 3 is at risk of not being met. It is therefore important to find cost-effective treatments for low and middle-income countries, based on their particular needs. A large part of the funding must come from the private sector”, Nina says.

In her white paper, ‘Investing for good – the case for venture capital in global health', Nina highlights the opportunities and benefits of investing in global health. She believes that it is possible to generate profit and, at the same time, to do good. Among other things, Nina presents a toolbox that can serve as a starting point when considering investments in the global health field.

At KI, Nina teaches in the course “Science to Business” which highlights the importance of translating research results into concrete, useful solutions. In her work with her white paper, she has, among other things, discussed and exchanged ideas with KI's Department of Global Health, a collaboration that she sees as very valuable.

“This type of collaboration – where research meets entrepreneurship – is extremely important for the development of the industry. After all, we are working towards the same goal – to solve unmet medical needs on a global scale”, Nina concludes.