FinnGen Taps Metabolon for Population Health Studies

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Finland’s national public health project FinnGen, which aims to collect genomic data from 500,000 Finns—about 10% of the country’s population—announced that it has partnered with U.S.-based Metabolon to leverage metabolomics data to inform how the genetic influences within individuals manifest in biological function and the development of diseases.

FinnGen was launched in 2017 as a nationwide biobanking effort that combines both genetic information and digital healthcare data from its participants. The research project is led, in part, by Mark Daly, a noted geneticist with the Broad Institute who was named co-director in 2018. The six-year, €59 million project received funding from the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes) and pharmaceutical companies AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Biogen, Celgene, Genentech, Merck, and Pfizer.

“One of the key interests in FinnGen is to understand biological consequences of genetic disease associated variants that are enriched in the Finnish population. Metabolomic analyses have the potential to provide important insight to this aim,” said professor Aarno Palotie, FinnGen scientific director from the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki, which provides coordination for the project.

According to FinnGen, the research effort has already identified more than 400 disease-associated genetic variants within the Finnish population. Like other country-wide genetic studies, the ultimate of aim of the program is to identify new biomarker that can aid in the development of novel drugs and treatment approaches for a broad range of diseases.

As Daly noted at the time of his appointment as co-director: “There are so many new opportunities in which partnership with the Finnish population can advance research and industry in a world-leading fashion. And at the same time, Finns, first in the world, receive the medical benefits of genome information in clinical settings. Breakthroughs that arise from the project will benefit drug discovery programs and health care systems globally. The combination of unique genetic heritage, decades of population-wide medical registry data and cutting-edge genomics position Finland as a global testbed for medical research and innovation.”

Metabolon’s deep metabolomics data and analysis platform is aimed at bringing additional insight to the project and to better understand how genetic variation affects patient phenotypes. According to the company, its platform can detect more than 5,400 metabolites across 70 major biochemical pathways and can do so using a variety of sample types, including tissue, blood, and urine.

To date, FinnGen has produced a number of peer-reviewed publications including on a wide variety of diseases including neurology (epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, ischemic stroke), cardiology (atrial fibrillation, heart failure), endocrinology (type 2 diabetes, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease), rheumatology (arthritis), respiratory (COVID-19), and various forms of cancer. Many of these studies have used advanced bioinformatics techniques to analyze casual relationships between organ functions, genome-wide meta-analysis, and have replicated findings using FinnGen and other world-class biobanks to benefit people on a global basis.

“FinnGen is an incredible genomic initiative that will now add deep metabolomic datasets to enrich their current genomic and clinical datasets,” said Dr. Karl Quinn, director of Population Health, International Business, Metabolon. “These combined datasets enable academic and pharma researchers to better understand disease and conduct multi-omic analyses to develop new biomarkers, diagnostic tools, and novel therapeutics.”

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