Recognized as a leading research and technology organization in the Nordic countries, the state-owned VTT Technical Research Center of Finland is continuing with Phase 2 of its PreMed project, which is intended to introduce a corporate perspective into the planning of a national service operator to coordinate the use of health data.

In Finland, health data collected in national registries already serves fairly well the needs of clinical care, fundamental academic research, and statistical purposes. However, the use of such data in company-driven research remains limited, even though applied research is essential for creating innovations, such as developing new treatment methods, drugs, and well-being products.

But a new Finnish law on the secondary uses of health and social services data aims to make the exploitation of health data more flexible than before, and to increase the exploitation of deidentified data for purposes beyond the treatment of patients. The service operator to be established with the new legislation will be tasked with ensuring that information security is maintained, even while the exploitation of health data increases. The PreMed project is providing assistance for establishing the service operator and introduces the perspective and needs of applied research to the development work.


Jaakko Lähteenmäki, VTT Technical Research Center of Finland.

“If it was easier to use the health data of Finnish people, the citizens could get even better treatment and support for promoting their own health. The health data could be used for such purposes as developing functional foods and drugs,” says Jaakko Lähteenmäki, principal scientist at VTT. “Easier access to data would also enhance the quality and efficiency of healthcare by means of, for example, artificial intelligence-based applications. Naturally, when using data, it is important to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of the data on citizens.”

The PreMed project was launched in spring 2017. It is currently being funded by VTT, Business Finland, and the companies that joined the project in November 2018. Phase 1 of the project included an interview study with 38 companies and organizations within the sector.

“Pharmaceutical companies and organizations providing research services to them, already exploit health data extensively,” says Lähteenmäki. “However, based on the results of the interview study, many other sectors, such as food industry and software companies, are also interested in using the health data of citizens and the research results based on it in a larger extent than before.”

Finnish enterprises find it particularly challenging that health data are currently scattered and maintained in different silos by a variety of organizations. Under the current circumstances, pessimists are concerned that research based on registered data and the development of artificial intelligence solutions will flee from Finland to countries where such data are more easily accessible.

“Today, the acquisition of operating licenses requires filling-in separate applications to many stakeholders, which is not only expensive but highly time-consuming as well,” says Lähteenmäki. “However, the law defining secondary use of health and social services data and the national service operator based on the law are considered a very significant opportunity. We definitely want to be involved in this preparation process.”

Phase 2 of the PreMed project began in November 2018, and will include a registry and biobank study utilizing various data sources. It will examine, for example, the use of genomic data in the implementation of personalized drug therapies. The PreMed project will continue until June 2020.

For further information, visit VTT Technical Research Center of Finland Ltd.

Featured Image: VTT:n uutinen / VTT news 5.6.2018.