Professor Jonathan Knowles has spent about fifteen years of his research career in Finland. From the start, his goal has been to build partnerships that help advance personalized medicine.
“I have a passion for personalized medicine. It is the most important way in which the practice and economy of medicine can be developed, and Finland is one of the few places where there’s been dramatic progress in the field,” Professor Knowles says.
“Another reason for my interest in Finland is Finnish genetic research. It is among the best in the world.”
Knowles is one of the leading researchers of personalized medicine in the world and has worked for decades in top positions in international pharmaceutical companies.
Last year, he finished a five-year professorship at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and the University of Helsinki. Before that, he had worked as Head of Group Research and member of the Corporate Executive Committee at the Swiss diagnostics and pharmaceutical company Roche.
At FIMM, Professor Knowles worked with Professor Olli Kallioniemi and Professor Kimmo Porkka on a pioneering research project that aims to find new cancer drugs from among existing medicines – new uses for old cures, so to speak. The project is still running and expanding.
Thirty years of immunotherapy
Professor Knowles has seen the development of personalized medicine and immunotherapy firsthand.
“Thirty years ago, when I started working on immunotherapy, there was a great deal of opposition to it both in the academia and in the pharmaceutical industry. During the years, it has become clear that the immune system plays an important role in cancer and many other diseases. So if we want efficient drugs, we need more immunological information,” says Professor Knowles.
One bottleneck of utilizing immunotherapeutic cancer drugs, particularly in Europe, is their high price.
“But we need to remember that efficacy always saves money, and in this case, also lives. Immunotherapeutic cancer drugs are cheap when given to the right patients. There is still much work to be done in order to understand whom immunotherapy benefits most, and Finland can contribute a lot to this research.”
“I am very excited about the new Finnish Biobank Act and the possibilities it opens for research. Generally speaking, there’s a certain thoroughness and modesty about Finnish science. When things are done, they are usually done properly, with reliable data,” Knowles says.
Professor Knowles is now the Chairman of two UK-based biotech companies. He also continues to hold a part-time position at FIMM and is very eager to help push forward Finnish biobank initiatives and other projects.
How about his goal of forwarding personalized medicine in Finland?
“I am happy to see the progress we have made, and if Finland is able to maintain the partnerships between hospitals, research groups, informatics groups and public authorities, it will become one of the best medical research environments in the world.”