Finland is known for its high level of education, ICT and engineering expertise, comprehensive digital healthcare registers, and strong biobanks. Add a strong business support network and a tradition of public-private cooperation and you get an ideal ecosystem for solving major health challenges like antibiotic resistance. Helsinki Business Hub, Pfizer Finland, and Amcham Finland brought together researchers, healthcare organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and support organizations to create new dialogue and collaboration.
Finland has a strong tradition of the public, private and third sector working together to solve problems and develop new solutions. One worldwide challenge that calls for close collaboration is antibiotic resistance. Governments, research organizations, and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer has worked for years on tackling antibiotic resistance but broader cooperation is needed.
Following the Finnish tradition of collaboration, Helsinki University has launched the Helsinki One Health research network. It brings together various disciplines to resolve emerging health problems concerning human and animal populations globally. Wide interdisciplinary research – the shared insight of experts on human medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, food safety, and various other fields – could help find new solutions to urgent challenges like antibiotic resistance.
Finland also has over 300 companies operating in the health sector and is among the top 10 research locations in most fields of medicine. Most of the largest pharmaceutical companies have established their presence in Greater Helsinki, including Bayer, Takeda, MSD, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca. In 2018, Finland was ranked the best in the world in innovation and the 3rd most advanced digital economy. It is also among the top choices in Europe for starting an mHealth business. Helsinki has a life sciences talent pool of approximately 29 000 people.
Digital registers, strong legislation, and public sector support
Antibiotics are the foundation of healthcare. Should they cease to work, many other forms of treatment, such as routine operations and chemotherapy, would become extremely dangerous, due to infection risk.
“One of Finland’s strengths are our globally unique healthcare registers and databases, which enable us to track disease alerts and medication across the nation and provide an excellent basis for research on antibiotic resistance and health and pharmaceutical research in general,” says Aki Lindén, Member of the Finnish Parliament and the parliamentary Social Affairs and Health Committee. Lindén is also a doctor and the former CEO of the Helsinki University Hospital.
“Further strengths of our healthcare system include stability, reliability, high work ethic, cost efficiency, and functionality. But we still need to sharpen our legislation to solidify the responsibilities in managing antibiotic resistance. We must also strengthen our national supervision and steering, as well as funding. All the information already exists, we just have to bring it together,” Lindén states.
As a lion’s share of the Finnish healthcare is public – as are Finnish universities – health and pharmaceutical research brings the public and the private sector together. Finland’s legislation and national health strategy create a strong basis for research, and Finns participate willingly.
“Finland and Scandinavia are ideal R&D locations for pharmaceutical companies. Finland has an educated and enlightened population that understands the need for research. It also has good physicians who don’t cut corners, as well as excellent digital health records,” says Vice President and Therapeutic Area Lead, Anti-infectives, Global Medical Affairs, Pfizer Jay Purdy from Pfizer.
The public sector, i.e. the Finnish government and cities, also runs various organizations that offer support to international companies planning to invest or start R&D activities in the country. In the Greater Helsinki, the services of public and private organizations like Helsinki Business Hub, Business Finland, and Amcham Finland have helped many international companies find their footing and succeed in Finland.
Antibiotic resistance calls for even deeper public-private cooperation
According to Jay Purdy, a significant difficulty in tackling antibiotic resistance is its cost: developing other types of medicines is cheaper and more profitable than developing new antibiotics. Many pharmaceuticals have dropped antibiotics from their R&D programs and the work is not attracting enough investments. Pfizer has nevertheless decided to carry on the important work.
“This is where the crucial role of public-private collaboration comes in. Pharmaceutical companies need incentives and better profitability to be able to develop new antibiotics. Governments should facilitate pharmaceutical development and decrease its cost, shorten time to approval, and encourage investment in anti-infectives. Governmental reimbursements or rewards could be awarded post-development, based on the impact of new medicines. But pharmaceutical companies and governments should also collaborate in educating people on the correct use of antibiotics,” says Jay Purdy.
“Finland’s way of bringing together politicians, support organizations, researchers, healthcare organizations, and pharmaceutical companies brings hope. It’s a model for the rest of the world,” Purdy continues.