Professor Heikki Ruskoaho from the Faculty of Pharmacy is contentedly leafing through the final report of 3iRegeneration, a project that aimed at repairing heart and brain damage with the help of new cells. The five-year endeavours of the 70 researchers who took part in the project have been completed.
In terms of lead compounds and other individual scientific discoveries, it would be easy to list specific findings of the project that was divided into focus areas including drug development, nanotechnology, analytics and stem cell research.
Instead of long lists of research achievements, Ruskoaho wishes to emphasise the broad impact of the project. Its origins lie in a project funded by Tekes, the predecessor of Business Finland, under which researchers working at the Faculty and elsewhere were able to conduct researcher-based cooperation and pool their individual strengths. This turned into a recipe for providing resources to all involved parties.
“We did a lot together, learning at the same time from each other, down to the relevant research terminology. We also realised that you don’t need to understand absolutely everything about someone else’s research – as long as you grasp the big picture, it’s fine,” Ruskoaho says.
The researchers also studied commercialisation skills together. Ruskoaho believes that such training was of particular importance to early career researchers who gained ideas and support for the application of research results and, at the same time, for expanding their career opportunities. In fact, a number of startups were established in conjunction with the project, in addition to which more than a dozen invention disclosures were submitted.
Business life needs scientists
Five years is a short period in drug development, but a long one for projects. Over time, several experienced researchers were enticed to work elsewhere. Ruskoaho does not regret that fact, as there are not enough positions in universities to go around for all advanced researchers.
“Someone leaving does always cause a temporary slump, but I find it very positive that our researchers were snapped up like that. This may be more common in technical fields, but now it’s also evident in our sector. It’s just a sign of the high quality of our education and expertise.”
Solid basis for further projects and a drug development centre
One of the general objectives of the project was to raise the level of Finnish drug development and pharmaceutical research. According to Ruskoaho, this objective was well achieved.
“We wanted to create a system, a researcher network and an atmosphere that would make it possible. We achieved all this. In collaborative projects, the results of sub-projects typically affect the whole. If all of the researchers had focused on, say, cardiovascular research, of course the results would be different in a single sector. That model was never our aim. We aimed at raising the level of all areas of drug discovery and development. This lays a good foundation for a National Drug Development centre, which we hope will be established and through which various lead compounds could be developed further.”
Ruskoaho, who will soon retire as professor emeritus, also praises the Faculty of Pharmacy as a work environment. The research conducted there is fresh and international, constituting a marked difference to the situation, say, 10 years ago.
“When the unit is of an appropriate size, it functions well. Everyone knows each other at least to a certain degree, and cooperation is easy. Professors meet regularly, and the atmosphere in their meetings is not the same as in the official professor meetings of yesteryear. All this is important – you cannot possibly conduct research on your own.”