New business activities from biobank data reserves

Biobanks present good opportunities for generating new business activities in Finland, provided they get going with cooperatively commercialising the utilisation of their data reserves – and without delay.

This is brought to light in a report commissioned by Tekes. The report is aimed at giving a boost to discussions about the utilisation of biobank business opportunities.

"Diligent background research is one of Finns' strengths, but the same can't be said for swiftness of action", said Tekes Director Pekka Kahri. "In making use of biobank business opportunities both diligence and swift action are needed. The time window for being able to compete internationally will close in a couple of years."

New business and better treatments

There are thousands of biobanks in the world today. Recently several population-based biobanks have been established (in Estonia, UK, and Germany), into which tens of millions of euros have been invested. In both Norway and Denmark there are large biobanks which also have established operating principles for utilising, subject to permission, dozens of national registers.

Finland's Biobank Act came into force last year. Licences based on this Act have so far been granted to four biobanks: Auria Biobank, The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) Biobank, the Finnish Hemotologia Register and Biobank (FHRB) and the HUB Biobank. In addition to these, five other biobanks are already far on in the application process and are expected to receive their biobank licences at the start of 2015.

Biobanks have a central role in the development of personalised care. The most significant benefit to emerge from biobank operations is indeed the development of more cost-efficient medical care practices. The global pharmaceutical industry is especially interested in personalised care as it relates to their own product development. "If we can attract new medical research to Finland, it could significantly impact on the growth of biobank business activities", believes Tekes Executive Director Minna Hendolin. The possibilities are good thanks to the top-level clinical medical research carried out in Finland, but there is still work to be done on Finnish competence in marketing.

The report estimated that the international pharmaceutical industry uses 1-10% of its research budget on biobank-based commercial projects. In Finland this could mean a yearly €3-20 billion of investment in the industry between 2017 and 2020. Reaching such high investment figures is not however a given, but rather it demands quick and purposeful development of biobanks and construction of a shared basic infrastructure.

The one-door principle – Biobank Finland

The report suggested that biobanks should establish a joint business unit which would be responsible for the design, implementation and marketing of all biobank business activities. It would open up a single entry point for companies seeking biobank services. In preparing this commercialisation platform, progress would be achieved by establishing a common coordinated message, the use of standardised consent forms, a shared database for sample data accessibility, and shared practices for IT systems.

In addition to a common infrastructure, other recognised development needs include enhancing ethical committee operations and renewing legislation regarding registers so that the opportunity for combining data which is inherent in biobanks would become actually possible in practice. There is also a need to establish a national quality register so that the treatments given and their resulting effectiveness would be systematically and consistently recorded.

Biopankkien liiketoimintamahdollisuudet -selvitys (pdf, in Finnish)

The report was commissioned by Tekes and produced by M.I.T. Consulting Oy.

Further information about biobanks

Biobanks store biological sample and other data regarding research subjects, all of which are collected with the subject's permission. The biobank concept is different to that of a normal research sample collection in the sense that biobanks do not collect samples only for one particular research project, but rather for different kinds of future research needs.

Samples and the data associated with them are an important resource for medical research. For example, samples can be used for researching the causal mechanisms of different diseases or for the development of different diagnostic procedures and their validation (ensuring their effectiveness). The sample and data material can also be used as an aid in developing what is known as 'personalised medicine', which aims to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases using methods which are adapted to be suitable for each individual patient.

Pia Mörk
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