“The seeds for our strong bioscience research were sown already in the 1980s, when the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra started funding research that uses the methods of molecular biology. That lifted Finland quickly to one of the top countries in the field,” says Marja Makarow, Vice President for Research at the Academy of Finland.
“Another reason for our strong basic research is the founding of biocenters by Finnish universities 20–25 years ago. These biocenters are connected to academic hospitals and provide outstanding research facilities,” Makarow adds.
Finland’s strong investments in research, development and innovation have resulted in first-rate health-related research, internationally recognized research groups and an excellent research environment. Finnish research funding is largely competitive, meaning that the best applicants and projects are chosen for funding, thus ensuring the high quality of research.
Innovation-friendly biobank law
The Finnish Government is committed to further developing Finland as a competitive environment for health sector research, innovation and business. In 2014, it adopted a national health sector growth strategy for research and innovation activities. In a globally unique way, the strategy was created and continues to be implemented through public–private collaboration, with active participation from the industry, universities and university hospitals.
Finland’s globally recognized strengths in the health sector are digital health, personalized medicine and healthcare, and scientific research in areas such as cancer, brain diseases and genetics.
“What gives us a unique competitive advantage, even compared to other countries with strong bioscience research, is our biobanks and our Biobank Act, which has allowed a more diverse use of biobank samples,” says Marja Makarow.
The Biobank Act provides a modern basis for research and innovation. The guiding principles of the Act include the protection of donors’ privacy and self-determination and the promotion of common good that can be achieved through research.
“Finns trust science and have a positive attitude to medical research. This creates a very good environment for clinical research,” Makarow says.
Personalized medicine and digital health
Personalized medicine is a global growth area, and Finland is among the top players. Its biobanks, isolated gene pool and comprehensive digital healthcare registers offer very appealing possibilities for pharmaceutical companies and research institutes looking for more efficient ways to utilize big data and advanced analytics in research.
Health-related research and innovation can also benefit from Finland’s expertise in information technology. As different industries and ecosystems are increasingly overlapping, digitalization and Finland’s hot startup scene are already affecting the health sector. New products and solutions are sprouting for instance in bioinformatics, telemedicine, wearable health technology and self-monitoring, and more can be expected in the future.
The Finnish Health Sector Growth Strategy for Research and Innovation Activities