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Insight

Genome center: A Boost to Finland’s Public Health and Economy?

 

Last week, the Finnish Government had big decisions ahead of them: they agreed on the General Government Fiscal Plan for 2017-2020, or the so-called ”Finland’s stability program.” The objective of the program is to revive the Finnish economy that has been struggling to get back on the track of growth and rising employment.

While the fiscal plan mainly appears as a long list of cuts and savings to reach a staggering 4 billion euros of savings by 2019, the government also decided on new investments—and one of these investments is especially likely to boost biomedical research:

“AGenome Centre will be established in Finland, aimed at developing Finland into a pioneer and internationally desired partner in healthcare, high-level research and global business utilising genome data. Public biobank activity will be enhanced […]. A National Cancer Centre will be established. A total of 17 million euros will be allocated in the period 2017–2020 to the establishment costs of these centres.”

A national genome center is not an entirely new idea: A National Genome Strategycompleted in June 2015 suggested the establishment of a genome center as one of the key steps that would ensure that genetic information in the future can be utilized both in healthcare and in decision-making concerning public health and welfare.

Last week, the government decided to bring the strategy to action. While the exact plans for the genome center have not yet been revealed, the aim is to collect genomic information in one place. The genome center could, for example, provide centralized research services and facilitate integration of genomic information with other health-related data.

But is it worth making such an investment? Does it actually benefit the Finnish people or the national economy? If so, how?

According to experts in the field, there are at least three potential benefits:

1. It helps increase the welfare of Finnish people.

What if you had your own personal health and welfare profile that would combine your genetic information with other personal health-related information, allowing healthcare personnel to always choose the best possible treatment or precautionary measures—personalized just for you?

This may sound like the distant future. However, according to Tuula Tiihonen, Senior Lead of well-being solutions at the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, this scenario is actually closer than one might think. On Sitra’s blog, Tiihonen estimates that this kind of “healthcare profiling” for those who want it could actually be reality in Finland in just a couple of years, thanks to the newly funded genome center.

Genomic and other health-related information is currently dispersed in separate databases and registers. Tiihonen is convinced that once this information is brought under the same roof, it will be easier to use this information for not only investigating causes of diseases, but also for developing treatments. “The genome center has the potential to improve the quality of life for a wide range of people, as it can help us to prevent and cure the common Finnish diseases,” Tiihonen writes, and continues: “Thanks to the genome center, a lot of lives will be saved.”

2. It saves healthcare resources.

Talking about the common Finnish diseases: it is not only the welfare of people that the genome center could potentially improve. According to Carmela Kantor-Aaltonen, Director at Finnish Bioindustries, establishment of the genome center is also likely to save healthcare resources.

“Genomic information can be helpful in the early identification of different risk groups or predicting the disease outcome for different patients,” says Kantor-Aaltonen, and continues: “This way, preventative measures can be started early enough and targeted better, which allows the limited healthcare resources to be utilized as efficiently as possible.”

3. It brings investments to Finland.

According to Kantor-Aaltonen, improving healthcare practices and public health is not all there is: the genome center can also make Finland a more attractive environment for research and innovation. She points out:

Carmela Kantor-Aaltonen

“Many companies are interested in investing in genome-related research, but they would highly appreciate a one-stop solution; in other words, they would like to get all the information they need from one place.”

According to Kantor-Aaltonen, this together with the Finnish health-related registers and high quality data is why the genome center is likely to direct more investments to Finland, thus giving our economy a much-desired boost.

So, are the benefits described above enough to make the 17-million euro investment worth it?

According to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, they are: they describe the investment as a wise decision that will benefit both the Finnish people and the national economy. Kantor-Aaltonen agrees with the rationale for this investment, and summarizes:

“Thanks to the governments’ decision, Finland now has all the potential to become the forerunner in utilizing the massive potential of genomic information—both to improve the health of people and to enhance our country’s economic situation.”

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