The Health Sector Growth Strategy for Research and Innovation Activities was published in 2014. The Ministries of Economic Affairs and Employment, Social Affairs and Health and Education and Culture co-created the strategy, which has already been adopted by three consecutive coalition Governments. The Academy of Finland and Business Finland are participating in the planning and implementation of this strategy.
Here we will hear the latest news about the growth strategy, updated roadmap, and role of competence centers as implementing parties.
Growth strategy emphasizes research and innovation activities
Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, Director of Strategy at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, describes the early phases of the Health Sector Growth Strategy planning, from around a decade ago, as a major change of mindset.
“Initially, the Health Sector Growth Strategy must have appeared somewhat radical, as it introduced research, development and innovation (RDI) activities into social and health services and academic research.”
However, the growth strategy has already received strong political support from the outset and has been maintained over governmental changes.
“Internationally, it is unique that the growth strategy has repeatedly been supported and enforced by three ministries.”
The roadmap for the growth strategy includes the establishment of national centers of excellence in the health sector. Neurocenter Finland, the National Cancer Center and the Finnish Biobank Cooperative (FINBB) have all already been established. Preparations for the National Drug Development Center and National Genome Center are still ongoing. The use of health data and data-driven innovation activities have been central to the growth strategy and to the establishment of all the centers of excellence.
In connection with the strategy and the establishment of national centers of excellence, legislation has been taken forward in recent years. The government proposal concerning the establishment of a genome center and the use of genomic data is being prepared, and the comprehensive reform of the Biobank Act continues.
Success stories of the growth strategy
The main objectives of the health sector growth strategy are 1) the systematic development of the health sector, and the advancement of investment and economic growth; 2) investment in research and thereby development of individual therapies, and; 3) development of the social and health sector through new therapies and innovations.
Anni Kaukoranta, Development Manager of Health Sector Research and Innovation Activities at the Ministry of Economy and Employment, states that in addition to the establishment of centers of excellence and legislative reforms, the joint efforts have already proven successful in a broader sense.
“According to the ETLA study published this year, the pharmaceutical and health technology sectors have gained momentum from the direction of the growth strategy, and new business has emerged.”
The roadmap for the health sector growth strategy, which was renewed at the end of 2020, contains fewer measures than before. Kaukoranta says that the roadmap places even more emphasis on digitalization, the utilization of data, and the visibility and importance of international cooperation. The roadmap for the health sector growth strategy is also linked to the overall national non-sectoral R&D roadmap.
Fingenious® serves centers of excellence
The FINBB is the first established national center of excellence.
Marco Hautalahti, CEO of the FINBB, says that the joint ownership base of the FINBB and Neurocenter Finland provides a good starting point for cooperation. A common ownership base makes it easier to position contract and commercialization matters for customers as one complete package.
“We have decided to focus on strengthening our Fingenious® brand as a form of collaboration with our customers in different centers of excellence. The Fingenious® digital service makes it possible to efficiently find biobank samples, biodata and study participants for, for example, neurological research projects.”
Fingenious® already has more than 400 registered research projects, more than 500 researchers and 100 companies. According to Voipio-Pulkki, the Ministry has agreed to extend the Fingenious® concept with the centers of expertise.
“All centers with data resources could be accessible via Fingenious® to those who need data for research and/or product development. Fingenious® is thus a concrete expression of an ecosystem activity that should be pursued jointly.”
According to Hautalahti, it is important to find ways to promote practices that are common to the centers of expertise in the future.
“Each center should focus on its own core mission, and Finland should appear as internationally unified as possible. The Fingenious® service is a great way to appear as one to the world,” says Hautalahti.
There is room for growth and joint advocacy work
The ministries’ representatives, Voipio-Pulkki and Kaukoranta, agree that the health sector is on the brink of major changes and growth potential.
“Especially in the field of cancer and brain diseases – not forgetting other areas, of course – development is moving forward rapidly. At the same time, big issues are still unresolved,” says Voipio-Pulkki.
“It is therefore important to create an environment for the health industries in which we can maintain strong know-how and attract both experts and investments to Finland,” adds Kaukoranta.
The channels for cooperation between centers of expertise and ministries now and in the future include RDI funding-related advocacy towards the government, as well as issues related to the implementation of the Act on the Secondary Use of Health and Social Data and impact assessment.
In Voipio-Pulkki’s opinion, the roadmap reflects this well, and it does not have too strictly defined goals. The goals have also been set for seamless dialogue between the implementing parties and the state administration.
“The centers of excellence should be different and thus unique in that sense. After all, the centers, together with their stakeholders, respond to challenges in their specific field. It is essential that good and constructive interaction and cooperation continue from here on,” concludes Voipio-Pulkki.