Protective genes are key to finding new medical treatments

Published 02.10.2015

 

Protective genes are key to finding
new medical treatments

A unique cooperation project between research institutions and pharmaceuticals companies is beginning in Finland to find new development targets for the pharmaceuticals industry by using genome data.

The research project that will use samples from the Biobank of the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will be led by Aarno Palotie, Professor at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (IMMF). The project partners include the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and four international pharmaceuticals companies – Pfizer, MSD, Biogen and Eisai.

The research project that will use samples from the Biobank of the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health will be led by Aarno Palotie, Professor at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (IMMF). The project partners include the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and four international pharmaceuticals companies – Pfizer, MSD, Biogen and Eisai.

Once a protective genetic mutation is identified, it may be possible to develop a substance that provides the same benefits for others as well. These substances are presumed to have less adverse effects than ordinary medical treatments.

– At the moment, we have agreed on the first phase that will last a year. During the first phase, the project will find out how Finnish systems accommodate this kind of research, what genetic forms are concentrated in Finland and whether there are protective genetic forms that have the potential to become new treatments, Palotie says.

Pharmaceuticals companies are not competitors for the project, instead they are producing information that will be freely available to everyone. We hope to find a molecule that a company could develop into a medicinal treatment.

“A research project with historical significance”

Tuula Tiihonen, Business Development Director at the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and a member of the Finnish genome strategy working group, finds that the currently published research project has historical significance.

– I find it splendid that this is taking place in Finland. This project has recognized the particular possibilities of Finland: people’s health data, biobanks and how we can combine them. We have resources that other countries cannot match, she says.

Jaakko Parkkinen, Medical Director of Pfizer says that competition in terms of international research projects is tough.

– In order for Finland to do well, we should implement the improvements proposed in the national genome strategy and in Finpro’s Team Finland Health growth program.

According to Parkkinen, hospital biobanks are a treasure trove for researchers. In addition, the Turku-based Auria Biopankki biobank has already started collecting new samples from hospital patients to enable the development mechanisms of diseases to be discovered.

Finland has unique legislation on biobanks that makes it possible for researchers to use collections of old samples saved by hospitals and research institutions. In addition, Finnish legislation offers the possibility to collect new samples when taking samples at hospitals and when a patient consents to using his or her samples for research purposes, a separate consent will not be needed for every project.

Text and photos: Virpi Ekholm

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