WINTER I 2013 / 2014
SPECIAL!
Biotech And
Functional
Food
land & people I state & society I economy & business I technolog...
COVER
Katre Kõvask
Photo by:
Atko Januson
Executive publisher
Positive Projects
Pärnu mnt 69, 10134 Tallinn, Estonia
think...
6 		 Where to go this season?
		 Life in Estonia recommends
8		 News
9 		 Estonian organic food -
		 a growing trend
Organ...
49 	 Peeter
Laurits - wrestling
		 with ancient forces
It must be creative potential which has taken Peeter Laurits where ...
LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER6
I WHERE TO GO THIS SEASON
MustonenFest
/ 30.01 - 8.02.2014 /
Third time under the na...
WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 7
Manon / Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet to the music of Jules Massenet
/ Performances on...
E-Piim, one of the largest cheese producers in Estonia,
is the first company in the Baltic states to start producing
quali...
At least every second young mother in Estonia
is aware of the fact that organic food is trendy,
good for nature and health...
Have you noticed that a small piece of high-quality
chocolate is more satisfying than a whole bar of
average chocolate? Th...
Estonian consumers, who are used to having a broad choice of prod-
ucts. The introduction of new surprising flavours is co...
12 LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER
Katre Kõvask:
Premia Foods owes its
market leader status
to a great team
At a time...
WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 13
First, please tell the readers a little about yourself.
What is your educational b...
LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER14
You mentioned that markets and products vary.
Are there different trends in differe...
WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 15
All of the production units and target markets
of Premia are situated by the sea. ...
Senior researcher Epp Songisepp has received international
recognition for her work in developing the patented probiotic
b...
"There are especially high requirements for the
ingredients of baby food: it has to be produced
totally naturally, without...
I SCIENCE & INNOVATION
18 LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER
As the quality of animal fodder increases
thanks to the bac...
19WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA
An invention of
the University of Tartu
determines the quality
of milk at the milki...
LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER20
I SCIENCE & INNOVATION
Estonia makes its way
onto the world map with
new cancer med...
CCCR’s partners are:
Tallinn University of Technology
University of Tartu
North Estonia Medical Centre
Trial Form Support ...
22
I SCIENCE & INNOVATION
LIFE IN ESTONIA
Genes serving scientists
Another CCCR project that has proven to be
successful c...
LIFE IN ESTONIA 23
Tallinn University of
Technology searches for
drugs for serious illnesses
Erkki Truve, Vice Rector for ...
All genetic roads lead
to Estonia
Text: Arko Olesk / the daily newspaper Postimees & Tallinn University
Photos: Lauri Kulp...
You can find all of human history contained
in the basement of this modern science
building. Standing in the busy main str...
Hoping to find out where Estonians fit in is
what got Estonian researchers doing popula-
tion genetics in the first place....
All of these events can be traced from the ge-
nome thanks to two characteristics of genes.
Firstly, they change. There is...
The trial of the most famous Estonian male
cross-country skier, Andrus Veerpalu,
in the international Court of Arbitration...
At the press conference. In the middle,Andrus Veerpalu; beside him, on the left,
the lawyer Aivar Pilv and, on the right, ...
Inaccurate method
Growth hormone is a naturally existing hormone in the human body, but
how can one set the boundary which...
Miracle calf, sports gene and
toxins of the Vietnam War
Sulev Kõks (42), Professor of Physiological
Genomics at the Univer...
MetaMed rescues
wealthy patients
from the randomness
of the medical system
Jaan Tallinn’s company MetaMed offers a persona...
Based in New York, MetaMed was established
in 2012 by an interesting group of people: in
addition to Jaan Tallinn, who was...
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)
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Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)

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Life in Estonia, Einter 2013/2014Winter issue of Life in Estonia focuses on Biotech and Functional Food. Readers can find out how Estonia contributes to life-changing genetics and how our food industry combines nature with science.

The cover story is with Katre Kõvask, the dynamic leader of Premia Foods telling about the past, present and the future of the corporation. Premia is a publicly traded company active mainly in three business segments: ice creams, frozen fishery products and frozen food.

Tartu, the second largest city of Estonia is called a Town of Good Bacteria. Turn to page 16 to find out why. Estonian Biocentre is also located in Tartu and with the help of genes its scientist have established the origins of Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians.

It is a known truth that Japanese market is hard to enter. Nevertheless, an Estonian company JOIK, specialized in natural cosmetics, caught the eye of a Japanese Plaza chain. Now Japan has become its largest export country followed by Finland, Norway, Latvia and Sweden.

There is also an article about Metamed, a company that rescues wealthy patients from the randomness of the medical system. The founders of Metamed believe that the current medical system ignores scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, offering patients one-size-fits-all and often unsuitable treatment.

Hairy and noisy members of a punk band usually do not perform together with chic high fashion models for the Vogue magazine, do they? Well, it did happen with Estonian shock band called Winny Puhh. Read their story on pages 61-63.

Moreover, the winter issue gives its readers an exclusive selection of Estonian top restaurants; recommendations of different events to participate this season and an art portfolio of an intriguing Estonian photographer, Peeter Laurits.

Find out more: http://www.businessinestonia.com

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Life in Estonia (Winter 2014 issue)

  1. 1. WINTER I 2013 / 2014 SPECIAL! Biotech And Functional Food land & people I state & society I economy & business I technology & innovation I culture & entertainment I tourism Small Producers Making A Big Difference Diverse Estonian Restaurant Landscape Katre Kõvask The Dynamic Leader of PremiaGood Bacteria To The Rescue Estonia Contributes To Life-changing Genetics Estonia Goes Organic
  2. 2. COVER Katre Kõvask Photo by: Atko Januson Executive publisher Positive Projects Pärnu mnt 69, 10134 Tallinn, Estonia think@positive.ee Editor Reet Grosberg reet.grosberg@ambassador.ee Translation Ingrid Hübscher Ambassador Translation Agency Language editor Richard Adang Design & Layout Positive Design Partner WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 3 The food industry and the development of food products are among the most rapidly developing branches of the knowledge- based economy in the world. “Functional food” has become a fashionable term, in a positive sense, and, together with the rapid increase in the popularity of organic foods, it demonstrates the different needs that peo- ple have today when it comes to nutrition and taking care of their health. Estonia can boast of great results in the de- velopment of functional foods. The probiotic milk acid bacteria Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 and Tensia, discovered by the Estonian scientist Marika Mikelsaar, have won prizes in various competitions. More importantly, we have food products which contain those use- ful bacteria. The predicted growth in the world’s popula- tion to 9.6 billion by the year 2050 places in- creasing demands on food, as well as on the growth of special nutritional needs. This turns functional food, product development and bio- technology into fields with enormous potential for guaranteeing a better sense of well-being for people, not to mention their economic benefits. For example, Estonian scientists from the Uni- versity of Tartu have patented an appliance which finds traces of antibiotics in milk in real- time. The milk is analysed within one minute. A silage bacterium discovered in Estonia, which is used as a silage additive, is registered on the list of EU feed additives. The latest great achievement of Estonian pro- ducers is de-mineralised whey powder, which is a valuable component of baby food. While to- day the babies of the European Union, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore are benefiting from this product, the future target is of course the Chinese market. Hence, milk is the flagship of our agriculture. Es- tonia’s milk production covers 170% of our own consumption, meaning that our milk and milk products are sold to consumers in other countries as well. In autumn 2013, two Estonian cheeses received quality awards from the German Asso- ciation of Agriculture DLG: a gold and a bronze. The independent international recognition dem- onstrates the high quality and great taste of those products. An important precondition for producing great food is nature and Estonia is wealthy in this sense. Climate conditions enable us to produce more nat- urally than in other countries. We are ranked third in the EU and fifth in Europe in terms of organic production. Organic production growth is based on people’s increased awareness and interest in the origins of the food they consume. Saidafarm, an Estonian organic producer, received the Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award 2013 for implementing extensive sustainable and innova- tive measures. This proves that even with larger production volumes it is possible to produce sus- tainably, and market organic food. Polls show that 82% of Estonian consumers prefer to buy organic food, mainly to take care of their health and the environment. In step with increasing consumer demand, excit- ing organic products and organic restaurants have come onto the market. You can read about many of them in this issue. Estonians are not stingy and we invite all those who are interested to experience the natural and the innovative at the same time. In January, our great food can be found at the Grüne Woche fair in Berlin, where Estonia is a partner state under the slogan “Naturally Estonian”. But the best way is of course to visit Estonia and let yourself be positively surprised. Helir-Valdor Seeder Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Estonia Estonian food combines nature and science
