President’s letter:

The Finnish Society of Gene Therapy (FSGT) 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. An important milestone was the approval of the first gene therapy product (Glybera®) for the clinical treatment of severe lipoprotein lipase deficiency by the European Union authorities in November 2012. 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 in 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, neurological 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 would allow more efficient and safer gene transfer, strict regulation of transgene expression and precise genome editing. Further understanding of the immunological aspects related to the 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.

FSGT supports and promotes all these activities in Finland and abroad by giving a forum for continuous exchange of ideas and fruitful discussions between all interested parties. Scientific symposia and practical training courses organized by FSGT are an important part of our mission to disseminate knowledge and increase awareness about gene and cell therapy among scientists, clinicians and the society at large. With this in mind, it is a great pleasure that FSGT has been selected as the host of the 2015 European Society of Gene and Cell Therapy Congress (ESGCT XXV Annual Congress) which will be held in Helsinki in September 17-20, 2015.

I warmly welcome all interested parties from Finland and abroad to join FSGT and to participate in the 2015 ESGCT Annual Congress in Helsinki!

October 9, 2014

Seppo Ylä-Herttuala, MD, PhD, FESC
President
Finnish Society of Gene Therapy