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Finland's MediSapiens Providing Informatics Support to Estonian Personalized Medicine Consortium

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Finnish bioinformatics firm MediSapiens has been selected as a partner in an international consortium headed by the Competence Centre on Health Technologies of Estonia (CCHT) that aims to develop personalized medicine applications that combine patients' genomic and health data.

In addition to MediSapiens and CCHT, the other consortium members are the University of Tartu's Estonian Genome Center, Tallinn University of Technology's eMedicine Laboratory, and BioEximi OÜ. Also on the team are Finland's Duodecim Medical Publications and Portuguese firm Coimbra Genomics. The project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund via Enterprise Estonia, the CCHT, and its consortium partners.

The first steps of the project will be to assess the necessary requirements for developing "clinically valid and commercially viable" personalized medicine products and services. Part of this phase, which is expected to wrap in May this year, will involve seeking counsel from clinical experts in order to align the fruits of the consortium with existing market needs and ensure that products developed by the group are clinically applicable. The consortium will also evaluate and assess different business models for bringing these products and services to market.

The consortium will also inventory existing resources including the informatics capabilities of members like MediSapiens to see where these tools can be put to use, Sami Kilpinen, MediSapiens' CEO and co-founder, told GenomeWeb. It will also settle on realistic first steps that members can work on in the subsequent research and development phases of the project, he said.

Headquartered in Helsinki, Finland with an office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MediSapiens builds customized solutions for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and diagnostics firms. Initially focused on providing research software, the company began reconfiguring its solutions for molecular diagnostics and personalized medicine in 2010 with the help of a $1 million seed investment from Finnish investors.

Previously, the company provided off-the-shelf software solutions for analyzing genomic data but ultimately changed its approach as a result of repeated requests from its clients to customize implementations of its tools, according to Kilpinen. "Because our customers mostly work in the scientific projects ... they always want to do things in a different way or apply some new algorithm or data type," he explained. Constantly having to make changes to an off-the-shelf software product "gets really hard [and] that's why we adjusted our business model."

Now the company crafts solutions tailored to customers' unique needs and requirements using different informatics components it has developed over the years. It offers both informatics components and datasets that can be cobbled together into bespoke solutions including the MediSapiens Explorer platform, which provides tools for storing and managing genomic sequence, clinical data, and other datasets; and IST Online, a database of over 20,000 gene expression samples from cancers and other diseases.

The company has developed systems for customers such as GeneScoper, an animal diagnostics firm in Finland that offers parental testing, genetic diversity assessment, and disease diagnosis; and Bayer Healthcare. Besides ensuring that customers get exactly what they need in their systems, working with MediSapiens can also result in more cost-effectively built systems, Kilpinen added. Building all of the requisite components for a bespoke system from scratch and putting them together can be quite expensive. However, since the company already has a number of the requisite parts in house, it can put together systems more cheaply and faster than some other companies might.

The Estonian project is still in its early stages so it's not yet clear what MediSapiens' contribution to the consortium will be but it will likely run along similar lines as the company's previous projects, Kilpinen said. It's not the only informatics company in the consortium. Both Duodecim Medical Publications and Coimbra Genomics also have informatics products in their portfolios. Coimbra, for example, develops clinical decision support systems that use patients' whole genome sequences. In 2013, the company was linked to a project with BGI and others that aimed to investigate the genetic basis of gastric cancer. However, Kilpinen believes that MediSapiens' customized development approach distinguishes it from these firms who already have defined products that they can contribute.

"MediSapiens is the overall glue which can take all these parts together and make a production-[ready] version," he said. "We have very scalable and usable technology … [to] make it happen."

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