  3. 3. 6 Where to go this season? Life in Estonia recommends 8 News 9 Estonian organic food - a growing trend Organic farming land makes up 15% of Estonian farming land, plac- ing Estonia in third place in the EU. According to surveys, over 82% of Estonian consumers would prefer to buy organic food. Toomas Kevvai, Deputy Secretary General for Food Safety, Research and Development of the Ministry of Agriculture gives a brief introduction of the topic under the Rural Development Plan. 10 The Estonian food industry - small but smart The Estonian food industry is very small in comparison to that of its neighbouring countries. Its flagships, the milk, meat and beverage in- dustries, form over half of the entire production value. In 2012, the Estonian food industry had the largest percentage growth in production volume in the entire EU. Taavi Kand, Head of the Trade and Agro-Food Department, Ministry of Agriculture, reports. 12 Katre Kõvask: Premia Foods owes its market leader status to a great team Katre Kõvask is the Chair of Premia Foods, which is active in six states and in five target markets in three different business segments: ice cream, chilled fishery products, and frozen foods. The company is noted on the Nasdaq OMX Tallinn Stock Exchange. Life in Estonia visited Katre Kõvask in the last days of 2013 to talk about the past, present and fu- ture of the corporation. 16 Tartu – a town of good bacteria In the last few years, the Bio-Competence Centre of Healthy Dairy Prod- ucts (BioCC), based in Tartu, has discovered and researched previously unknown Lactobacillus strains and made them work for the benefit of consumers. BioCC is the owner of 20 patents, and 11 patent applica- tions are pending in Estonia, Europe, the USA, Russia, Korea and Japan. 20 Estonia makes its way onto the world map with new cancer medication Life in Estonia visited the Competence Centre for Cancer Research, which aims to develop cancer drug candidates and diagnostic plat- forms, to find out which of their projects may reach the world market in the near future. 24 All genetic roads lead to Estonia Tartu is the place to turn to when a nation gets gripped with the eternal question “Where do we come from?”. With the help of genes, scien- tists at the Estonian Biocentre have traced the ancient migration of peo- ple, helping to establish the origins of, among others, Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians 28 Scientists saved the honour of a national hero The trial of the most famous Estonian male cross-country skier, Andrus Veerpalu, in the international Court of Arbitration became a match of scientists in which three relatively unknown Estonians beat WADA. The team was led by Sulev Kõks, Professor of Physiological Genomics at the University of Tartu, who is currently working with three other interest- ing projects. 32 MetaMed rescues wealthy patients from the randomness of the medical system Jaan Tallinn’s company MetaMed offers a personal medical service to the wealthy which can cost up to 250,000 USD. Inspiration for the crea- tion of the company came from Steve Jobs’ fight with cancer. I CONTENT WINTER_2013/2014 LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER4
  4. 4. 49 Peeter Laurits - wrestling with ancient forces It must be creative potential which has taken Peeter Laurits where he is today. It has brought him through dark sorrows and elevated dreams, in order to find his own place in the arts world. Get acquainted with his journey and art. 61 Winny Puhh Six Estonian musicians created a commotion with their appearance at the Paris Fashion Week when Rick Owens, a designer of exclusive male fashion, invited the band to perform at the presentation of his Spring Collection 2014. The show received immediate media attention all over the world. Who are these rural lads who became pets of the world’s fashion elite? 64 Organic and rustic: a new trend in the Estonian restaurant landscape It seems that the entire world is moving towards simpler and fresher food. Famous head chefs from different continents are going back to- ward their roots. Local ingredients, simple flavours and affordable prices are in. Get acquainted with some of the trendy eating places in Tallinn and in the countryside. 71 The food served in Estonia is sumptuous and diverse Six years of experience in choosing the fifty best restaurants in Estonia demonstrates that the local cuisine offers a good reason to visit the country. This year’s TOP 5 restaurants showcase the diversity of food on offer in Estonia. 77 Estonia in brief 78 Practical information for visitors 34 How to stay healthy? Let’s ask the bacteria in your tummy Flick Diet, an Estonian start-up, helps people to lose weight and live healthily. Practical nutritional advice is provided through the DNA analsis of gut bacteria. 37 Quality labels help Estonians select food Four of the best known food quality labels issued by the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce and the Estonian Food Industry Association help Estonian consumers to make choices in grocery stores. For companies, a quality label provides the opportunity to attract atten- tion to their product and to emphasize the local nature of raw materials or production. A quality label is a good way to increase sales and save on marketing costs when entering the market with a new product. 42 Kalamatsi goat - milk dairy experiments with new cheeses Esna, a picturesque village in the Estonian countryside, is where Aita Mets and Jaan Raudkivi have, in just three years, established the Kala- matsi Dairy. Its organic products are sold in shops and the best restau- rants in Estonia. 44 Minna Sahver surprises with special jelly candy Minna Sahver is a small company which sells jelly candy handmade from natural berries, fruit and vegetable purees free of artificial colourings and preservatives. In November, the company celebrated its third birth- day in its new production facility. 46 Success guaranteed by product development and innovation The only yeast producer in Estonia, the Salutaguse Yeast Factory is part of the Lallemand Group, with its head office in Canada. The factory produces liquid yeast, inactive dry yeast, and inactive dry yeast-based additives. Most of the production is exported to Europe, North America and Asia. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 5
  5. 5. LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER6 I WHERE TO GO THIS SEASON MustonenFest / 30.01 - 8.02.2014 / Third time under the name of MustonenFest, this international music festival has been held regularly since 1989. It brings to the listeners an unlimited amount of music in different genres through centuries. In 2014 the initiator and artistic direc- tor of the festival,Andres Mustonen brings to the audience Mario Brunello, Israel Camerata, the Coptic archaic choir, English early music ensemble La Serenissima and several outstanding soloists with whom he has had the joy and honour to share the stage at different concert hall in the world. www.concert.ee Modigliani – the Cursed Artist / Thomas Edur’s ballet to the music of Tauno Aints / On 11, 22 and 24 January 2014 / “Modigliani – the Cursed Artist” is Thomas Edur’s debut as a stage di- rector at the Estonian National Opera. The ballet tells an exciting story of the stormy life of Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920), one of the most famous bohemian artists of the 20th century. Legends are told about Modigliani’s life – his eccentric nature, his bragging, emotional twists, passionate affairs with writers Anna Akhmatova and Beatrice Hastings, and artist Jeanne Hébuterne, a dream to mount Parnassus and his rivalry with Picasso, health problems and the onset of tuberculosis that he tried to conceal by consuming alcohol and drugs excessively – it all provides colourful material for the birth of an astonishing stage-work. Anatoli Arhangelski
  6. 6. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 7 Manon / Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet to the music of Jules Massenet / Performances on 13 and 22 February and 8 March 2014 / The central character is Manon, the most desirable courtesan in Paris, who becomes a refugee in Louisiana due to a dramatic chain of events. The music expresses Manon’s downfall from the world of pleasures to the frustrating hellhole. Sir Kenneth MacMillan created one of the most popular ballets of the 20th century for the Royal Ballet in 1974. Since then, Manon has been performed by top ballet compa- nies as the dancing technique of the dancers has to be of high level. Manon was the last ballet Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur performed before returning to Estonia in 2009. Grand exhibition in Tallinn Seaplane Harbour: more than 200 artifacts from the ocean bottom, recreations of the Ship’s rooms and stories of the passengers. 15.11.2013 - 31.03.2014 WWW.SEAPLANEHARBOUR.COM JULY 21.–27. 2014 Presenting the Taras Shevchenko Ukrainian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet! Verdi “DON CARLOS“ Lysenko “NATALKA POLTAVKA“ Bellini “NORMA“ OPRERA GALA CHILDREN GALA Artistic director of the festival: Arne Mikk saaremaaopera.eu facebook.com/saaremaaopera Medea / Ballet by Gianluca Schiavoni World premiere at the Estonian National Opera on 13 March 2014 / Performances on 15 and 28 March 2014 / Gianluca Schiavoni has created a ballet for the dancers of the Esto- nian National Ballet – a contemporary version of the famous myth of Medea with a new dramaturgy by Marco Gandini, a stunning and symbolic set design by Maria Rossi Franchi and Andrea Tocchio and costume design by Simona Morresi. Gianluca Schiavoni: “Medea, a sensual and powerful princess of mythical Colchide (a region corresponding to present Georgia), is a se- ductive sorceress, who abandons her country and her family for her love of a strong and handsome man called Jason. Yet he is not interested only in Medea’s love, but also in getting hold of the Golden Fleece, which is a symbol of power. Medea gains Jason’s love by giving him this symbol of power. Soon she gives birth to two boys. Once she realizes that Jason is betraying her with the King’s daughter, Glauce, she decides to take revenge by killing Glauce, and most terrible of all – by killing her own children.” www.opera.ee PhotosbyHarriRospu Alena Shkatula and Maksim Chukarjov
