NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Amgen Finland will use BC Platforms' tools and services, including its BRCQuest.com platform, to study data in multiple indications, including cardiovascular and bone diseases, hematological malignancies, and other cancers, the companies said this week.
According to Niilo Färkkila, country director at Amgen Finland, the deal will not only allow the company access to BCRQuest.com's network of clinical and genomic data aggregated across participating biobanks, but take advantage of Finland's electronic medical records systems and growing genomic databases.
"BCRQuest.com is a unique platform that offers a great amount of clinical and genotype data collecting from different data sources," Färkkilä said. "This is the starting point of our collaboration with BC Platforms and we believe this offers us an opportunity to bring more value for patients and the whole healthcare system in the future."
Basel, Switzerland-based BC Platforms launched its BCRQuest.com network in September, touting it as a resource for browsing clinical and genomic data aggregated across biobanks, allowing participating biorepositories and their pharmaceutical partners to streamline their efforts. Microsoft provides the cloud infrastructure for indexing and accessing the information globally and securely through its Azure platform.
Färkkilä said that the company will use BCRQuest.com to "generate real-world evidence for finding and studying ... patient groups based on combined clinical and genetic data." The service will also be used to perform real-time feasibility analyses for clinical trial recruitment and other data-driven studies, he said.
Amgen Finland and BC Platforms intend to expand their collaboration during the coming year to cover other disease areas and data sources, the firms said in a statement. They noted that the partnership was made possible by Finland's support for genomics and clinical data use in clinical decision making and commercial research.
For BC Platforms, the new deal with Amgen Finland is another step toward fulfilling its goal of building a leading analytics platform for the healthcare industry by linking resources from a growing roster of participating biobanks.
"There is a huge challenge in creating access to genetic and clinical data in combination and making that accessible without risking the data of any contributors," said Nino da Silva, executive vice president at BC Platforms. "It's a numbers game, and if you want to understand the complexity of disease then you need a lot of data and you need a higher number of subjects."
According to da Silva, BC Platforms will benefit from its new partnerships with Amgen. "Every project we conduct with every partner, whether it's pharma or a research institute, all leads to understanding the value of what we can do, and it goes into the endeavor of studying complexity of biology of disease," da Silva said. "If we do that effectively, we will meet both groups' targets, which are essentially the same in the end."
Founded in Helsinki in 1997, BC Platforms later relocated its headquarters to Basel. While it retains its facility in Finland, it also has sales offices in Boston, London, and Vancouver, Canada. According to da Silva, the company set out years ago to create the technology to allow data to be combined across biobanks within one searchable platform. The result was BCRQuest.com.
"You can use the platform to search for a specific gene in combination with specific clinical traits, and find out in which biobanks around the world these patients are located," said da Silva. "Then you can contact these biobanks to start different projects."
Samu Kurki, lead data scientist at BC Platforms, said that biotechs and pharmas like Amgen are currently constricted by the amount of data available to them. "At the moment there is very little data available that can be used for real-world evidence or clinical trial feasibility."
"With the BCRQuest.com network, it's possible to get clinical and genetic data from a single location where you can browse the available data, do feasibility, do real-world evidence, and then plan studies in Finland, Europe, and globally," he said. "Amgen is looking for patients and real data. That is what we provide."
Kurki noted that the projects specified by Amgen in cardiovascular disease and oncology were highlighted because they are "in need of new treatments and new ideas" and because the company is working in those areas. But beyond trying to broaden access to genomic and clinical data, BC Platforms' client is eager to tap into local resources to augment its efforts.
"Finland has high-quality databases that are quite harmonized and yet have not been used extensively for this kind of research," noted Kurki. "In Finland, we also have a national genome strategy to obtain and combine more genetic data that will allow us to include more genetic data from patients," said Kurki. "It will be highly likely that BCRQuest.com will have data covering all disease areas, allowing Amgen to generate hypotheses in diseases beyond these ones."
Northern Europe has become a hotbed of activity in terms of linking genomic data with national and regional electronic medical records.
Last month, Finnish researchers and pharma partners announced a €59 million ($70 million) study called FinnGen that will take advantage of the country's EMRs and biobank network to genotype 500,000 samples. Abbvie, AstraZeneca, Biogen, Celgene, Genentech, Merck, and Pfizer are all supporting the study, which is being led by the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland at the University of Helsinki.
BC Platforms said at the time that it received funding to participate in FinnGen as a technology vendor, and that it developed a data availability query, meta-analytics, and an analysis result browsing platform for FinnGen's research use.
The same month, Estonia, Finland's southern neighbor, announced it would invest €5 million to support the genotyping of 100,000 people next year. As part of the new phase of the Estonian Genome Project organizers said they would not only collect genetic data on participants, but report back genetic risks via the country's national health information system.
The Estonian Biobank, which is overseen by the Estonian Genome Center, was one of the initial biorepositories to take part in BCRQuest.com, along with other biobanks in Finland, Poland, Mexico, the US, and the UK.
Kurki said that Amgen could take advantage of such regional initiatives in the future, using BCRQuest.com. "Finland, Estonia, and Sweden are very similar," said Kurki. "It would be interesting to build an artificial intelligence model in Finland and then go and test that in Sweden or Estonia, in those populations;" he said. "They could find patients at high risk of recurrence, for instance. Finland can be used to build the tool or model, but they can test it elsewhere."
"The Nordic countries have produced EMRs for the past 30 years that are better formatted and better accessible than average," noted da Silva. "I think it is interesting that a local subsidiary of Amgen is taking advantage of where they are to improve their success and effectivity."