Sanna Lauslahti from Pharma Industry Finland: Science brings hope even to the hopeless

Every third Finn develops cancer at some point of their life. Cancer can affect each of us through the illness of a child, spouse, parent, grandparent, friend or other people close to us. There are many diseases that concern large groups of people, and many patients suffering from cancer recover. And yet, cancer is ever-present and frightening. The dramatic nature of a cancer diagnosis is further exacerbated by the fact that our ability to reduce the risk of cancer is more limited compared, say, to that associated with type 2 diabetes.

Certain cancers, such as leukaemia and breast cancer, have been checked to a reasonable degree. However, we still have cancers of the pancreas, liver, ovaries, lungs and trachea whose mortality rates make for difficult reading.

To defeat cancer, science and the pharmaceutical industry are collaborating on a daily basis. Maybe one day we will achieve a situation similar to that of hypertension, guaranteeing several years or even decades of high quality life for cancer patients.

What does it take to make this dream a reality? Simply increased investment in basic research. That is the only way to conquer cancer. It also requires increasingly close cooperation between the industry and universities, as the burden carried by the pharmaceutical industry in the development of drug therapies is considerable – a lifeline for the advancement of science.

Currently, the industry invests annually as much as €35 billion in drug studies and development in Europe. A share much larger than the €200 million funnelled to Finland from this sum is within reach. Finland has every opportunity to increase its share. One way to do this would be, during the next government term, to aim for the top among those countries involved in medical research and development. Finland has the ability to ride a new wave of science in which healthcare is becoming personalised at a fast pace.

As soon as this coming autumn, the next government must introduce legislation supporting research and personalised care – the reformed Biobank Act, a genome act, the Medical Research Act and an act on clinical drug trials. In addition, legislation on the secondary use of health data must be effectively enacted. Finally, it wouldn’t hurt to make significant additional contributions to the resources available to researchers.

Science brings hope even to the hopeless. To certain patients, this can mean being a research patient and, through that, receiving the latest and most effective treatment. This, in turn, extends the patient’s lifespan or enables them to recover from cancer. But many cancer patients cannot afford to wait for years on end.

In addition to trial drugs, investment is required in making existing innovative therapies available to Finnish patients even faster than before. These include immunotherapies for cancer, in whose deployment we are at the tail end in Europe. One way to accelerate their introduction is legislation on conditional reimbursement, which should be extended for at least five years.

Finns are getting the best cancer treatment in the world, with excellent results. We should not, however, be satisfied with this. There is still much to do. Let’s give patients even more hope of getting better. Novel therapies make it possible: more wellbeing, as well as long and healthy lives for people. This is why science and those who conduct it deserve an increasingly solid role in our society.

The author is the managing director of Pharma Industry Finland.

In the series Science Advocates, people describe the significance of research and research-based teaching for themselves. Read the other instalments on the Researchmatters website (scroll down).