  7. 7. E-Piim, one of the largest cheese producers in Estonia, is the first company in the Baltic states to start producing quality de-mineralized whey powder (Demin 90), which is used in breast-milk substitutes. De-mineralized whey powder is a real niche product and, in order to make production profitable, companies need to access the Chinese market. The only whey production plant in the Baltic states, which was opened last summer in Järva-Jaani, is currently waiting for recognition from the Chinese Veterinary Board, in order to start selling whey pow- der to a Chinese milk producer next spring. Baby food is probably the most sensitive product in the entire food in- dustry. Newborns have weak immune systems and the tiniest problems in food may bring about serious consequences. Therefore, every single ingredient in baby formula must be made of the best base products and produced according to the strictest quality standards. “There are especially high requirements for the ingredients of baby food: it has to be produced totally naturally, without colourants or additives,” explains Jaanus Murakas, Manager of E-Piim. In order to start producing de-mineralized whey powder, E-Piim rebuilt its entire dairy plant and procured equipment which is unique in the Baltic states. The construction process lasted for two years and the total investment was 5.5 million euros, one fifth of which came as EU aid. If everything proceeds according to plans, the large investment will be earned back within three years, as this product is very highly valued throughout the world. The production volume of the plant will be 5,000 tons per year and half of this will be exported to China. The price per ton of whey powder suit- able for baby food fluctuates around 2,000 euros on the world market. “The Chinese market is so immense that we could sell our entire pro- duction there, but we want to manage the risks. There are only a few producers of whey powder suitable for breast-milk substitute in Europe, we are the only company in the Baltic states and the price of this prod- uct is twice as high as that of normal whey powder,” adds Murakas. Murakas speaks highly of the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as Estonian diplomats are making great efforts in Beijing in order to receive the required recognition for export for the Republic of Estonia and the whey powder of E-Piim. There are around 18 million babies born in China each year, and they have to begin consuming breast-milk substi- tute at the age of 1.5 months because their mothers have to return to work. This year China eased its strict one-child-per-family policy and this will increase the demand for baby food in the near future. Baby food has been a very sensitive topic in China, which is on its way to becoming the most influential country in the world. As recently as 2008, the leader of the organization in charge of inspecting the quality of food had to step down because of a baby food scandal which had caused health problems for around 53,000 children. E-piim set to enter Chinese market with baby-milk powder Whereas many businesses only dream of finding a way to access the Japanese market, JOIK – an Estonian company spe- cializing in natural cosmetics - was specially invited by a repre- sentative of the Japanese Plaza chain after they spotted JOIK products on an Estonian fashion blog. “They liked the simple Nordic style of our products and the fact that they are handmade in Estonia,” explains Kadri Mäesalu, Marketing and Export Manager of the company. “Our products are natural, but at the same time luxurious, pretty and great-smelling.” Japan has become the largest export country of JOIK, followed by Fin- land, Norway, Latvia and Sweden. JOIK products can also be found in Paris in a pharmacy on Boulevard Haussmann. There are plans to grow, expanding the selection of products currently on sale, as well as the number of selling locations. Whereas today there are 25 locations in Japan where JOIK products are sold, the company plans to have its products in all 70 of the Plaza chain stores within the next three years. Recently, a special edition of JOIK candles made exclu- sively for Japanese market hit the shelves of Plaza stores. JOIK is an Estonian natural cosmetics brand. The whole skin-care range is paraben-free and contains no sulphates, mineral- or silicon oils or other toxic substances. JOIK products are not tested on animals. Success in Japan for the Estonian natural cosmetics brand JOIK LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER8 I NEWS
  8. 8. At least every second young mother in Estonia is aware of the fact that organic food is trendy, good for nature and healthy. According to sur- veys, over 82 per cent of Estonian consumers would prefer to buy organic food. This is the reason for the rapid development of the Estonian organic food sector. Organic farming land makes up 15 per cent of Estonian farming land, placing Estonia in third place in the European Union. According to ini- tial data from 2013, there are over 153,000 hectares of organic farm- ing land in Estonia. In addition, nearly 130,000 hectares of natural areas, where people pick berries and mushrooms, are under organic monitoring. Therefore all necessary prerequisites exist for the production of or- ganic food. The demand for environmentally sustainable and healthier foods is growing worldwide, and farmers may be certain that in the future this trend will continue to rise. One of the largest organic producers in Estonia – Saidafarm – received the title of “Baltic Sea Farmer of the Year Award 2013” for implement- ing large-scale sustainable and innovative production methods. The farm has 1,000 hectares of land and 500 animals, and it produces 17 different dairy products, most of which are organic. Estonian organic food - a growing trend Text: Toomas Kevvai / Deputy Secretary General for Food Safety, Research and Development, Ministry of Agriculture WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 9 STATE AND SOCIETY I
  9. 9. Have you noticed that a small piece of high-quality chocolate is more satisfying than a whole bar of average chocolate? The Estonian food industry is small, but it continues to surprise with new exciting flavours. It should be clear from the start that, in comparison to neighbouring countries and competitors, the Estonian food industry is very small. For example, the annual turnover of the European Union food and bev- erage industry exceeds a trillion euros, but Estonia’s share is just 1.5 billion, or approximately 0.15%. The Latvian food industry is bigger by about a couple of hundred million euros and the Lithuanian food industry is twice as large; the Finnish industry is seven times bigger and the Swedish industry ten times bigger. Yet the Estonian food industry continues to grow. Its flagships are the milk, meat and beverage industries, which form over a half of the entire production value. In 2012, the Estonian food industry had the largest percentage growth in production volume in the entire Euro- pean Union. Internationally acclaimed cheese Estonia is special and successful because we see our smallness as an opportunity. Small means flexible: it is easy to test new solutions here. This applies equally in the field of e-state services and in the food in- dustry. Small production volumes help us to be flexible, which means we can be successful in niche markets where small production vol- umes and innovation matter. The innovative Estonian approach has won international recognition and brought Estonian cheeses gold and bronze quality awards from the German Society of Agriculture DLG. The innovativeness of the Estonian food industry is guaranteed by The Estonian food industry is small but smart Text: Taavi Kand / Head of the Trade and Agro-Food Department, Ministry of Agriculture Since 1999, the number of Estonian organic producers has grown from 89 organic farms to 1,500. Two-thirds of Estonian organic producers raise animals, and this sector is characterised by the expansion of livestock. The number of organic sheep and cattle (especially beef cattle) has almost doubled in the last five years. For example, in 2012 the share of organic lamb meat made up nearly 36% of all lamb meat production in Estonia. There are approximately 180 processors and distributors of or- ganic production, and due to increasing demand and support for the development of organic farming, this figure is growing fast. In the next few years, the financial support for organic farming under the Rural Development Plan will mostly focus on increasing organic production and processing. Organic produc- ers themselves are cooperating more actively in order to increase their capacity to enter the market with their products. In 2012, processed organic production comprised 45% of grain and legume products, 9% of dairy products, 14% of fruits and vegetables, 7% of ordinary bakers’ wares and confectionery products, and 11% of meat products. New products on the market included spirits/vodka, soy and fish products and yeast. For example the organic bakery goods under the label “Pagar Võtaks!” (Baker Would Take It! – ed.) and La Muu’s organic ice cream, which both came onto the market in 2012, regularly sell out due to high demand. When it comes to the export of the main organic food groups – grain products and berries – Estonia has established good con- tacts in Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and Italy. The largest organic grain terminal in the Baltic states, which was opened this au- tumn, can hold up to 17,000 tons of grain, and this will help to increase exports. LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER I STATE AND SOCIETY 10 Toomas Kevvai
