People and health

Many of the significant biotechnological applications in active use can be found in the health-care sector. Research and development in medical applications in particular has been intense, and new products for the prevention and treatment of diseases are continually being obtained for laboratories, hospitals and pharmacies. One of the first applications of biotechnology in medicine were vaccines. Nowadays, biotechnology and gene technology are applied in a wide area ranging from research on the genetic susceptibilities of a population to research on the underlying mechanisms of diseases and to drug safety studies. Other examples of applications include the precise identification of infection-causing microbes, the production of pharmaceuticals or vaccines, new treatment methods based on gene knowledge, such as gene therapy and stem cell treatments. Tissue technology is currently a fast-growing sector, and biomaterials have become important tools in surgery. Many other new products and applications are being developed. Some of the hopes directed towards the field are, however, as yet aspirations, the realisation of which is decades in the future.

The trend is increasingly moving towards personalised medicine in which the suitability of a particular drug or treatment and follow-up treatment can be determined individually for each patient. This is possible by combining targeted diagnostics with drug or other treatment, and tailoring them to suit the needs of each patient. The onset of a disease can be predicted by means of sensitive diagnostic testing at an earlier stage and it is possible to intervene in the development of a decease earlier, even before it starts. This will help to develop more effective treatments that are appropriate for particular forms of a disease or individual patients. It should nevertheless be remembered that drug development is a slow process − development from prodrug to final product takes from 10 to 15 years, on average.

Medical applications require basic research in many different fields besides biotechnology; increasingly, information technology, material sciences and nanotechnology are also needed. A significant part of the research conducted in Finland is directed at the area of so-called biomedicine in which many of the country’s most renowned researchers work. Finnish research is at the forefront of the world in some areas of biomedicine. The development and adoption of new technology involves issues, the resolution of which require in-depth examination of our values, such as the nature of genetic information and its proper use, or questions of individual self-determination and privacy relating to new research methods and forms of treatment. A significant part of research and product development in the field is stringently regulated. The ethical evaluation system and supervision by the authorities required by law cover a large part of medical research and biotechnological product development in the field.