FIMM and HARMONY working together

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Published: 23 Nov 2017
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Dr Caroline Heckman - University of Helsinki and FIMM

Dr Caroline Heckman from the University of Helsinki and FIMM (Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland) talks to ecancer at the HARMONY 2017 meeting in Berlin. She discusses the role of FIMM in the HARMONY project, and how this will help the datasets and analysis. She also explaines how although this is quite new to Europe as a whole, Finland has seen large data sharing before and hopefully will be able to contribute valuable advice to the project.

I’m from the Institute of Molecular Medicine in Finland, or FIMM, and the University of Helsinki. We were invited to join the HARMONY project because we have considerable expertise in genomic studies and also next generation sequence analysis. Also we work very closely with the haematology clinic in Helsinki and also throughout Finland. So at FIMM we host a genome centre where we can do genomic sequencing and we take in samples from our haematology clinic to do sequence analysis. So this expertise was attractive to the HARMONY project so we were invited to join. As a small country, Finland itself is only 5.5 million people, we don’t have a large patient cohort and haematological malignancies themselves are quite rare. So it’s really difficult to do very strong research in such a small country. But by participating in the HARMONY project we can contribute our expertise and the data that we have already generated to a larger pool and have much more impact in terms of new findings and also being able to use data that we have generated to a greater extent and also collaborate with other groups and generate much stronger research questions and findings. So it’s been a nice way to really extend our expertise and apply it to a much wider project.

Is it unusual to have access to this much data?

Actually this is very common for us in Finland because in small countries like ours there are very nice genome studies where we are collecting information from the population and doing large-scale genomic projects. We have very good IT infrastructure so, to us, this isn’t really that new but being able to see this applied in a European-wide manner is really exciting. And also our interest in haematological diseases will also be quite helpful. So it’s really exciting to see this has grown and hopefully we can use our expertise and help this project grow and take the small datasets that we have and contribute to this greater need.

Will technological development bring better patient care?

Definitely, right now this is the era of precision medicine and haematological malignancies have really been at the forefront of this era in terms of finding new targeted therapies for specific patient groups. The field can go further and, as we’ve seen already from the earlier genomic studies in these diseases, each patient is quite unique and you cannot treat a patient in a very general manner, they need to have more specific care. By doing big data analysis we can start finding more targeted treatments for smaller patient groups and also help the pharmaceutical industry develop their therapies at a much quicker pace.

What are you hoping to achieve through the HARMONY project?

They’ve already made a great achievement already after one year in getting the platform set up so now the next step is getting the rest of us to contribute our data and start the analytical process and really start showing the outcome and results from that analysis. So by year two there should be some nice outcomes already.

Is this when patients will start seeing results?

Hopefully we have new ideas on how patients can be treated better and by that time, yes, the pharma companies can probably move their pipelines forward a little bit more quickly and design better clinical trials. Through those trials patients will be able to receive new treatments and get access to better drugs.