• News
  • People
  • Long Read
  • Opinion
  • Weekend Wrap

News Spotlight

Finnish organisations pursue advances in healthcare

Effective diagnostics play a key role in providing timely treatments.

lenets tan / Adobe

Finnish companies and research organisations have secured funding and launched products to tackle a variety of challenges in modern medicine.

Orion in December announced it will advance its pipeline of medicinal products for both humans and animals with the help of a loan worth 100 million euros from the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The Espoo-headquartered pharmaceutical giant said it intends to use the loan to move forward with products in various stages of development, from initial concept to clinical trials, aimed at diseases within the three focus areas of its research and development efforts: oncology, neurological disorders and respiratory diseases.

Its pipeline presently consists of projects aimed at discovering treatments for prostate cancer and chronic pulmonary disease, for example.

Orion has identified three focus areas for its research and development efforts: oncology, neurological disorders and respiratory diseases. Image: Orion

“Although much of the world’s focus is currently on stopping COVID-19, themes such as antibiotic resistance are of increasing concern,” notedThomas Östros, vice president at EIB. “Orion’s research and development reaches far and wide to find solutions for diseases and medical issues in both humans and animals.”

The EIB gauged that by enabling the company to maintain its high-quality research, development and innovation operations, the loan also supports economic growth, industrial competitiveness and the retention of high-skilled jobs in Europe.

Also Valo Therapeutics has received a financial boost for its work on adaptable immunotherapy platforms for cancers and infectious diseases. The Helsinki-based startup reported last month that it has raised around 11 million euros in pre-initial public offering funding from the likes of Freeman Road and MMJ Group Holdings.

Jari Karlson, CFO of Orion, and Thomas Östros, vice president of the European Investment Bank, shook hands to commemorate the granting of a loan worth 100 million euros to the Espoo-based pharmaceutical giant. Image: European Investment Bank

Most of the funding, it revealed, will be used to prepare and initiate a phase-one clinical study of its lead tumour antigen-coated oncolytic virus candidate, PeptiCRAd-1. The platform turns oncolytic adenoviruses into targeted tissue-specific cancer vaccines without the assistance of multiple genetically modified viruses.

The startup will also continue developing its anti-infectious diseases platforms, including PeptiBAC and PeptiVAX.

Paul Higham, CEO of Valo Therapeutics, viewed that the successful funding round marks a significant milestone for the startup in validating its core platform and proceeding to the first clinical study.

“In addition, the financing will allow us to further validate our other oncology and infectious disease platforms and our pan-coronavirus T-cell vaccine,” he commented.

Valo Therapeutics has announced plans to hold an initial public offering in 2022.

Fruitful research collaboration

Researchers in Helsinki are seeking to identify cerebral mechanisms of depression to facilitate more personal therapies and more predictable outcomes. Image: Sharon McCutcheon / Pexels

Aalto University and the University of Helsinki in December said they have received a grant of over two million euros for their collaborative three-year research project on cerebral mechanisms of depression.

“The goal of the consortium is to extensively collaborate in identifying biological mechanisms of depression, striving to achieve a genuine leap forward in understanding the cerebral mechanisms of depression,” toldSatu Palva, leader of the research group established up by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki.

The researchers will utilise magnetoencephalography (MEG) to investigate cognitive symptoms associated with depression and the cerebral mechanisms of the disease in an attempt to identify mechanistic biomarkers for diagnosing depression that enable the personalisation of therapies and prediction of treatment outcomes.

“Our goal is to understand changes in the functional networks of the brain and phenomena of brain dynamics related to depression,” summarised Palva.

A continuation of Helsinki Brain & Mind, a network fostering co-operation in the field of neuroscience in Greater Helsinki, the effort rests on brain stimulation techniques developed at Aalto University and brain imaging expertise of the University of Helsinki.

Diagnostics has become an increasingly important export sub-sector for Finland. Healthtech Finland has reported that last year the exports of in-vitro diagnostic solutions increased by over 27 per cent to 830 million euros.

The boom has been attributed to factors such as the efficient healthcare system, deep-rooted tradition of university-industry research co-operation, and the availability of engineers, scientists and latest technologies.

The two Finnish universities have also reported a breakthrough for hormonal therapies for breast cancer: a way to retain hormone receptors in gel-grown miniature breasts in laboratory conditions.

Breast cancer is currently the most common type of cancer among working-age people in Finland. The majority of breast cancers are of the so-called hormone receptor-positive subtype, meaning the cancer cells contain hormone receptors that utilise hormones in the body to promote cancer growth.

While such cancers can be effectively treated by medicinally adjusting the amount of hormones the body produces, the efficacy of hormone therapies decreases over time in up to 40 per cent of cases to the extent that it becomes difficult to control the cancer. The fact that hormone receptors disappear from cancer cells in laboratory conditions has made it challenging to probe the effects of hormone therapies, lack of treatment response and new therapies.

The key to the discovery was adopting an interdisciplinary approach that combines cancer biology with materials chemistry and soft matter physics.

“It was only when we mimicked the natural mechanical properties that breast tissue [exhibits], such as high stiffness, that we were able to keep the hormone receptors present in cancer cells,” recounted researcher Pauliina Munne.

“To our great delight, they also acted as hormone receptors should and, most importantly, based on our results we were able to block their action with anew generation of hormone drugs.”

Nonappa, adjunct professor at Aalto University, said the ability to control the mechanical, biochemical and chemical functionalities of the hydrogel-based nanoscaffolds facilitates long-term study of patient-derived tissues, thus paving the way for “a novel and predictive preclinical model”.

Bioprinting for masses

Turku-based Brinter is intent on opening up the 3D bioprinting market in a way that has not been done before. Image: Brinter

Turku-based Brinter, meanwhile, has launched its entry-level bioprinting solution, Brinter Core. The modular and portable bioprinter is capable of printing multi-material and highly complex tissue structures in 3D, providing all basic bioprinting features in a 50-per cent smaller package and at a 50-per cent lower price.

Tomi Kalpio, CEO of Brinter, said the launch is an attempt to open up the 3D bioprinting market in a way that has never been done before.

“Researchers and companies need to deliver products for 3D bioprinting, but many don’t have 3D printers with unlimited bioinks and other materials yet due to their significant cost and difficulty [of] moving them between labs,” he told. “With Brinter Core, we make 3D bioprinting a reality […] for those that previously were boxed out of the market.”

Bioprinters are used increasingly in the medical, pharmaceutical and life science industries for applications ranging from cancer research to printing human “spare parts”, such as hearts, kidneys and even brains. Researchers, for example, can print three-dimensional cancer cells to monitor how they communicate with each other in order to determine the best drugs to treat the disease.

By: Aleksi Teivainen