  10. 10. Estonian consumers, who are used to having a broad choice of prod- ucts. The introduction of new surprising flavours is commonplace. We tend to take it for granted that every now and then yet another special- flavour yoghurt will appear on supermarket shelves, or that there will be a product combining the best qualities of black and white bread. The world’s best female inventor and functional milk Here are some examples from recent years. About a third of the Es- tonian food industry is the dairy industry, which has worked hard in collaboration with scientists from the University of Tartu and the Bio- Competence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products. This collaboration has led to the development of two product lines with high added value: Hellus milk products, enriched with the bacterium Lactobacillus fermen- tum ME-3®, produced by AS Tere, and Harmony cheese, enriched with Lactobacillus plantarum Tensia®, produced by E-Piim. The Hellus product range helps to boost the body’s defence mecha- nisms, and the Harmony “heart-cheese” is believed to lower blood pressure. Both of these products have won international recognition as innovative products. One of the scientists – Professor Marika Mikelsaar – received a gold medal for global female inventors and innovators for her discovery of the ME-3 bacterium. Smart food E-Piim, the producer of Harmony cheese, is also the first producer in the Baltic states of high quality de-mineralized whey powder (Demin 90), which is used in breast-milk substitutes. Producing de-mineralized whey powder is a great opportunity to use the leftover whey from cheese pro- duction. Just a few years ago, whey was considered a nuisance which was placed in animal feed or even used in cleaning solvents. Industries often had to pay to get rid of it. Today the whole world is open to buy- ing whey and the company is planning to access the Chinese market. Consumers all over the world are becoming increasingly informed and demanding about food. A demanding consumer offers opportunities for smaller producers. This suits the Estonian food industry and local producers. Consumer expectations and wishes are studied thoroughly all over the world, and the following trends are clear: food is expected to offer pleasure, be healthy, nutritious and comfortable to consume, and should be produced ethically and sustainably. In order to meet all of these demands, the food industry must develop and innovate continuously. The importance of support Through various measures, the European Union taxpayers have sup- ported development work and investments in the food industry. After all, the aim of policies at the EU level is to enable member states to pro- duce products with high added value which are competitive in export markets. For Estonia, this goal is perhaps more important than for other member states, because our own domestic market is small. Hence, in the next few years investments in the food industry will be made via the new Rural Development Plan. The Estonian food industry is able to meet its domestic needs for the main food products, and even more; for example, our dairy production meets 170% of our own needs. Therefore, the Estonian food industry exports approximately a third of its production and this is predicted to grow in the future. We have enough tasty food to share with others. Our products for domestic and foreign markets are special because they include a whole lot of science and know-how. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 11 Taavi Kand
  11. 11. 12 LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER Katre Kõvask: Premia Foods owes its market leader status to a great team At a time when gender equality is a subject of heated social debate and there is talk of establishing gender quotas for corporation managers in the European Union, Premia Foods is chaired by a young and dynamic Estonian woman, Katre Kõvask. Life in Estonia visited her in the last days of 2013 to talk about the past, present and future of the corporation. I COVER STORY
  12. 12. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 13 First, please tell the readers a little about yourself. What is your educational background and profes- sional history before becoming the Chair of Premia Foods? I graduated from the University of Tartu in 1998 with a degree in Mar- keting and Foreign Trade. In 2006, I became the Marketing Director and a board member of the AS Premia Tallinn Cold Storage Plant and, in 2009, a board member of Premia Foods. Last May, I was appointed the Chair of Premia Foods. Hence, I have been involved with the company for seven years. As chair of a large corporation, you must have stressful and long working days. How do you charge your batteries outside working time? I try to play as much golf as possible, do sports, read professional and other literature and travel. My work also involves a lot of travel and I tend to spend half a week in Estonia and the other half in a target coun- try connected to our activities. During holidays, I try to find the time to visit more exotic countries. What kind of personal characteristics have helped you in your career? In a management position, one always benefits from rationality in de- cision-making, understanding the business and, of course, dedication. These are the principles I have tried to follow. In addition, I would like to emphasize the importance of a good team: Premia would not be a mar- ket leader today without dedicated professionals and great team spirit. What kind of a company is Premia Foods and how has it developed into a modern corporation? Premia Foods is a publicly traded food company on the Nasdaq OMX Tallinn Stock Exchange. We are active in six states – the Baltics, Russia, Finland and Sweden – and in five target markets in three different busi- ness segments: ice cream, chilled fishery products, and frozen foods. Our main labels are Premia, Eriti Rammus, Heimon Gourmet, Väike Tom, Sahharnõi Rozhok, Baltiiskoje, Klasika, Maahärra, Viking, Natali and Bueno!. I am proud to say that Premia Foods is among the leading la- bels in all business segments in the target markets. Approximately 40% of the turnover of Premia Foods comes from fish and fishery products, nearly 37% from ice-cream and the rest from the frozen foods business. The company is managed from Tallinn and we employ approximately 750 people. Export makes up nearly 70% of the turnover of Premia. The history of Premia Foods in Estonia dates back to the founding of the Premia Tallinn Cold Storage Plant in 1956. This predecessor of the com- pany began ice-cream production in 1956, being the first and by now the oldest ice-cream producer in Estonia. Today’s management came to office in 2006 during an ownership change and, since then, Premia has grown from an Estonian ice-cream producer to a large international food corporation, and is among the market leaders in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and St Petersburg, Russia. Please tell us more about the strategy of the corporation. Where are you active and do you have enlargement plans? What are your largest export markets? Our aim is to be among the three leading labels in all of our target mar- kets. This is already a reality: Premia is the largest ice-cream producer in Estonia, with about a 40% market share (almost double the share of the next largest producer); in Finland, we are the leading or the sec- ond-leading producer of packaged fish products; in Latvia, we are the second largest ice-cream producer, and we rank between second and fourth place in Lithuania. We are third in the St Petersburg ice-cream market and between first and second in the frozen goods market of the Baltic states. As I said, export makes up 70% of Premia’s turnover and our competitiveness in export markets is undoubtedly critically impor- tant. But we see development potential in our business segment in all target markets. Therefore, there are plenty of challenges ahead. What are the strengths of the company? Premia’s strengths are our brands and our people. One of the biggest val- ues of Premia Foods is our team. The different cultural backgrounds and the extensive experience of the whole team have been essential ingredi- ents in outstanding product development and the continuing popularity of our labels. And although our great team and team spirit are values whicharenotdirectlyvisibleonbalancesheets,wehaveachievedexcellent economic results precisely because of the dedication of all staff members. What are the key aspects which help the company to develop and stand out from the competition? We are focused on building our brands, as we see a competitive edge here for Premia. This, in turn, places very high demands on our prod- uct development and marketing and sales activity. Product development must make our development sustainable and this is something we focus on all year round in all business segments. As markets and products are very different, it is important to employ the best professionals and, therefore, the team plays a very great role in guaranteeing our success. The central focus of our business activity is on brands which are accepted and loved by consumers, children and adults alike. Premia Foods consid- ers it very important to meet the expectations of our consumers through strengthening existing brands and introducing new ones. Yet the main characteristic is dedication to high quality and innovation, as these are the keywords which help you to stand out from the competition.
