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Biobank is a treasure chest for researchers

Higher Education Minister Morten Østergaard's speech at the official opening of the Danish National Biobank 21 March in Copenhagen.

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Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great honour to participate in the opening of the Danish National Biobank. Which will be one of the world's largest biobanks.
It is a bank in the best meaning of the word. Because it is a place where valuables can be stored safely. And it is a place with a high interest rate.

But it is an unusual bank. The currency is biological samples and the return on investment is research results that benefit the research of diseases, their prevention and treatment.

A unique Danish strength

The Danish National Biobank will help put Denmark in a unique international position in relation to health research and the development of new medicine and treatment.

The huge amount of biological samples gathered in Denmark over the years represents enormous research potential. And the Danish biobank is a big step towards utilising this potential optimally.

Denmark is recognised for having some of the world's best registers. They make it feasible to link disease development to a number of parameters such as familial, medicinal and educational.

Very few places in the world can offer the possibility of linking a definitive register of a person's biology with their illness profile and their lifestyle utilising a civil registration system. So this biobank is particularly advantageous.

Data challenges

One of the greatest challenges for researchers today is not the lack of data, but that the data is not always accessible or of a quality or format that can be utilised by researchers.

This is a challenge currently faced by many research areas. And it is also a significant theme at the International Conference on Research Infrastructures that is beginning in Copenhagen this afternoon. But it is a particularly great challenge in the health area where not all data is registered with research in mind.

The national biobank is not just a project for the National Institute for Health Data and Disease Control. Vision and openness have been displayed in creating a common national platform between the many important stakeholders who will collaborate to make the project a success and utilise the opportunities presented. It will benefit the whole health sector.

Data protection is key

It is possible in Denmark to dig deep into the details of a person's life and lifestyle. That naturally raises some ethical dilemmas in relation to individual privacy.

It is absolutely crucial that the very high level of trust and legitimacy given to researchers by the public in relation to the use of private data is maintained.

It is a challenge that must be taken very seriously. Not least in light of the challenges presented to individual privacy by the internet. The changing face of the internet in the last decade is also one of the reasons that the Commission has established its Data Protection Reform Package – that replaces the former data protection directive.

But it is important to underline that it is key for Denmark and other Nordic countries that the reform package does NOT limit the opportunities that there are in Denmark and the Nordics to utilise register data in research.

I believe that Denmark finely illustrates the possibility of having a very high level of necessary data protection, while also allowing researchers to use private data.

I know that the Danish National Biobank has managed to meet the needs of researchers who would like to utilise the millions of samples, but also those of citizens who would prefer not to have their data included.

It is important to provide unique research opportunities while also taking the individual into consideration.

Denmark has a world-class Biobank

There is one more very important thing that I haven't mentioned yet. And that is, that today's opening of the Danish National Biobank also marks an exceptional collaboration between the public and private sectors in Denmark.

The cost of establishing the Danish National Biobank amounts to a total of 179 million kroner, financed largely by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. And with contributions from the Lundbeck Foundation and the the Danish Government Programme for Research Infrastructure.

I would like to emphasise how critically important the private funding of the Biobank has been. And I would like to acknowledge the foundations' ability to think in the long-term and strategically. The Danish National Biobank is a wise investment in a large research infrastructure.

Denmark is getting a state-of-the-art Biobank with the most advanced technology. It is a bank with an unusual credit account making more than 15 million biological samples available to research in the coming year. I know that researchers are looking forward to draw on that credit.

The Danish National Biobank is a treasure chest for researchers and a unique platform for tomorrow's research.

It will be of great benefit for the research of diseases, their prevention and treatment. It will be of great benefit to all of society.

So congratulations to Denmark. And congratulations to the research world. Both national and international.

Thank you.


last modified Jan 11, 2022