Universities in Finland are raising the country’s profile as a hub for biomedicine by teaming up to form the Biocenter Finland co-operation network.

The aim is to strengthen and internationalise Finnish research in life sciences, biomedicine and biotechnology, while narrowing the gap between bench and clinic by promoting more efficient use of research outcomes and better implementation of new technologies in Finland.

The founding partners in Biocenter Finland are the A.I. Virtanen Institute of Molecular Sciences at the University of Kuopio; Biocenter Oulu (University of Oulu); Biocentrum Helsinki (University of Helsinki); BioCity Turku (University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University); and the Institute of Medical Technology (University of Tampere). Other notable players in the life sciences sector may subsequently join the network, such as the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, due to be launched this year.

The management team for the new network will be drawn from national biocentres and co-operation partners. It will operate a rotating directorship, starting with Professor Taina Pihlajaniemi, the scientific director of Biocenter Oulu.

International network of research

Biocenter Finland sees itself as part of an international network of leading research organisations based on co-operation, joint services and participation in large-scale infrastructure projects. It plans to work closely with university hospitals, polytechnics, clinical researchers, technicians and industry. Biocenter Finland will also make proposals on developing and funding the research infrastructure for life sciences, biomedicine and biotechnology at Finnish universities.

Finland already has a substantial, if relatively immature, biotechnology sector, with some 120 companies active in the field. Around 20 of these are engaged in pharmaceuticals and 30 in diagnostics. Nearly half of all the biotechnology companies in Finland were formed after 1996, according to a case study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Among companies founded since 1991, 67% were research spin-offs.

The research infrastructure in Finland was bolstered by the launch of the biocentres programme in the mid-80s. Biocenter Oulu was the first of these institutions to be set up, in 1986.