Bayer says Finland is a small giant in pharma
With few pharmaceutical companies of its own, a cursory look at Finland might suggest there are few pickings to be had for foreign companies considering investment. “Quite the opposite”, says Oliver Rittgen, Managing Director at Bayer Nordic. “Finland’s public investment in healthcare research is significant and has been in line with spending by the other Nordic countries. The opportunities here are real and under-exploited. That’s encouraged us to build a significant R&D operation in Finland with over 200 employees,” he explains.
Bayer lists Finland as its fourth largest Clinical Study site in pharma, along with USA, Germany and China. Being close to the action, Bayer also saw an opportunity to cooperate with the local pharma company, Orion. Finland’s Orion has a pipeline of potential new drugs, including in oncology. But bringing new drugs to market is famously costly - and more so in oncology. Now, Bayer and Orion are partnering on a highly promising phase III program in oncology. Partnering helps manage financial, as well as development risks, for both parties.
New impetus for global pharma research from Finland’s biobanks
Once Finland’s new legislation on biobank activities was in place, Bayer was the first pharmaceutical company to sign a co-operation agreement with a Finnish biobank. Rittgen emphasises that this was an agreement with Bayer Pharma AG Research Headquarter and Turku’s Biobank Auria on a global basis, not just a local activity. Finland’s new biobank legislation has aroused a lot of interest at Bayer, as it allows for use of patient data also in follow-on studies not originally envisioned. Kemal Malik, member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG and Board spokesman for Innovation recently visited Finland to learn about the opportunities here. Malik was impressed by the scale and depth of the Biobank information available in Finland.
In Finland’s biobanks, samples are digitized and tagged with disease history, family history and treatment protocols – all in digital format. Rittgen says that Finland has made an excellent start opening up its treasure trove of biobank data – in some diseases with data going back over 70 years. “Nowhere is everything perfect,” he continues, “But Finnish organizations are serious about engaging with industry when bottlenecks are identified”.
“Seen from the inside, the clinical and research sectors in Finland are a lot bigger than they might appear from afar”, Oliver notes. Commenting on planned reforms to the social and healthcare system, Rittgen adds “Finland has a lot of growth opportunities to seize if they can turn words into actions.”
Pharma is going digital, including key management
Pharma has always been a knowledge and information driven business. Now that much of that information is in digital format, it can be easily retrieved, analysed and shared. Rittgen sees the now popularized concept of “big data” as playing a major role in the future of healthcare delivery. Big data analytics promises to better match patients with treatment options and predict, rather than just monitor, individual patient outcomes. Many medical devices were born digital, especially in patient monitoring. With digital platforms converging, Rittgen sees possibilities for future co-operation in digital between Bayer’s pharma operations and the global patient monitoring and diagnostics companies Finland is also famous for.
Digital data are now the heart of any life sciences company - in the lab, in the clinic and soon at the patient. No surprise then that Bayer recently appointed a chief digital officer (CDO) with a global remit to transform the company into a digital enterprise. Jessica Federer, recently appointed CDO at Bayer has already visited Finland, attracted by the startup activity and famous IT legacy.
As Bayer takes its digital transformation to its corporate heart, Rittgen sees his Nordic HQ being in the right country.