The unique strengths of Finland in healthcare offer opportunities for international partners and investors. This was the message of the Finnovations event held in Helsinki on 28 January 2020. The event gathered together public- and private-sector healthcare leaders, professionals and investors from Finland and abroad.
“We are here to create new public and private partnerships in healthcare and to create better healthcare outcomes,” declared Head of Nordics Ingeborg Borgheim of Takeda AS in her opening statement, underscoring the purpose of the event.
“Change in healthcare is going forward with new technology, and in the Nordics we capture the need to partner,” Borgheim said, explaining why Takeda, one of the largest global pharmaceutical companies, has set up a Center of Excellence of Innovation in the Nordic region and why Helsinki was selected as the host city of the first-ever Finnovations event organized by Takeda and Helsinki Business Hub.
Noona: A service to improve cancer care created through a public-private partnership
Finnovations’ first keynote speaker was Johanna Mattson, Director of the Department of Oncology at Helsinki University Hospital HUS. She opened her presentation with an opinion piece written by a breast cancer patient for the largest Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, voicing desperation about the service of HUS for cancer patients.
The patient’s unhappiness led to the development of Noona, a mobile service that captures patient-reported outcomes in oncology, connecting cancer clinics with their patients online. With the Noona app, patients can easily report symptoms to clinics and receive answers. AI assists medical teams to detect acute cases and to alert patients. The patient-reported outcomes (PRO’s) have improved survival and saved clinical resources.
The service was created by the startup Noona Healthcare in partnership with HUS. Noona Healthcare has gone international and today has an office in Silicon Valley.
Health ecosystem as an enabler of innovation
Isabel Torres, General Manager Finland of Takeda, says that Noona Healthcare is an excellent example of Finland’s unique health ecosystem that generates innovation.
“I came to Finland a year ago. One of the most exciting elements to me was the country’s health ecosystem, which is an enabler,” explains Torres, who has worked in many countries before including China, Singapore and the U.S.
“I appreciate the way that innovators here work with society, which produces a sustainable approach to health,” Torres continues.
“All ecosystem players working together create a conducive environment for innovation here. The system works and there is trust in society, which is something that other innovation hubs don’t have – everyone trusts the system in Finland to share data for common good. Finland has a big advantage in data and in secondary use of data.
“Finland is one of the best places to take innovation forward. It’s because of the way Finns think, how the system works and how all the processes are in place.
“Finland can be a testbed for Takeda – a platform for the development of innovations that can be scaled up,” Torres asserts.
Visa Honkanen, Chief Digital Officer at HUS, made another keynote presentation at Finnovations, in which he gave examples of the successes of the Finnish health ecosystem in data-driven innovation. He illustrated good patient outcomes resulting from a constant flow of communication between data scientists and doctors.
For example, an ongoing project utilizing AI at HUS focuses on the detection of intracranial bleeding in the treatment of traumatic brain injuries, to improve the high mortality rate in such injuries. “Key to success is data scientists and doctors who understand each other,” Honkanen said.
How Finland can benefit international collaborations
“The purpose of Finnovations was to put ecosystem players together, taking advantage of what Finland can give to the international healthcare community, as well as to create collaborations and strong public-private partnerships,” Torres affirms. For that purpose the Finnovations organizers had invited Israel to be part of the event.
Robert Klempfner joined Finnovations by invitation of the organizers. He is a cardiologist, the director of the prevention and rehabilitation institute and the scientific director of the ARC innovation center at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center. At Finnovations, he presented the center’s innovation concept and possibilities for collaboration between Finland and Israel. Finnish and Israeli innovation authorities already have a framework agreement for cooperation.
“We have much in common: we’re small countries with good ecosystems for innovation, long histories of detailed medical records, and biobanks. We should think together, first, how to change key aspects of medicine and, then, how to scale up joint enterprises and give them global reach,” Klempfner envisions.
“Finland has a great deal of historical depth in your data and good quality data. You have made tremendous advances with genomics and biobanks, and you have a good legislative infrastructure. There are many exciting things in Finland that could be tested and validated elsewhere,” he lists benefits that Finland can offer for international partners.
“There is potential that we can get the best of both worlds by working together.”
Finland in investors’ focus
Arnaud Autret, an Investment Principal in the Life Science team at M Ventures in Amsterdam, joined Finnovations to discuss M Ventures’ interest in data-driven companies and investing in such companies.
“Finland and the Nordics are part of our focus, and we’re looking for more companies like this, so it’s important for us to be in contact with the Finnish health ecosystem,” Autret says.
“What’s impressive about the Finnish health ecosystem is how enterprises and venture funds work together closely to be successful – how private and public investment players and startups are involved.”
Autret emphasizes the global outlook among Finnish healthcare startups as a factor that distinguishes Finland from the rest of the world, saying, “It came out in the presentations: people here have the will to expand internationally quickly, starting here but clearly wanting to move forward with international labs and research teams to scale up their business.”
This outlook was manifest by Finnish startups invited by Finnovations to pitch their products and services at the event together with Israeli and Japanese startups.
Helsinki region grows with health
Helsinki Business Hub is the international trade and investment promotion agency for the Finnish capital region. The health sector is one of the agency’s main focuses, as it has real potential to generate growth in the region.
“Finland’s strengths in health are based on data and digitalization,” explains Helsinki Business Hub CEO Marja-Liisa Niinikoski.
She asserts, “We have definite strengths in real-world health data and its utilization, as well as in ways that real-world health data is integrated with genome data and socio-economic data. This data can be used to create more value for patients and society, and it can be used to develop the healthcare system further.”