  13. 13. LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER14 You mentioned that markets and products vary. Are there different trends in different regions? Premia has three different business segments and five different target markets. All of those markets and segments are different, specific and competitive. The simplest example can be given with ice-cream: in Es- tonia people like the simple Scandinavian style in taste and colour of ice cream and its packaging, but in Lithuania it is totally different and people like the most colourful and sweetest products. The market in St Petersburg is extremely conservative when it comes to flavours and pre- ferred labels, and our strengths there are the tested recipes and some of the most popular and established labels in the area. Let’s talk about different segments and begin with ice-cream. All Estonians know Premia ice creams: adults remember “Eskimo” ice-cream from their childhood, and children today love “Väike Tom” and “Lotte”. Today there is a growing choice of labels on the market, offering something for every taste. What are the ice-cream trends and where is Premia going in this segment? 80% of our product range are ice-creams and two-thirds of ice-cream produced by Premia is exported. Premia ice-creams do not contain corn syrup, transfats, preservatives or artificial colourings. It is true that the ice-cream market has become very diverse in the Baltic states and the competition is fierce. Since the economic crisis, more expensive products have become available, with either exotic or higher quality ingredients. This of course is welcomed by ice-cream lovers and producers. There is room for product development and each summer brings new exciting discoveries. Only time will tell where the ice-cream market is headed, but it is clear that people are looking for ever more thrilling tastes and formats. At the same time, the brand Eriti Rammus (especially rich – ed.) continues to lead in the Estonian ice-cream market. People love its rich taste, which is very pure and of high quality. Estonian ice-cream lovers prefer quality and, on the basis of this, Premia hopes to offer pleasant surprises to ice-cream fans in the future. Recently Premia Foods invested 750 thousand euros to modernize the equipment of its ice-cream plant in Tallinn. What was the reason for and nature of this investment? As part of the investment, we purchased a production line for pop- sicle ice-cream from Tetra Pak for our Tallinn plant. This enables us to increase the hourly speed of production by 50%. In addi- tion, the new production line helps to save on labour and en- ergy costs and provides opportunities for product innovation. Premia has also invested in a new cone ice-cream packaging machine, which enables us to double the packaging speed of the leading ice- cream cones on the market, especially the ones sold under the label “Eriti Rammus”. This has led to a growing production volume and more effective production in the cone ice-cream line. The basis for Premia’s success in the ice-cream market is continuous innovation and the growth of production efficiency. Premia’s strength are our valuable brands, which have made us a market leader in the ice-cream market in Estonia and the other Baltic countries. Those investments were essential in order to strengthen our position and guarantee sustainable development. Among other things, they also give us the opportunity to please our customers in all target markets with new exciting products in the near future. Premia Foods is a publicly traded food company on the Nasdaq OMX Tallinn Stock Exchange. I COVER STORY
  14. 14. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 15 All of the production units and target markets of Premia are situated by the sea. People who live in coastal areas usually cannot imagine their lives without fish. Fish and fishery products are the second largest business segment of Premia. The competitive advantage of Premia in this segment is vertical integra- tion: the control of the entire value chain, from fingerlings to the sales of the end product. Our fish farms are located in the mountain lakes of northern Sweden and in the Finnish archipelago near Turku. Fish pro- cessing takes place on Saaremaa and in a factory near Hämeenlinna in Finland. The end product is mostly sold in Finland, but also in the Baltic countries. We farm rainbow trout and common whitefish, which cover about 40% of our entire raw material demand. The rest, mostly salmon, we buy from Norway. In Finland, Premia products are sold under the label Heimon Kala, which is a long-established brand in Finland. In the Baltic states, the products are available under the Viking brand. As mentioned, we share first place in Finland in the market of chilled fishery products, and we are continuously working on product develop- ment to offer a wider selection to customers. In the last couple of years, we have worked on developing the products of the Horeca segment and our turnover in this sector grew over 80% last year. Research indicates that frozen vegetables are healthier than fresh vegetables available in our supermarkets, because the vegetables which are frozen are fresher at the point of freezing. Frozen products make up the third largest segment of Premia and most households know them well. What is the product range of Premia’s frozen products like? In the Baltic states, Premia sells the entire range of frozen products, from vegetables to meat and fish products, and our most famous labels in Estonia are Maahärra, Pealinna and Viking. We purchase all of our frozen products from long-term partners and, as with ice-cream and fish, we pay a lot of attention to quality and product development in this segment. Frozen products have many advantages in everyday life: when time is limited, it is easy to prepare a soup for dinner us- ing our vegetables and frozen meatballs, and it should be mentioned that frozen vegetables still contain all their vitamins. Or an equally tasty meal can be made combining vegetables and Viking fish products. The popularity of the label Maahärra and the other aforementioned labels shows that people have found them in the shops and approve of their quality and taste. This inspires us to bring more new and exciting taste combinations onto the market. Premia has many partners, including other large producers in Estonia, such as TERE. Why do you need this cooperation and what products are involved? Our collaboration with Tere covers several segments. One of the most exciting projects has been the development of the product range Hel- lus, during which we brought an ice-cream containing the ME-3 bacte- ria onto the market. There are other cooperation projects: for example, with Kalev we have expanded their Mesikäpp brand and in St Peters- burg we have started a project with the confectionery producer Krup- skaja in order to expand their label Mishka na Severe. Those kinds of projects offer a unique opportunity to bring products onto the market which have clear target groups and to give an impetus to product devel- opment, using advantages provided by already existing strong brands. Why should consumers choose Premia products? Premia is and will continue to be a sign of quality, innovation and caring. These are the thoughts which underpin the development of our new products and labels. In this way, we create the opportunity for people to choose our products whilst doing their daily shopping.   80% of Premia’s product range are ice-creams which do not contain corn syrup, transfats, preservatives or artificial colourings.
  15. 15. Senior researcher Epp Songisepp has received international recognition for her work in developing the patented probiotic bacterium lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA that is used in the Südamejuust and lactobacillus plantarum E-98 that is used in the silage additive NordSil. 16 I SCIENCE & INNOVATION Text: Holger Roonemaa / Photos: Scanpix Tartu – a town of good bacteria In the last few years, the Bio-Competence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products (BioCC), based in Tartu, has discovered and researched previously unknown Lactobacillus strains and made them work for the benefit of consumers. In addition to having been nominated as the best Tartu company some years ago, BioCC is the owner of 20 patents, and 11 patent applications are pending in Estonia, Europe, the USA, Russia, Korea and Japan. The company, its products and staff have received several international awards.
  16. 16. "There are especially high requirements for the ingredients of baby food: it has to be produced totally naturally, without colourants or additives,” says Jaanus Murakas, Manager of E-Piim. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 17 Estonian company to supply food for Chinese babies 

 At the end of 2013, the Estonian dairy producer E-Piim started a new whey pro- cessing line, which will enable the com- pany to start exporting high quality whey powder to China in the near future. Whey powder is mainly used in breast- milk substitutes for babies.
“It is interest- ing that today the global lack of protein has led to a situation where whey, the leftover liquid from the cheese produc- tion process, is a more valuable product than cheese, which has always been a product with high added value,” says Tiina Saron, Head of the Estonian Dairy Association. “Nobody wanted whey before and now everyone wants whey, more than cheese,” she explains. 
