The Finnish Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (FSGCT) was established in 1999 to support research in gene and cell therapy and to promote education of general public, funding agencies, regulators and society at large on this novel form of therapy. Since then the field has moved from an early experimental stage and clinical testing to a more mature discipline which today covers excellent basic science, translational applications and clinical research with the first encouraging examples of the potential of gene and cell therapy as a new branch of medicine. At the moment, the first gene therapy products have already been approved for clinical use in EU and USA and several new therapies are being developed based on both gene therapy and gene-modified cell delivery to human body. The path is now open for other gene medicines to follow.
During the last few years the field has seen tremendous improvements in technologies, vectors, delivery methods and treatment applications which will be tested for safety and efficacy for a wide variety of diseases. Advances in stem cell biology, better understanding of the principles of tissue regeneration and immunological aspects related to gene and cell therapy, and the structure and function of human genome in general have advanced the field much faster than anybody could have anticipated a few years ago. Encouraging early clinical results in several rare inherited diseases, such as hemophilia, immune-deficiencies, retinal diseases, storage diseases and adaptive immune therapy for cancer have already been obtained. While we still lack definite proof of long-term safety and efficacy of these new therapies, it is evident that risk-benefit analysis in at least some serious diseases has begun to favor gene therapy applications.
While it is clear that gene and cell therapy is still in its early days, we look forward to further advancements and discoveries in basic technologies that will allow more efficient and safer gene transfer, strict regulation of transgene expression and precise genome editing. Further understanding of immunological aspects related to vectors, transgenes and cell products will undoubtedly be helpful for the development of clinical applications. At the same time the fast progress in large-scale manufacturing technologies has enabled the expansion of gene therapy applications to major chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, making them now realistic targets for gene and cell therapy. Appropriate preclinical models, standardized preclinical data dossiers and predictable regulatory processes will further help to make these new therapeutic approaches a clinical reality. However, as these treatments are new and are based on various combinations of gene delivery vectors and cell populations, both careful scientific evaluation of the safety and efficacy, and education of medical professionals are needed to avoid false expectations and ignorance of potential harmful effects of these powerful new therapies.
FSGCT aims to bring the latest information and advances based on these new therapies to Finnish medical professionals, scientists and patients. Continuous education, organizing scientific symposia, hands-on training courses and lectures for general public are the means which our society will use to achieve its goals. We will also give travel grants to promising young scientists and doctors to attend international gene and cell therapy conferences. Participation in international networks and professional gene and cell therapy organizations is an important part of our actions. We aim to strengthen Finnish gene and cell therapy community, participate in the work of patient organizations and attract funding for this new scientific discipline.
I welcome all interested parties, organizations and individuals to join Finnish Society of Gene and Cell Therapy and to become part of this new exiting field of scientific research and next generation clinical medicine.
Seppo Ylä-Herttuala, MD, PhD, FESC
Academy Professor, University of Eastern Finland
President of the Finnish Society of Gene and Cell Therapy