DAVID J. CORD
Collaboration between research and industry is attracting international companies to Finland.
FINNISH expertise in neuroscience is attracting more attention from international investors. Spurred on by a historically close relationship between academia and industry, global players are taking a look at the commercial applications of Finnish research of the nervous system.
Much of the global attention comes from Finnish participation in international events in the field. The next major gathering is in San Francisco early in May. Dr. Tomi Rantamäki, Coordinator for the Finnish Neurodegeneration Initiative, is looking forward to the conference.
“I enjoy meeting both researchers and investors,” he says. “I will show our new methods, new academic articles and our new findings. I want to show people that our researchers are excellent, efficient and easy to work with.”
Rantamäki himself is an accomplished researcher. He specialises in neuroplasticity and concentrates on examining stress-related and developmental disorders and their treatment. Rantamäki loves to talk about his work, so he fits beautifully into international conferences.
“Much of what is done in Finland is recognised in the scientific world, but big companies may not know about it,” Rantamäki explains. “We want to get people in industry interested and show them how ideas can be brought to life more efficiently.”
As a success story he cites Neurotar, a company that was conceived in the University of Helsinki. Now that Finland has a good track record of taking research into commercial applications, Rantamäki wants to bring more global companies in the field to the greater Helsinki area.
“We want to work together with industry and show how people can benefit from basic research,” Rantamäki continues. “Many researchers already have patents that could be used in collaboration with big international companies.”
Finnish researchers are also eager to bring international players to Helsinki. A delegation from Massachusetts recently visited the Viikki Biocenter. The University of Helsinki has concentrated its basic and applied biological research at the Viikki campus, where Dr. Kai Kaila heads the Neurobiology research program.
High on the agenda for future events is the European Neurotech Investing & Partnering Summit to be held in Helsinki during September. Organisers plan to introduce new product licensing and partnering opportunities, show what venture and strategic investors are searching for, and discuss international markets. In addition, participants will study emerging technologies, new companies and new research.
Discussion will include next generation treatments for Alzheimer’s, addiction, anxiety, depression, pain, sensory disorders, obesity, stroke, schizophrenia, sleep disorders, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and brain and spinal cord injuries.
Dr. Mart Saarma, Chairman of the Institute of Biotechnology and winner of the prestigious Nordic Science Prize, is on the advisory board for the September event. Supported by Greater Helsinki Promotion, the event will bring international neuroscience investors and key persons to Helsinki.
“Modern biology and biomedicine has developed so fast there is a need for closer collaboration,” says Saarma. “One of the best-selling drugs at the pharmaceutical company Orion is Comtess, a Parkinson’s drug. Scientists at the University of Helsinki and the Institute of Biotechnology were intimately involved in its development. Every day we hear positive news: new agreements are being signed with big biotech companies or new products are being released.”
Besides extolling the benefits of Finnish neuroscience, Saarma loves the Helsinki area. An immigrant from Estonia, he could have picked any place in the world in which to work but chose Helsinki.
“Helsinki is a great city in which to live,” Saarma continues. “I bike eight kilometres to work, and most of the way is on a special bike road. I only have to cross the street twice. In the winter I ski to work on a path lit by the city of Helsinki. On my way I go through wonderful nature in the centre of an urban area. Name me another city in Europe where one can do this. I think this is great quality of life.”
Case study: Neurotar
Born from Finnish academia, Neurotar is a contract research organisation. It provides small animal imaging services based on in vivo two-photon microscopy to both commercial and research organisations. The service is used in preclinical research and clinical trials. The most common applications include studies on Alzheimer’s, migraine, multiple sclerosis, stroke, skin disorders, brain or skin tumours, as well as the effects of drugs on the central nervous system.
Neurotar secured private financing and participated in Finnish government programs for new entrepreneurs, such as TEKES, Tuli and Pharma Mentor projects, and Culminatum’s BioBooster. Late in 2010 it moved into new office and lab space at the Helsinki Science and Business Center, and early this year it partnered with Olympus European Microscopy to co-market the firm’s unique services.