E-Piim is the only producer in the Baltic states with technology based on electrolysis, which separates salt from whey and makes it possible to produce pure whey protein. Thus, E-Piim is able to create a very high quality protein which is one in- gredient in breast-milk substitute.  Of course, the most attractive market for whey powder is China, the biggest country in the world, where millions of babies are born each year. “There is huge demand for baby food in China and, once all the administrative obsta- cles have been removed, we will have the opportunity to export whey powder to China,” says Saron.  BioCC has signed a license agreement with Starter ST LLC, which carried out product development and developed NordSil, a silage additive containing E-98. Who makes up BioCC? • Estonian University of Life Sciences • University of Tartu • Dairy cooperative E-Piim • Estonian Cooperative of Breeders • Starter ST Plc E-98 has received the Gold medal in the field of biotechnology in KIWIE 2013 and a special recognition at the 4th Bi-Annual International EUWIIN Exhibition, Conference & Award Ceremony. We all know that the prevalence of chronic dis- eases is an issue of rising importance today and treatment is expensive,” says Ene Tammsaar, Chair of the Board of BioCC. There are various ways to promote and maintain health and pre- vent the onset of disease; innovation in the food industry is one example. “I am talking about developing quality functional foods which help to maintain good health,” says Tammsaar, who adds that, in contrast to the treatment of chron- ic diseases, consuming functional foods helps to lower the risk of disease development and boost the physiological functions of the body. “How- ever, creating functional foods is not just about dairy plants starting to produce better milk; it begins with animal breeding, monitoring their health and developing better feeds and feed ad- ditives. The other direction is adding probiotic bacteria to dairy products and creating function- al foods, as well as creating new feed additives and animal probiotics.” One such bacterium, which BioCC studies and which is already present on the market in vari- ous products, has the scientific name Lactoba- cillus plantarum E-98 NCIMB 30236, or simply E-98. “Hay silage is the main fodder for cattle, but it is difficult to guarantee high quality,” says Tammsaar. This is where the Lactobacillus E-98 isolated by BioCC scientists comes into play, as it improves the fermentation of silage. “We have discovered that E-98 quickly produces a lot of lactic acid, which helps to create an acidic envi- ronment in silage faster and preserves the fod- der so that there are fewer butyric acid-produc- ing bacteria (clostridia) and, therefore, the silage has better value as feed,” explains Tammsaar. It may sound complicated. Suffice it to say that the bacterium studied by Tartu scientists has re- ceived the green light from the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), and it is listed in the Eu- ropean Union Register of Feed Additives in the category of technological additives, under func- tional groups of silage additives. This means that feed additives containing E-98 may be sold in the European Union member states without fur- ther testing. “In the case of the bacterium E-98, we can claim that it is the greatest achievement in agricultural innovation in Estonia and the Bal- tic states,” Tammsaar states proudly. The bacterium E-98 is today also part of produc- tion. BioCC has signed a license agreement with Starter ST LLC, which carried out product devel- opment and developed NordSil, a silage additive containing E-98. “It is currently available on the Estonian market, but we hope to take the Esto- nian product to our neighbouring markets: Rus- sia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus,” says Tammsaar. Ene Tammsaar
  17. 17. I SCIENCE & INNOVATION 18 LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER As the quality of animal fodder increases thanks to the bacterium E-98, milk from the cows also has a higher quality, which leads to better quality dairy products on our tables. Another significant discovery of BioCC in the world of bacteria becomes im- portant in this final phase: healthier food. The bacterium Lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA, or simply TENSIA, was isolated by Estonian scientists from a healthy Estonian child and the biggest value of this bacte- rium is that it produces compounds which lower blood pressure. “TENSIA produces special peptides and other compounds which have been found to relax blood ves- sels. The strain helps to protect the human body from oxidative stress and increases the number of useful lactobacilli in the gut,” explains Tammsaar. At first the scientists did not assume that their research would eventually lead to the discovery of a lactobacillus that would sup- port the function of the cardiovascular sys- tem and lower blood pressure. “When we started, we proposed that we should pro- duce a cheese which would protect against infections and diseases and fight listeria, salmonella and other bacteria present in food products”, remembers Tartu Univer- sity Professor Emeritus Marika Mikelsaar, the former head of the working group. “Initially, we chose 30 special lactobacilli strains existent in human intestines. Later Good for the health Products enriched with pro-biotics are also pro- duced by other companies, such as AS Tere, whose yoghurts, kefirs, milks and cheeses of the product line “Hellus” contain the lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 and Omega 3 fatty acids or, in other words, microscopic capsules of fish oil. This lactobacillus was discovered by a scientist at the University of Tartu and has both antimi- crobial and antioxidant effects. The production of Dr Hellus products was preceded by long-term collaboration in inves- tigating the bacterium at the Institutes of Mi- crobiology and Biochemistry, which was led by Professors Marika Mikelsaar and Mihkel Zilmer. The health benefits of ME-3 are numerous and the list of its useful properties long and awe-in- spiring. This culture improves liver and intestine functioning, increases resistance to chronic dis- eases and reduces excessive blood cholesterol. Among its many benefits, the bacterium stem even has potential uses in the rehabilitative treatment of stroke patients. At the SIAL 2008 fair in Paris in October, the Dr Hellus yoghurts, with their Lactobacillus fer- mentum ME-3 and Omega 3 fatty acids, and their glazed cheeses, which contain Lactobacil- lus fermentum ME-3, were selected as part of the fair’s official innovative and trend-setting range of products in the category of products with original recipes and health benefits. The healthy Südamejuust can be eaten on its own or used in the preparation of various healthy dishes. The Grand Old Lady of Estonian microbiology, Professor Marika Mikelsaar, is one of the founders of the ME-3 bacterium that is used in the Dr. Hellus dairy products series. the research continued on a trial-and-error basis in order to determine the best strain. We ended up with the pro-biotic lactobacil- lus strain Lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA, which did not perish during cheese produc- tion and stayed viable. The bacterium’s ability to survive in cheese was of determining im- portance for the pro-biotic.” In the scientific experiments it became evident that TENSIA would not help against salmonella as expect- ed; instead, the beneficial effect on blood pressure was discovered. During the years, numerous clinical studies have been carried out with TENSIA in order to prove its functional characteristics. For example, the experimental group consumed cheese containing the bacterium and the con- trol group consumed regular cheese without the bacterium. The results show that cheese with TENSIA particularly helps people with elevated blood pressure, people with systolic blood pressure higher than 130mmHg, but who have not been diagnosed with arterial hypertension. “This means they do not have a problem yet, but they need to watch their health, and change their diet and lifestyle, e.g. get more exercise,” explains Tammsaar. Clinical studies confirm that people with this condition benefit from eating a daily amount of 50 grams of Südamejuust (heart-friendly cheese – ed.) for three to four weeks in or- der to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. “At the same time, we have proved that con- sumption of Südamejuust does not increase the level of cholesterol or LDL cholesterol (i.e. ‘bad cholesterol’) or lead to an increase in body weight,” she added. Lactobacillus plantarum TENSIA has received several awards: the first prize and the Finnish Quality Innovation Award 2010, the Gold Prize at the Korean International Women’s Intervention and Exposi- tion (KIWIE) in 2009 and the first prize in 2010, and a special award of the Innovation for Enterprise, Science and Technology in Eu- rope 2009 (Helsinki, Finland) by the EUWIIN (European Union of Women Inventors and Innovators Network).
