NordForsk is investing in health and welfare research

NordForsk is investing in health and welfare research

NordForsk’s many research projects in the health and welfare sphere are delivering knowledge to Nordic cooperation. Gunnel Gustafsson, Director of NordForsk, believes that a knowledge-based foundation will be critical for the important decisions that will be taken in the health and welfare sector in coming years.

“NordForsk is intended to provide a platform where research initiatives can interact and create synergies,” said Ms Gustafsson at the annual stakeholder workshop held recently for the Nordic Trial Alliance (NTA).

“NordForsk brings together multiple research projects, making them all stronger,” said Kristjan Erlendsson, Special Advisor in Science and Education to the Icelandic Ministry of Welfare and an NTA board member.

Bringing more clinical studies to the Nordic countries

The research groups, authorities and other interested parties who attended the NTA workshop all agreed that closer cooperation within Nordic medical research will create synergies. Participants included research groups working with biobanks, health registries, epidemiology, clinical intervention studies and ethics. Also represented were the pharmaceutical industry, researcher networks, research funders and government authorities.

Towards a common Nordic clinical research area?

NTA_SHM14_Gunnarsson&Hjalmquist_mflThe NTA is a three-year pilot project designed to make it easier to carry out clinical research in the Nordic countries. The past ten years have seen a decrease in the number of clinical trials conducted in the Nordic region, and there is broad agreement that this trend must be reversed. More clinical studies in the Nordic countries will give the population faster access to new treatment methods and medicines.

“Together the Nordic countries can become an important European area for clinical trials,” said Christina Åkerman, chair of the NTA board and Director General of the Swedish Medical Products Agency.

Adapting national regulations NTA_SHM14_Ackermann&Nilsson

“Many of the obstacles to achieving more and better cross-national cooperation in health and welfare research are the same, whether we are talking about biobanks, health registries or clinical trials,” added Maria Nilsson, Senior Adviser at NordForsk. She believes that the solution lies in adapting the regulations and procedures in the various countries.

There was general agreement among the workshop participants that the ability to share medical data between the Nordic countries for research purposes must be expanded. Research infrastructure has a lot to say in this context. “If we are to be able to compare medical data, the different countries’ systems and procedures for collecting data need to be modified,” asserted Ms Nilsson.

Industry vital to clinical research

NTA_SHM14_Elinder&Enberg&JanzonThe UK succeeded in raising its number of clinical trials after years of declining figures. Professor Desmond Johnston, director of a UK network for clinical research on diabetes, said at the workshop that the establishment of the National Institute for Health Research, together with several regional clinical research networks, has been instrumental in increasing the number of clinical trials carried out. He also stressed the important role of direct and indirect support from the pharmaceutical industry.

“In my experience,” said Professor Johnston, “industry is very willing to contribute to researcher-initiated clinical trials.”

Ralf W. Ackermann, Medical Director at Danish pharmaceutical Novo Nordisk, agreed. “Novo Nordisk invests 10-12 percent of its annual turnover back into research. When it comes to clinical trials, we have to strike a balance between quality, time and cost.”

“In addition we know that safety and ethics are essential – medicines are always a topic of debate,” added Mr Ackermann, who is also on the NTA board.

How to achieve more cooperation

Kristjan Erlendsson summarised the NTA workshop with a list of recommendations and ideas that may lead to more joint Nordic research:

  • Build up networks in clinical research
  • Determine a minimum level for cooperation
  • Adapt national legislation
  • Mutual acceptance of other Nordic countries’ research ethics approvals
  • One organisation in each country to collect national data
  • A joint Nordic organisation for coordination

In conclusion Mr Erlendsson said, “There are no simple solutions for achieving a common Nordic area for clinical research, but we have certainly come one step closer to achieving it.”

Main image: A view of the meeting participants with from the left Arvid Söderhäll, Head Project Manager «Trials for Swedish Medicine», Royal Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), Joakim Dillner, Joakim Dillner, Professor, Karolinska Institutet and BBMRI-Nordic and Steinar Aamdal, Professor II, University of Oslo.
Image 1: In the front Pétur Sigurður Gunnarsson from the National University Hospital of Iceland. Pétur was hosting the Stakeholder Meeting. He is a member of the NTA Working Group and a national contact point for NTA on Iceland.
To the right Erland Hjelmquist, Professor, University of Gothenburg and former Secretary General Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte) who was leading one of the break-out sessions at the meeting.
Image 2: Ralf W. Ackermann, Novo Nordisk and Maria Nilsson, NordForsk. In the background Kristjan Erlendsson, and Pétur Sigurður Gunnarsson. Both of them work at Landspitalinn – the National University Hospital of Iceland.
Image 3: Göran Elinder, Professor at Karolinska Institutet and member of the Nordic Committee on Bioethics, and Gösta Enberg from Headlong Development, in discussion with Ulf Janzon from Merck Sharp & Dohme (Sweden).

See more pictures from the NTA Stakeholder Meeting on NordForsk's Facebook page.

Text and images: Anne B. Heieraas