Over the last 25 years, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has collected biomaterial samples and associated phenotypic, lifestyle, genetic, clinical, and environmental data from the general population of Norway’s Nord Trøndelag region.
The HUNT Study began in the early 1980s with subsequent studies taking place approximately every 10 years (HUNT 1–3). HUNT 4 is expected to begin in 2015. With a participation rate at 60–88% (30,000 participated in all three current studies), HUNT is a special source for longitudinal studies and allows access to samples drawn prior to disease onset, making early disease biomarker identification and validation possible.
In 2005, the Norwegian government set up strong incentives for increased commercial activity within the country’s public universities and hospitals, and NTNU started a dedicated company for commercialization of the HUNT study. This company, HUNT Biosciences, holds an exclusive, commercial license to the population biobank material.
“Commercialization is challenging within a strong academic scientific environment. In addition to making the internal changes required by industry, such as achieving ISO 9001 certification, the main challenge HUNT Biosciences faced was to figure out how to make the massive amount of population and biobank data accessible.
“Imagine the matrix set up by 130,000 participants, more than 5,500 data variables, and 3.5 million aliquots of biomaterial topped with almost 50,000 genetic analyzes. It was important to visualize the most important cohorts within the data mass and to focus first on drilling that data down,” explains Håkon Haaheim, CBO.
HUNT Biosciences started operations in 2009 and signed its first industrial collaborations in 2010. Product development takes time, still Haaheim is optimistic that the first diagnostic utilizations may hit the market next year and that an existing commercial pharmaceutical product will be released for new indications in 2015.