  18. 18. 19WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA An invention of the University of Tartu determines the quality of milk at the milking stage Recently, the University of Tartu received a European patent which makes it pos- sible to determine traces of antibiotics in milk during the milking process, thereby decreasing the amount of waste milk and reducing large production losses. “One of the main problems for milk pro- ducers is cattle illnesses, which have an impact on the volume and quality of milk. Those illnesses are mostly treated with various antibiotics, which also reach the milk yielded by cows during treatment. In order to prevent traces of medication from reaching human food, the milk yield- ed by cows during treatment and during the following ban period is utilized, which means large production losses. We have approximately 30,000 tons of waste milk in Estonia each year,” explains Toonika Rinken, leader of the research group and Senior Researcher of Colloid and Envi- ronmental Chemistry at the University of Tartu. This innovation makes it possible to iden- tify traces of the most commonly used an- tibiotics in milk during the actual milking process. “The device makes it possible to identify cases where the level of medica- tions or degradation compounds in yield- ed milk is too high and to remove such milk fast,” Rinken explains, adding that this enables them to avoid large volumes of milk being contaminated with residues of medications and to improve the quality of milk produced. It also leads to reduced costs related to waste milk. TENSIA patent “Isolated microorganism strain *Lactobacillus plantarum* Tensia DSM 21380 as an- timicrobial and antihypertensive probiotic, food product and composition comprising said microorganism and use of said microorganism for preparation of antihypertensive medicine and method for suppressing pathogens and nonstarter lactobacilli in food product”, inventors Epp Songisepp, Marika Mikelsaar, Merle Rätsep, Mihkel Zilmer, Pirje Hütt, Meeme Utt, Kersti Zilmer, Janne Üksti, Siiri Kõljalg. Patent owner: Bio-Competence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products (Tervisliku Piima Biotehnoloogiate Arenduskeskus OÜ). EP2309870 is validated in the following countries: European patent EP2309870, is vali- dated in the 11 countries Estonian patent EE05340; Russian Patent RU2477750. The probiotic Harmony™ Südamejuust was created in cooperation between the Bio-Com- petence Centre of Healthy Dairy Products, the University of Tartu, the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the company E-Piim. To use the bacterium, BioCC has signed a license agreement with E-Piim Tootmine AS, the company which produces Südamejuust with TENSIA. Jaanus Murakas, Manager of E-Piim, ex- plains that the Südamejuust is a common Edam-type cheese which is made special by TENSIA bacterium. The cheese is in shops in small packages of 150 grams. Südamejuust has been named the Best Estonian Dairy Prod- uct in the contest “The Best food in Estonia 2010". Tiina Saron, Head of Dairy Union, an um- brella organisation for Estonian dairy produc- ers, says that although no pro-biotic product has received an official certificate from the European Union, the Moscow Food Institute carried out clinical research on Südamejuust and, on the basis of those results, they can claim that this cheese has a beneficial effect on health. This means that Südamejuust is sold as a functional food in Russia in specially marked packaging, and on the Russian mar- ket it can be officially claimed that Südame- juust improves your health. “I went to Rus- sia some weeks ago and saw that there was a large advertising campaign going on for Südamejuust,” says Saron. According to her, the Russian market offers great opportunities for Estonian dairy producers because, firstly, it is much larger than the domestic market and, secondly, due to proximity, it is easier for Esto- nian businesses to access the Russian market than, for example, the German market. “We are exporting practically all of our dairy prod- uct groups to Russia, but mostly cheese and yoghurts.” Jaanus Murakas, Manager of E-Piim, explains that the motivation for putting a new, pro-biotic cheese into production was the need to be more competitive.
  19. 19. LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER20 I SCIENCE & INNOVATION Estonia makes its way onto the world map with new cancer medicationText: Holger Roonemaa Photos: Atko Januson and Jaanar Nikker In a suburb of Tallinn, next to the Skype Estonia Development Centre, a group of focussed sci- entists are working on a drug candidate called Virexxa. If all goes well, this drug meant for treating rare forms of endometrial cancer will reach the market within the next two years. A comparison with Skype is not arbitrary, as this parallel was drawn by Indrek Kasela from the Amber Trust Foundation, one of the organiza- tions that has invested in the development of this drug candidate. The drug candidate is being developed in collaboration with Kevelt Ltd., Tallinn University of Technology and the North Estonian Medical Centre. Life in Estonia visited the Competence Centre for Cancer Research to find out which of their projects may reach the world market in the near future According to Riin Ehin, the Competence Centre for Cancer Research has developed 28 molecular genetic tests which aim to predict genetic risk for certain types of cancer and adjust treatments for cancer.
  20. 20. CCCR’s partners are: Tallinn University of Technology University of Tartu North Estonia Medical Centre Trial Form Support TFS AB CeMines Estonia Ltd Cambrex Tallinn Ltd Kevelt Ltd Celecure Ltd Inbio Ltd IB Genetics Ltd Protobios Ltd SIA Pharmidea Quattromed HTI Laborid Ltd Genecode Ltd WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 21 When the current clinical trials of Virexxa are completed and the drug is produced in Tallinn, it will mark a significant step for the entire Estonian pharmaceutical industry, directly and symbolically. Estonia will be the first former eastern bloc country able to produce drugs which are certified by the European and US markets. However, Virexxa is not the only can- cer drug candidate in development in Tallinn. The Competence Centre for Cancer Research (CCCR), which aims to develop cancer drug can- didates and diagnostic platforms, was founded in Tallinn nine years ago in cooperation be- tween Estonian universities, Enterprise Estonia and several local and foreign biotechnology companies. “A significant expertise in cancer research already existed in Estonia, which is why it was considered reasonable to bring it all under one roof,” explains Andres Valkna, Scientific Expert of CCCR. He explains that the aim of CCCR is not just academic research, but also practical: to develop the commercial value of cancer technologies. Simply put, this means developing and patenting drug candidates, as well as developing, licensing and selling services necessary for diagnostics. A brief explanation of how the pharmaceu- tical industry works is necessary. Normally, the process of developing a new medical drug lasts 10-15 years, from the discovery which forms the basis for development to receiving a license to market the drug. The whole process costs millions of euros. Very broadly, this development process can be divided into two parts: pre-trial clinical re- search and clinical trials. The general business model of small compa- nies such as CCCR is to sell their projects in one phase or another to large pharmaceuti- cal companies. The price of the transaction depends directly on which phase of research the drug is in at the time of the transaction. “Drug candidates that have passed clinical trials cost significantly more than drug candi- dates that are still in the pre-clinical research phase,” explains Valkna. Therefore, the main strategy of biotechnology companies is to do the homework for the giants, in other words to sell drug projects which have already passed clinical trials. The main reason is that the clinical trial phase is very expensive, time- consuming and risky. Because the development of a drug candidate takes a lot of time, developers must always have several projects in different phases in the pipeline. “Some work always needs to come in, something always has to be in develop- ment, and something always has to come out of the pipeline,” says Valkna. Currently there are fourteen projects in dif- ferent phases of development in the CCCR portfolio. Whereas some projects are still at the basic research level, other drug candidates are already in the phase of clinical trials. For example, the first project to be sold was a cancer drug candidate which was at the pre- clinical development stage. A project initiated by a spin-off company established by scientists of the Tallinn University of Technology was bought by the US stock company Cambrex, founded by Alfred Nobel. CCCR invites all researchers, universities and entrepreneurs interested in this field to con- tact them. CCCR is definitely looking for new partners with new ideas. CCCR considers add- ing new projects to the portfolio to be very important.
