Finnish biobank collections are put to effective use

A large-scale international genetic research collaboration will be launched in Finland to find out how genetic variation can influence the onset, prevention and treatment of diseases and how this information may be used to develop new therapeutics. The project is focused on large scale genetic analysis of pre-existing tissue sample collections assembled at the THL Biobank and the University of Helsinki, and will be conducted in collaboration with world renowned academic institutions and international biopharmaceutical companies.

One of the world's leading genomic research laboratories, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University in the United States, will be performing the genetic analyses. The results of these analyses will be linked to health information in Finland, allowing the project to generate versatile research data for the purpose of studying the links between genes and health.

The analysis of data to identify potential links between genetic variations and diseases will be conducted in Finland. The results will be available to all the collaborators: the Finnish research institutes will increase their information capabilities and the pharmaceutical companies can use the new information for drug development purposes.

The researchers and pharmaceutical companies will not have access to the personal data of the Finnish sample donors. Furthermore, the pharmaceutical companies will have no access to the samples, and only the results of the sample analyses will be made available to the companies.

– This is an important international opportunity for THL Biobank to use its valuable collections to study links between genetic variation and health. This is an extremely expensive field of study and requires expertise in multiple fields. Most countries are not able to conduct this kind of research on their own, and therefore all countries investing in genetic research are pursuing international, and nearly global, collaboration, says Professor Erkki Vartiainen, Director of the Department of Health at THL.

– Developing new therapeutics to treat disease is highly challenging and expensive. Technological advances allow drug developers to make use of the existing genetic variations in the human population to identify specific causes of disease which could result in faster and more predictable development of new drugs. In Finland, we have exceptional possibilities to lead the way in this development, together with international partners, states Professor Aarno Palotie, the principal investigator in Finland, from the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) at the University of Helsinki.

The research project is a collaboration between the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland at the University of Helsinki, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the Broad Institute, as well as four international biopharmaceutical companies, Biogen, Eisai, MSD (known as Merck in the US and Canada) and Pfizer.

The Finnish Managing Directors of the pharmaceutical companies collaborating, on the project, Päivi Kerkola from Pfizer, Ilpo Tolonen from MSD and Marco Hautalahti from Biogen, describe the study as an important opening move to raise international awareness of Finnish potential in the field of pharmaceutical research as well as a token of the opportunities that companies and the public sector can together create to promote the objectives of the Health Sector Growth Strategy and the Genome Strategy of Finland. Nadeem Sarwar, Global Head of Genetics and Human Biology at Eisai Inc., in turn described the study as an excellent example of innovation and global multi-sector collaboration needed to catalyse delivery of important new medicines from human genetics to patients.

The Genome Strategy of Finland, published today by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, clarifies the principles of genetic research for individuals, health care professionals and researchers. One of the key objectives is to endorse collaboration between the public and private sectors in using genetic data and associated health information for purposes of research and development.


More information

Professor Erkki Vartiainen, Director of the Department of Health, National Institute for Health and Welfare, erkki.vartiainen at

Professor Aarno Palotie, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland FIMM, University of Helsinki, tel. +358 41 501 5915, aarno.palotie at

Managing Director Päivi Kerkola, Pfizer Oy, tel. +358 09 4300 40, paivi.kerkola at

Managing Director Ilpo Tolonen, MSD Oy, tel. +358 09 804 65 233 or +358 40 581 9133, ilpo.tolonen at

General Manager Marco Hautalahti, Biogen Finland Oy, tel. +358 400 493613, marco.hautalahti at

Communications Director Cressida Robson, Eisai Oy, Cressida_Robson at