Located between two lakes, Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi, Finland’s Manchester possesses a vibrant ecosystem, supporting life science collaborations across disciplines.
In a beautiful Finnish landscape consisting of lakes and nature reserves, and with characteristic red brick buildings revealing the industrial history, lies Finland’s second largest city region with close to half a million inhabitants. The city of Tampere has been an industrial pioneer, starting with the first paper mill in 1783. By the beginning of the 20th century it was the largest industrial city in Finland. Today it is one of the country’s most rapidly developing regions and still a center for Finnish industry.
The biomaterials capital of Europe
The life science industry in Tampere originated with the pharmaceutical company Star that was established in 1922 and is the predecessor of Santen, which is still the largest life science employer in Tampere, with over 450 people working there.
Important milestones in Tampere’s life science history are pioneering research in biodegradable materials (1978), a clinical trial using pins in ankle surgeries (1984) and later, manufacturing of biodegradable pins and screws.
”Research in the health and life science field in Tampere has been growing ever since the 70s and 80s, when the first biomedical engineering academic positions were established at the Tampere University of Technology and the pioneering biomaterial companies started their operations. Tampere was in those days the biomaterials capital of Europe,” says Juho Väisänen, Program Manager of BioMediTech Institute of Biosciences and Medical technology at the University of Tampere (UTA) and the Tampere University of Technology (TUT). BioMediTech comprises over 350 researchers, and is also a contract research partner for the industry.
The city was also first in the world with digital X-ray images (1998), and a clinical cranial bone fixation derived from the patient’s own fat tissue (2006). More recently the life science industry in Tampere is also known for the optical gripper (2016), adaptive bone graft substitutes (2017), and an epilepsy application with a medical device rating (2017).
Digital health on the rise
Life science companies currently account for roughly five percent of all technological industries in Tampere, both in turnover and employment. The city still has several strong biomaterials companies, but the health technology industry and research, especially digital health solutions, has also been growing rapidly over the past decade.
”In a global scale, Tampere has a strong research and industry in biomaterials, wearable and digital health technologies, and vaccine development, as well as in specialized healthcare services, like the Norlandia patient hotel, the Heart hospital, and the Joint replacement hospital Coxa,” says Väisänen.
Strong research areas are biomaterials, biomedical engineering, especially wearable and digital health technologies, vaccine development, and prostate cancer research, Väisänen states.
Platforms for innovation
In January 2019 the Tampere University of Technology (TUT) and the University of Tampere (UTA) will merge into one, new university called Tampere University. Together with major shareholding in Tampere University of Applied Sciences they will form a unique, new university community. The merge will bring together medicine and other life science research and education activities into a single organization, with 40 000 students and professors.
“This will even enhance the uniqueness and the advantage of Tampere as a life science hub,” says Väisänen. “Tampere has a strong collaboration between clinicians, biologists and engineers, and a vibrant ecosystem that supports this collaboration.”
Last spring the Tampere University Hospital also established its own RDI (Research, Development & Innovation) center, for example merging biobank activities with the science center.
Located on Tampere’s Kauppi campus, the HealthHUB brings together health, wellbeing, health technology and research-oriented companies and talents, and provides an environment for the co-development of new ideas and innovations. In addition, Business Tampere, the region’s economic development agency, promotes investment, attracts talent and creates a good environment for business in the region. The city is also a forerunner of open innovation and leading coordinator of the national Innovative Cities Program.
An example of a successful multi competence collaboration project is Human Spare Parts, a research program initiated in 2011 and hosted by the BioMediTech Research Institute. The goal is to study and develop stem cell based solutions for tissue defects and find new treatments for bone, neural, retinal and cardiac diseases and traumas. Based on strong collaborations between research groups at the universities and their joint research results in the Human Spare Parts program, the Centre of Excellence in Body-on-Chip Research (CoEBoC) also aims to develop a new “body-on-chip” platform. This will consist of several cultured tissue blocks connected with cultured vasculature and nervous system. The nervous system integrated with a computer measures, stimulates, analyzes and even controls the different biological processes in vitro. The resulting expertise and technologies developed will hopefully lead, for example, to development of new personalized treatments and drug development.
Another example of a successful collaboration between different competences is the Vaccine Research Center at the University of Tampere. The center, formally established in 2004, carries out vaccine clinical trials in co-operation with the pharmaceutical industry. It currently operates a network of 10 regional vaccine research clinics, which enables national trials and large multinational studies. It is specialized in viral vaccines in children and is well known for its studies, for example of varicella, influenza and rotavirus. The studies at the center have also been important for the US registration of live attenuated intranasal influenza vaccine. In the past, studies in Tampere held a key position for registration of varicella vaccine in Europe and, more recently, in the registration of MMR+varicella vaccine.
Photographer: Jonne Renvall/University of Tampere
6 X life science companies in Tampere
The company has developed a novel mobile application and supporting solutions for long-term monitoring, improving the quality of life of epilepsy patients.
A diverse team of bioinformatics professionals with projects that support all omics-intensive research projects.
The company focuses on development, manufacturing and marketing of bioabsorbable, bioactive and drug-releasing surgical implants for orthopedic, trauma and sports medicine surgeries.
The company has developed the first bone graft substitute that the surgeon can cut, shape or squeeze into place.
The company develops and licenses vaccines and novel technologies for vaccines and diagnostics.
A medical devices company focused on the development and commercialization of innovative biodegradable and bioactive implants for speciality orthopaedic, craniomaxillofacial, spinal and dental applications.