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Finnish hospital biobanks promote research both nationally and internationally

Medaffcon has in collaboration with the University of Eastern Finland assessed the operational status of the Finnish hospital biobanks. The aim of the survey was to map the current functionalities of the hospital biobanks and to explore their existing and future opportunities to support academic and industry-driven research efforts. This article summarizes the survey and describes briefly how the six hospital biobanks have created a unique research infrastructure in Finland.

Finnish research ecosystem supports new innovative approaches to study diseases and promote health and wellbeing. One of the key operators in this development is the unique network of Finnish biobanks that collects and provides access to biological samples and related data for high-quality research. The Finnish biobank network contains currently ten registered and operational biobanks; six regional hospital biobanks, three national biobanks and one private biobank. In addition, the 2017 founded Finnish Biobank Cooperative (FINBB) serves and facilitates the development of its member biobanks and provides a one-stop-shop for a centralized access to biobank sample collections.

Current activities of the Finnish hospital biobanks

Finnish hospital biobanks, owned by the hospital districts and universities, operate in determined geographical and healthcare regions of Finland (Figure 1). Their population bases differ accordingly, the largest biobank being the Helsinki Biobank that covers 2 million inhabitants. By May 2018, archived diagnostic sample collections, consisting of 11 million samples from three million individuals, as well as selected research collections gathered in the hospital districts, had been transferred to the biobanks. The latter includes, for example, the Finnish maternity cohort, FMC, a globally unique sample collection consisting of two million serum samples obtained from one million women stored in Biobank Borealis of Northern Finland.

In addition to retrospective samples, collected before the Biobank Act took effect, all hospital biobanks are actively gathering new prospective samples from consented people. By May 2018, close to 80 000 new samples had been collected. With the uniformly high motivation, support from the hospital districts and launch of new research efforts, such as FinnGen, the pace of collecting new samples is expected to rise quickly in the upcoming years.

Finnish hospital biobanks
Figure 1. Finland has six registered, operational hospital biobanks. These biobanks are owned by the corresponding hospital districts and universities, and they operate in determined healthcare regions in Finland. Figure demonstrates the demographic locations of the hospital biobanks, population coverage and the timepoints of starting the consent and sample gathering.

Hospital biobanks have facilitated new research activity in Finland

Already now, just five and half years after the Biobank Act took force, numerous studies have been initiated that utilize biological material and related data governed by the hospital biobanks. By May 2018 there were already close to two hundred positive decisions made regarding biobank study requests. Of these, 62 % involved research efforts with public and 38 % with private sector partners. Private sector partners included both Finnish and international companies.

Through high-quality samples and associated data, the six Finnish hospital biobanks provide excellent opportunities to study diseases and facilitate the development of individualized therapies. This has led to the initiation of both national and international biobank research activities in Finland. To further advance this development, there are currently several actions ongoing in Finland that aim to support the use of health and wellbeing data. The main reform concerns the legislation regarding the law for secondary use of health and social data, the genome law and the revision of the biobank Act.

While there are currently hundreds of biobanks in Europe and only a fraction of them reside in Finland, Finnish biobanking stands out due to several strengths and has the potential of claiming the forefront in biobank research activities also internationally.

Finnish biobanking enables world-class research opportunities to pharmaceutical companies

The vast possibilities provided by the Finnish biobanks have been well recognized by the pharmaceutical industry. Access to biological samples and associated health data can be used to accelerate drug development at various phases, from early target discovery to setting up advanced clinical trials. Real World Evidence-based studies that utilize health information available through biobanks and health registries have an increasing role in decision-making.

“Finnish Biobanking as shown in the recent biobanking report enables world-class health research and usage of technological knowhow to speed up pharmaceutical research and development.

Open source population-based biobanks and innovation-friendly biobank legislation, advanced digital health environment with comprehensive healthcare registers and electronic medical records, and the Finnish isolated gene pool offer great opportunities for drug target discovery, clinical research and Real World Evidence production for value generation purposes.

The biobanking research possibilities are wide from fast registry data collection to replace e.g. market surveys to deeper translational science possibilities e.g. finding new biomarkers or root causes for diseases when medicine is turning into more personalized era.

Huge possibilities in to speed up clinical trials and drug discovery should be of interest of any research based pharmaceutical company globally.”

Klaus Tamminen, Medical Director, Takeda Finland and Baltics.

Watch a video on the topic

Medaffcon’s Jr. Scientific Project Manager, Werneri Tuompo, talked about the Finnish Hospital Biobanks in our customer evening. Watch a recording of the speech below.

Access the full report

The original report is accessible for free download from Medaffcon website.

“The findings in total were encouraging and shed light on the fact that Finland has a great potential for being a forerunner in RWE and biobank research”. Jaana Ahlamaa, Medical Director, Medaffcon Oy.

Further reading

Navigating the real world data (RWD) landscape in Finland

Biobanking in Finland & Personalized Medicine Journal

More information regarding to Biobanks

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