Finland, a hidden oasis for clinical brain research?

By Pekka Simula 02 Mar 2016
Twitter: @simulapekka

Herantis companies have completed clinical studies in Europe, USA, and Asia, always intending to find optimal study sites for each study. Then came the time for planning our most complex study yet: First-in-human study of CDNF in Parkinson’s disease, requiring multidisciplinary, leading expertise. Where should we take this one?

As a Finnish proverb suggests: Why go fishing beyond the sea. What could Finland offer for clinical research of brain diseases?

A hidden oasis.

Like all Nordic countries, Finland has a high quality comprehensive public health care system, which means a network of university hospitals equipped with state-of-the art capabilities.

Finland has also leading clinical expertise in neurology. Did you know that Helsinki University Hospital was ranked the world’s #1 in stroke treatment? Thrombolysis is started in average 17 minutes from a patient entering ER. Time is an absolutely critical factor for a good prognosis.

Finland has leading expertise in medical imaging research. For example Turku PET Centre has shown the world how PET imaging can be utilized in diagnostics and drug development related to Parkinson’s disease.

And the list goes on. Finland has a fantastic medical record archive, one of the most modern bio bank laws, and excellent biobanks, which together with a relatively isolated gene pool provide researchers with unique opportunities in the development of personalized medicine. Investigators can find exactly the right patients for each clinical study.

These and many similar success factors are enabled and supported by a humble and hard-working culture. Physicians, nurses, CRAs, even patients are generally well educated, very knowledgeable, motivated and compliant. For a clinical study sponsor this means higher-quality data faster. When we arranged the first Brain Symposium in Finland last year with Biogen and the University of Helsinki, the representatives of Biogen were visibly impressed by what Finland could offer for the research of e.g. Multiple Sclerosis or ALS.

Of course there’s always room for improvement, as also pointed out in a recent editorial (in Finnish) in Finland’s #1 newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, written by Finland’s Brain Foundation Chairman Liisa Ollila and Professor of neurology Risto O. Roine. While Finland has reason to be proud for its scientific research and clinical expertise we could be better in packaging and marketing it. I’ll share a recent anecdote: We provided some university hospitals with a detailed study protocol and asked for a patient treatment budget. A kind request came back from hospital administration: “Er… could you propose a budget?”

On the other hand study sponsors might consider that a benefit too!

Herantis intends to start patient treatments in a clinical study in Parkinson’s disease in Finland and Sweden in 2016. The study will investigate the drug candidate CDNF, which is based on internationally leading science – at the University of Helsinki.