Nordic biobank initiative presented in US Congress

Nordic biobank initiative presented in US Congress

A delegation from the Nordic biobanking infrastructure BioBanking and Molecular Research Infrastructure (BBMRI Nordic) recently visited Washington DC, where it appeared before the US Congress.

“There was great interest in the Nordic collaboration,” explains Jan-Eric Litton, Director of BBMRI Nordic and professor at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The biobanking infrastructure project has received funding from NordForsk as part of a strategic research initiative promoting Nordic collaboration in research infrastructure.

This Nordic pilot project is studying the environmental and genetic factors that lead to colorectal cancer, as a means of achieving earlier detection.

This network collaboration provides a unique opportunity to collect data through large-scale studies of a disease so rare that the individual countries are unable to generate sufficient data for reliable research on their own.


Long-term endeavour

The European Parliament took the initiative for the meetings in Washington DC. Three different infrastructure initiatives were presented. BBMRI Nordic was the only initiative in biobanking presented from Europe.

In addition to the meeting in Congress, the biobanking infrastructure network was also presented at the Irish, French and Austrian embassies in the period 4-6 June.

These meetings aim to encourage further dialogue on international science interaction between members of the US Congress, officials from EU institutions, and leading international scientists as well as their industry partners. The objective is to increase awareness among decision-makers of the importance of active cooperation between scientific, regulatory and political circles.


“It was nice to be invited. The attention focused on our project is very important to us. How valuable it will turn out to be in the long run is difficult to say. This is a type of activity that has a very long-term perspective,” says Dr Litton.


Collaboration with Pfizer

As proof that international contacts do pay off, the Pfizer pharmaceutical corporation now wishes to establish collaboration with BBMRI Nordic.

Dr Litton explains:

“One of the problems associated with pharmaceutical research in medicine is that the costs are very high while the results may have a rather limited scope of application. Biobank-based research is becoming more and more important for this type of activity.”

Health registries and biobanks exist elsewhere, but the Nordic countries are unique in that our registries have such similar structures that can be combined. Another unique characteristic is that these registries include personal identity numbers so that developments in an individual’s health may be followed over many years.


Another problem with Big Pharma is that most clinical studies in connection with pharmaceutical research are being carried out in China and India. The large pharmaceutical companies are eager to establish similar activity in Europe.

“This is also part of the reason why they are interested in us,” Dr Litton points out.


The Nordic countries have been pioneers in the development of registry-based biobanks, i.e. a systematised collection of biological material samples with associated databases used for research and in other applications.

“Cooperation within the Nordic region is easy to achieve,” Jan-Eric Litton affirms. He believes that this is a real strength when it comes to quality.

“I am convinced that when more than one group collaborates on these samples, the quality of the research also improves.”

“If the results obtained from this collaboration prove viable, then the same principles could also pave the way for a systematic approach to a number of other Nordic-level disease studies,” Dr Litton believes.

Text: Siw Ellen Jakobsen