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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Biobanking Potential

Dr Jutta Heix and Dr Ole Jørgen Marvik at HUNT Biosciences analyse the future development of biobanks and their impact on medical genomics

While Francis Collins issued his call for biobanks to be established in Nature in 2004, Norway had already started recruiting cohorts in the early 1980s. Building on a long tradition of conducting regional epidemiologic health studies and keeping national health registries, Norway has become one of the few countries in the world that already has large population-based biobanks available to scientists. Furthermore, there has and continues to be strong feeling amongst participants that these resources should be used for the good of people in all countries. This article surveys the current biobank scene including HUNT Biosciences, a new publicly-owned company that has been established in Norway to be the commercial interface between one of the largest regional cohorts, the HUNT Studies, and industry. This could provide a model for other biobanks in Norway and further afield.

INDUSTRY AWAKENING TO THE POTENTIAL VALUE

The widely heralded vision of medical genomics emerged from the Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003. However, the technology required for broad high-capacity association studies between genotype and clinical phenotype has only recently been developed and implemented. This has prompted intense interest in medically-relevant, high-quality biobank resources.

An increasing number of pharmaceutical companies are accumulating patient-derived genetic material inhouse, based on research and clinical studies conducted under their own sponsorship and supervision. While these cohorts provide highly useful research information in the context of the original disease indication, their utility for other indications is unknown and, in any case, is often limited by consent issues. Pivotal discoveries from clinical trials will require confirmation studies in generalised cohorts, as will the study of biomarkers, the causes of multifactorial or rare diseases and the impact on disease incidence of environmental factors.


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Dr Jutta Heix is a Business Development Consultant for HUNT Biosciences. Dr Heix studied Biology at the University of Bonn, before completing her PhD at the Institute for Cell and Tumor Biology at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heldelberg. She went on to hold key business development positions at both Roche Diagnostics and Axaron Bioscience, before becoming a private consultant.

Dr Ole Jørgen Marvik is an Advisor to HUNT Biosciences, which acts as the commercial interface between the HUNT biobank and the pharmaceutical industry. Dr Marvik is also currently Life Sciences Sector Head for Innovation Norway and a Partner in 4bio, a Scandinavian life sciences management consultancy firm. Having studied Molecular Cell Biology at Oslo University, Dr Marvik was previously founder and CEO of Affitech AS, a human antibody company.

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Dr Jutta Heix
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Dr Ole Jørgen Marvik
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