Top 15 Biotech Companies Driving Innovation in Finland
These are the top 15 biotechnology companies you’ll find in Finland, a country that has seen a big boom in life sciences over the last decade.
Finland is rapidly becoming a strong region in the biotechnology sector. In recent years, big pharma and private equity funds have increased their interest in the country’s medical sector, particularly digital healthcare.
One of Finland’s main strengths is in genomics and clinical data analysis. The country has plenty of talent specialized in software development thanks to a historically strong telecommunications industry. Finland is now starting to apply these capabilities to the life sciences, a sector that is booming globally. Its key advantage: access to good-quality clinical data.
“The legal framework and the legal context are very favorable for activities where clinical data is made available in a smart way to commercial research,” said Tero Silvola, CEO of BC Platforms, a company specializing in genomic data that carries out its R&D in Helsinki.
In Europe, the general data protection regulation (GDPR) establishes the legal framework for data protection, but there is still a lack of clarity on how to interpret it in the case of healthcare service providers. In Finland, however, there is a specific legal framework for these applications that gives clear guidance to all players involved.
“All the major university hospitals and biobanks understand that if they have well-harmonized clinical genetic data, it is actually going to be very attractive for R&D activities and data-related business cases,” added Silvola.
The Helsinki University Hospital has been one of the main drivers of this ecosystem over the past five years, making major investments into producing and analyzing genomic and clinical data for precision medicine applications. The hospital has put together a whole infrastructure for whole-genome analysis using equipment from next-generation sequencing leader Illumina.
In 2017, Finland launched a personalized medicine project called FinnGen with the aim of obtaining the genomic data of 500,000 citizens, which, given the small size of the country, makes up 10% of its total population. One of the largest of its kind globally, the project is funded by the government as well as the 11 major pharma companies taking part in it.
To celebrate the blossoming biotech industry in Finland, we consulted with experts to put together a list of the most remarkable companies in the country, be it for their size, innovation, or influence in the sector.
Faron Pharmaceuticals is a drug discovery company that focuses on targeting endothelial receptors. These are proteins found on blood vessels that play a role in tuning the immune response. The company is currently developing two small molecule drug candidates with the potential to address a wide range of conditions, including respiratory diseases, multi-organ failure, cancer, and infectious diseases. The most advanced program has completed phase III trials in acute respiratory distress syndrome.
BC Platforms specializes in the management and analysis of genomic data to make it actionable for academia, pharma companies, biobanks or any other healthcare organization. The company has developed a modular platform that can be customized for different needs, enabling healthcare professionals to make sense of vast amounts of data to speed up innovation and research precision medicine approaches. While its headquarters are now in Switzerland, the company started out in Finland, where it keeps all its R&D activities.
MetGen uses genetic engineering and synthetic biology to develop renewable alternatives to producing goods that have traditionally been made with petrochemical processes. The company has developed enzymes that are able to use wood waste as the raw material to create chemicals, biofuels, and paper. With this technology, MetGen aims to produce industrial chemicals with free costs, less waste, and lower energy consumption.
Forendo Pharma develops treatments for endometriosis, a condition affecting the uterus that causes severe pain and infertility. The company is developing small molecule drug candidates that are designed to act locally, without affecting hormone levels in the whole body like currently available treatments do. The most advanced program is currently undergoing phase I trials.
Blueprint Genetics develops and sells genetic tests to help medical professionals diagnose patients with a possible genetic condition. Offering a wide range of tests covering thousands of genes across multiple disease areas, the company also counts with experts that provide an interpretation of the results and recommend next steps. In early 2020, the company was acquired by Quest Diagnostics, after which the company has kept operating from its headquarters in Helsinki.
Listed on Nasdaq Helsinki since 2014, Herantis Pharma aims to not just manage the symptoms but to address the root causes of difficult-to-treat diseases. The company’s most advanced program, currently in phase II, is a gene therapy for breast cancer-associated lymphedema — an abnormal swelling that can develop from cancer treatments. Herantis is also testing in phase I/II clinical trials a treatment for Parkinson’s disease that seeks to protect neurons from degenerating and to regenerate those that have already been damaged.
Solar Foods is an up-and-coming startup with a grand goal: to produce food using just water, air, electricity, and bacteria. The result is a protein-rich powder that could be used in meat alternatives or to produce lab-grown meat. The company is also working with the European Space Agency to test this technology as a new means of making food that could significantly reduce waste and weight in long-distance space missions.
Delsitech aims to improve on the efficacy of generic drugs while reducing their side effects. The company can achieve this by encapsulating the active compound in a silica matrix that is engineered to release the drug within the body in the desired time range — anytime from one day to up to one year. The lead program revolves around entecavir, an antiviral drug for hepatitis B that currently has to be taken daily. With Delsitech’s delivery technology, the drug could be given every three months instead, helping patients adhere to their treatment. The company also offers its technology to drug developer partners.
Nanoform specializes in using nanoparticles to improve the performance of drug candidates. There are many new compounds with medical potential that are challenging to dissolve and therefore, it’s hard for the drugs to enter the patient’s bloodstream to make the desired effect. The particles developed by Nanoform are intended to make these molecules more soluble to allow them to enter clinical trials and to simplify the formulation process. The company estimates that with this technology, the yearly output of new drugs of the pharmaceutical industry could be doubled.
Aiforia specializes in developing custom artificial intelligence methods to aid image analysis in medical research. The company estimates that this can reduce the time needed to analyze medical images by 90% compared to manual methods, and remove the big variability seen between different individuals analyzing the images. The models are custom-built for the specific needs of the clients and have been applied to a large range of specializations, including cancer, liver disease, infections, and neuroscience.
TILT Biotherapeutics is developing an immunotherapy designed to improve the efficacy of cancer treatments. The experimental therapy consists of oncolytic viruses that selectively infect tumor cells and make them produce cytokines — molecules that help the immune system identify and fight the tumor. The company is currently running phase I trials and plans to test the treatment in combination with immunotherapies such as checkpoint inhibitors and CAR-T cell therapy with the aim of increasing their efficacy, particularly in solid tumors.
Mobidiag is a developer and seller of a wide range of diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. The company specializes in fast, cost-effective and easy-to-use tests to detect viruses, parasites, and bacteria — as well as their ability to resist specific antibiotics. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the company has been granted emergency use authorization of its 30-minute Covid-19 test in Finland, Sweden, UK, and France.
MediSapiens offers digital solutions for big data analysis in biomedical sciences. Curating, managing, analyzing and interpreting vast amounts of data is currently a big challenge in medical research. The company has created a modular platform that can do all this, customized to the specific needs of the user and extended when new functionalities are required. The technology developed by MediSapiens is used in precision medicine, diagnostics, biobanks and pharma companies among other players in the field.
Previously known as Ark Therapeutics, FinVector started as a developer of gene therapies. However, after the EMA rejected its gene therapy for brain cancer in 2009, the company branched out into contract manufacturing. Nowadays, FinVector specializes in developing manufacturing methods for a wide range of gene therapy products based on viral vectors. In recent years, the company has continued expanding its manufacturing facilities and is involved in the development of several gene therapies for indications such as bladder cancer.
Valo Therapeutics is a young startup that is developing a new form of cancer immunotherapy that combines two existing approaches. Its technology consists of coating the surface of oncolytic viruses with tumor peptides, which strongly activates the immune system against the tumor. The company has developed a rapid method to modify the virus without using genetic engineering, which would make it easy to personalize the treatment to each specific patient. Valo Therapeutics plans to start its first clinical trials in early 2021 and has recently launched a program to use its technology against the novel coronavirus.
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