Finland – The next generation research & innovation platform for pharma companies?

In addition to their one of a kind “sisu”, the Finns happen to have a unique genome. This is one of the reasons that make the country and its population an attractive subject for research and development. Heiko Runz, Head of Genetics at Merck, finds Finland as an especially informative place to discover genetic data effecting most common human health issues.

How would you describe Finland as a research environment from the perspective of a big pharma company?

"Every individual carries numerous genetic variants in its genome that make him or her unique - and in some cases protect from or increase risk for disease. We believe that thanks to their unique population history, Finns are especially informative for making genetic discoveries. This has been demonstrated not the least by many years of pioneering academic research in Finland, which ranges from the discovery of novel genetic causes for a fair number of rare genetic syndromes to establishing new technologies that now allow us to better understand how genetics contributes to the most common human health issues, such as cardiovascular or neuropsychiatric diseases."

To sum up, what do you see as Finland´s most important strengths as a partner for research & development?

"Beyond its genetic resources, Finland distinguishes itself through a well functioning health system where patient data are systematically documented over many years. There are several large biobanks with tissues and patient samples for thousands of individuals and a biobank act that enables linking genetics with clinical data. Most importantly, however, we have experienced the Finns as open-minded and participatory people with a dedication to contribute towards solving important challenges in biomedical research. If all of this can be maintained, and if the multiple successful initiatives in Finland can be brought together, Finland will be a highly attractive partner for research and development."

The field of digital health is developing on a rapid speed. How do you think it could best serve the needs of big pharma companies in the future?

"There are tremendously rapid developments in the biotech and digital health sector. Already now, the playground for start-up companies to come up with clever solutions for an array of challenges that may not even have existed two years ago is vast, and expected to grow further. It is a pleasure to see how well Finnish startups are placing themselves in this highly dynamic field, and how they are able to keep up and in some instances lead the race. By nature, the chief business of pharma is drug development, so any new tools that may help to speed up the development of new, safer and more efficient drugs are very welcome."

Have you noticed any especially interesting focus points in the Finnish start up scene? If so, what are they?

"As a geneticist and physician I am certainly biased towards innovative initiatives that help us to better understand the human genome, link genetics with large scale clinical data, generate new insights into human pathologies and provide the platform to efficiently communicate with patients and their families. It is great to see that all these topics are being addressed in the Finnish start up scene, and I hope we will soon hear a lot more from these young and exciting companies. "

This interview was made during a Team Finland Health trip to USA.

Read more about Team Finland Health trip

Text: Elina Räihä

Pia Mörk
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