The new growth strategy for research and innovation and Comprehensive Cancer Center Finland, FCI Finnish Comprehensive Cancer Center Symposium – Frontiers in translational cancer research, Helsinki

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor to have the opportunity to open a symposium of such a high level. Cancer research is surely one of the most important research fields in improving health of people all over the world. Cancer is undeniably one of the wackiest of problems of the mankind. But as the Minister of economic affairs, my message to you is not so much on health as such but more about how health is related to economic growth.

Finland is one of those countries that are facing a severe structural change. In our case, it is unfortunate that two important sectors of the economy, the ICT and the paper industry, have lost a big share of their former strength at the same time. This is obviously not good for the economy of a small country.

The government has reacted to the situation in many ways. What has been common to the actions is that they all aim at fostering new growth. We have, for instance, decreased taxation on company profits and increased public seed capital funding for small companies. What is interesting for today is that the government has also compiled a set of strategies on a number of critically important future growth areas of the economy – and that health is among those.

Finland has invested in health-related science, research and education for a very long time. Without doubt, it is one of the top most heavily invested areas of the society. For a long time, most of this investment was performed with the objective that it should promote better health of the Finnish citizens. This is of course still the objective. What is, however, interesting is that recently we have started to link these investments also to growth.

As you all know, health is one of the fastest growing global markets. It is also a market where a lot of changes are taking place. Some of these relate to rapidly increasing costs in developing new drugs. Digitalisation is another factor that causes changes in health markets. We believe that both of these changes create new opportunities for Finland, perhaps especially in personalized health care and medicine.

To realize these opportunities, the government has just prepared a strategy document on how to foster growth in the Finnish health sector. The primary focuses are on health technology and pharmaceutical research. My point is not to go through the strategy here but just to point out how important the topic of your symposium is for the strategy.

Health sector generates at the moment some 5 billion euros as economic output in Finland. Most of this goes to exports, which has been steadily rising. What is noteworthy is that currently health has just become the top sector of Finland when it comes to high tech exports. The new strategy makes the point that the health sector’s ecosystem is not working properly. By correcting these weaknesses, we believe that the growth in the sector can be speeded up. This requires, for instance, that both university hospitals and companies collaborate more closely and that university research results get commercialized much more than currently. It is also a must that the critical players – university hospitals – understand their role in the ecosystem and especially as an innovation platform for start-ups.

Health is similar to many other sectors of the economy in that to be an important player one really needs to play in the major league. Anything below that is not enough. Only by being among the best you can attract global attention – investments, skills and market share. There is no easy way to the top; it is all about hard work.

One thing that a country can do and where public sector is needed is that we can select a few areas where we really want to excel and then concentrate resources – both public and private – to sharpen these spearheads. In health, Finland has a few such potential spearheads and they relate in many ways to research.

Cancer research is one such area. It has been there for some time already but only quite recently we have started to take action to turn this into a real spearhead. A concrete action around this is the initiative for a national Comprehensive Cancer Center Finland. It aims at networking the Finnish research organizations around cancer research. By doing so, we wish to concentrate resources and intensify cooperation in research. If all goes well, it will show out as a very lucrative center of excellence when looked outside of Finland. One outcome would be to attract international R&D investments and top talents in Finland. It is no overstatement to say that the Comprehensive Cancer Center Finland is a model for the strategy as well as for the whole health ecosystem of the level of ambition we should have in all our future growth initiatives.

In fact, I really hope – and I’m willing to put my emphasis on it that we could achieve concrete steps forward in this project during this year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

With these words I wish the best for your symposium. I sincerely hope that you heard how strongly I underlined the importance of your work – both to health and to growth.