FinnGen study taps into a unique gene pool in search of the next breakthroughs in disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment

A unique study that combines genome information with digital health care data has been launched in Finland. The FinnGen study plans to analyse up to 500 000 unique blood samples collected by a nation-wide network of Finnish biobanks. The goal is to deepen our understanding about the origins of diseases and their treatment. The project is expected to continue for six years, with a current budget of €59M.

Located at the outskirts of Northern Europe, Finland is one of today’s global hotspots for medical research. Finland tops global listings in healthcare, education, innovation, digitalisation and good governance. In addition, country’s 5,5 million population share a unique genetic heritage, which provides researchers with enormous opportunities to innovate.

Due to the unique heritage of the Finnish population, genomic data can be analysed faster and more effectively than in populations of more heterogenous origins – significantly improving the chances of breakthrough findings. ”This makes Finland a great testbed for genomic research”, says Kimmo Pitkänen, Director of Helsinki Biobank.
The FinnGen study is an unprecedented global research project representing one of the largest studies of this type. Project aims to improve human health through genetic research, and ultimately identify new therapeutic targets and diagnostics for treating numerous diseases. The collaborative nature of the project is exceptional compared to many ongoing studies, and all the partners are working closely together to ensure appropriate transparency, data security and ownership.

The FinnGen study is coordinated by researchers from the University of Helsinki and the Helsinki University Central Hospital. In addition to biobanks and research organisations, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes) and seven international pharmaceutical companies are taking part in the study: Abbvie, AstraZeneca, Biogen, Celgene, Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, USA and Pfizer.

Two-thirds of the project funding is expected to come from pharmaceutical companies and one-third from Tekes. ”Tekes wanted to support the project, because of its potential to promote healthcare innovation and to support the growth and internationalisation of local businesses,” says Minna Hendolin, who is responsible for Health and Wellbeing at Tekes.

The goals of the FinnGen study are ambitious. ”Breakthroughs that arise from the project will benefit drug discovery programs and health care systems globally. The combination of unique genetic heritage, decades of population-wide medical registry data and cutting-edge genomics position Finland as a global testbed for medical research and innovation”, says Mark Daly, a key partner of the project from the Broad Institute and the Massachusetts General Hospital and visiting professor at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM).

Future health innovations can primarily be found by looking at large masses. The FinnGen study has the potential to benefit global healthcare systems long into the future. ”With FinnGen we can build a foundation for health innovations and personalised treatments”, says Research Director Aarno Palotie, from the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) at the University of Helsinki.

”We hope that this study will stimulate researchers and businesses from around the world to join the journey into personalised healthcare.”   

For more information:

Professor Aarno Palotie
Research Director, Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM),
HiLIFE, University of Helsinki
Faculty member, Center for Human Genome Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital
Associate member, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Tel:  +358 41 501 5915

19. Dec 2017