  21. 21. 22 I SCIENCE & INNOVATION LIFE IN ESTONIA Genes serving scientists Another CCCR project that has proven to be successful comes from the field of diagnos- tics. CCCR has developed 28 molecular genetic tests which aim to predict genetic risk for cer- tain types of cancer and adjust treatments for cancer. “In certain kinds of cancer, some drugs are unsuitable, because instead of helping they make the patient’s condition worse,” ex- plains Riin Ehin, Chair of the Board of CCCR. With the help of those tests, Estonian hospitals have been able to offer better treatment to over 600 patients. If the test is prescribed by an on- cologist, it is also paid for by the National Health Insurance Board. Currently, the test is used for the diagnosis of breast, lung and intestine cancer, and the CCCR is continuing to develop the test for other forms of cancer. The potential impact of the test is best illustrated by the fact that three years ago CCCR received a special quality innova- tion prize for this project from the Finnish presi- dent, Tarja Halonen. What does the future hold? Let us look ahead to the most exciting projects of CCCR which will start to take shape in the next few years. We have already mentioned Virexxa, which is being developed by Kevelt Ltd., one of the partners of CCCR. In addition, the same company has another drug candidate for a rare form of cancer in the phase of clini- cal trials called Oncohist, which is meant for the treatment of two rare types of leukaemia. One of the joint strategies of CCCR and its part- ners is to focus on the development of drug can- didates for rare cancer types based on clear logic. “Rare diseases are called orphan diseases, and both European and US medical agencies have made the development of drug candidates for the treatment of those illnesses much easier,” explains Riin Ehin. When a drug candidate has already proven to be very effective during the first clinical trials, and if a drug for precisely that type of cancer does not exist on the market, it is possible to bring it to the market. An orphan drug candidate meant for the treatment of a rare type of cancer is a good opportunity for smaller companies because it enables them to develop their drug candidate faster, at a better price, and the competition from corporations is not as high. There is also a social and human aspect involved: CCCR and its partners consider it important to find treatment solutions for those people who suffer from rare cancers that do not have any particularly effective treatments. Just as Kevelt is set to bring drugs for the treat- ment of rare types of cancer to the market with- in the next couple of years, another partner of CCCR – Protobios Ltd – has also reached the phase of clinical trials. Protobios approaches can- cer from another direction. The researchers of the company have developed a unique analysis method which is used to look for cancer mark- ers in the patient’s blood. “For example, in breast cancer, cancer markers circulate in the patient’s blood long before mammography shows a posi- tive result. With our analysis, it is possible to diag- nose breast cancer in an extremely early phase,“ explains Ehin. Genetic diet plan Another partner of CCCR, IB Genet- ics, has developed the trademark FiguraGen, which is not linked to the treatment or diagnosis of can- cers, but works on developing life- style tests. For instance, FiguraGen offers a health-risk assessment, which is linked to weight problems. About half of the population is over- weight or obese. The FiguraGen test can be bought at a pharmacy or via the web. A person can take a scrap- ing from inside the mouth and send it off for laboratory analysis. The ge- netic analysis then forms the basis for researchers to develop individualised nutritional recommendations and nutrition experts compile a personal- ised menu. Other tests can show lac- tose intolerance and also risks linked to deficiencies of certain vitamins. Each person then has the choice of whether and how to act upon the information. At the moment, Figura- Gen offers this test kit only on the Estonian market, but the company is negotiating with potential repre- sentatives in other countries. www.geenitestid.ee
  22. 22. LIFE IN ESTONIA 23 Tallinn University of Technology searches for drugs for serious illnesses Erkki Truve, Vice Rector for Research at the Tallinn University of Technol- ogy, told Life in Estonia about three projects which are all at an initial stage but, if successful, would allevi- ate the conditions of thousands of ill people around the world. The first project, developed at the Centre of Excellence in Chemical Biology by Margus Lopp, Mati Karelson and a virologist from the University of Tartu, Andres Merits, involves the design and synthesis of a whole family of new molecules that have antiviral effects. “In the long term, this project could grow into a treatment for such viruses as HIV and hepatitis C,“ says Truve. The second project, headed by Pro- fessors Tõnis Timmusk and Peep Palumaa, is in the field of neurobi- ology. In cooperation with the small Tallinn-based company Genecode Ltd, Timmusk’s lab is studying mol- ecules which prevent nerve cells from dying. “Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s, come into being because of dying nerve cells.“ “Peep Palumaa heads another pro- ject, which is specifically studying Alz- heimer’s disease,“ continues Truve. Alzheimer‘s develops when specific protein tangles develop between hu- man brain cells, and this is caused by certain metals. As a result, neurons or nerve cells in the brain start to die. Palumaa’s research is about prevent- ing the accumulations of metals in the tangles. “He is studying the pro- cess as a chemist, but the outcome also has a clinical dimension,“ says Truve. Clinical trials of this method are currently ongo- ing in Estonian hospitals and the method is used primarily when a doctor suspects a false positive or a false negative mammography result. “Our test helps to adjust the mammography result,” says Ehin. She points out several advantages of the marker test. Firstly, it is possible to diagnose cancer or the recurrence of cancer with a simple blood test. Secondly, it is possible to screen the population sufficiently. The third reason is the lower price. Fourthly, mammography involves only a small amount of radiation. “The early diagnosis is ex- tremely important as it means better chances of recovery,” explains Ehin, and adds that often patients receive a cancer diagnosis when there has already been metastasis and the cancer has spread throughout the body. Innovative approach starves cancer Once the cancer has developed, there are many solutions to help to fight it. Another partner of CCCR - Celecure Ltd – is developing a drug candidate which approaches cancer indirectly. “In a healthy adult body, no new blood vessels develop, but new ones are created, for example, when a wound heals. Cancer takes advantage of such a situation and, similarly to healing a wound, it stimulates the growth of the vessels surrounding the cancer,” Ehin explains. Without new vessels the cancer cannot grow as it will be without oxygen and nutrition. Celecure research- ers are developing a drug candidate which stops the development of new blood vessels around primary cancer. Cancer vaccine hidden in plant virus Kevelt Ltd is cooperating with the researchers of the Tallinn University of Technology to develop a therapeutic vaccine against melanoma, in other words a vaccine which besides prevention also has healing properties. The scientists chose to focus on melanoma, as the human body has dif- ficulties in recognizing this difficult form of skin cancer. This is due to the fact that, for the im- mune system, the development of a melanoma resembles a process which is similar to tanning and by the time the body realizes that something is wrong, the cancer has already developed too far. In order to help the body and to activate it to fight the cancer, scientists are using a “Trojan horse”. “They take a plant virus capsule, remove the RNA and replace it with information from a melanoma. Subsequently, the capsule is injected into a human circulatory system and, as the body recognizes something alien, it automatically ac- tivates the immune system and kills the virus,” explains Ehin. When trials demonstrate its ef- fectiveness with the melanoma, it can be devel- oped for the treatment of other types of cancer. Killercellshaltedattherightmoment In cooperation between the two largest hospitals in Estonia – the North Estonia Medical Centre and the Tartu University Clinic - and Celecure Ltd, a technology is being developed which will help to make the treatment of blood cancers more effec- tive. Most readers are unaware of the fact that human blood contains natural killer cells. Natu- ral killer cells play a big role in several processes linked to the treatment of blood cancers. CCCR and its partners have developed a method that makes it possible to grow natural killer cells in ar- tificial conditions in clinically adequate quantities.
  23. 23. All genetic roads lead to Estonia Text: Arko Olesk / the daily newspaper Postimees & Tallinn University Photos: Lauri Kulpsoo Tartu, Estonia, is the place to turn to when a nation tries to come to grips with the eternal question “Where do we come from?”. With the help of genes, the scientists at the Estonian Biocentre have traced the ancient migration of people, helping to establish the origins of, among others, Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians. I SCIENCE & INNOVATION LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER24 Mait Metspalu
  24. 24. You can find all of human history contained in the basement of this modern science building. Standing in the busy main street of Tartu, not far from other buildings of the oldest and most renowned university of Es- tonia, the University of Tartu, the Estonian Biocentre houses tens of thousands of gene probes from various populations around the world. These genes tell stories that no book or person has been able to tell so far: tales of love and trekking at the dawn of mankind. We all come from Africa; this fact has been known to science for a long time. The modern human, Homo sapiens, left Africa and started to conquer the world around 100,000 years ago. What hap- pened next is less certain. By which routes did we spread around the world? Where in the family tree of mankind do all of the nations fall? This is where population ge- netics helps. Before genetics, attempts to reconstruct the ancient past were mainly made with the help of archaeology or linguistics. Buried pots and bones helped to reconstruct an- cient movements. Similarities and differenc- es in languages were used to draw family trees of populations. Yet, these approaches can be misleading. “Language and genes do not go together,” says Mait Metspalu, Vice Director of the Es- tonian Biocentre. “It is much easier to change your language than to change your genes.” And this is exactly what seems to have hap- pened quite often during the course of his- tory. For example, while the Estonian and Hungarian languages share the same roots, the genetic similarities between these two nations is much less than you would ex- pect from the linguistic analysis. According to Metspalu, genetically everyone is most closely related to their neighbours. Finding the modern relatives The Estonian Biocentre has also helped to un- cover the story of Native Americans and ancient Greenlanders, with the help of people who died thousands of years ago. The study of old DNA – genetic material recov- ered from old bones or human tissues – has be- come one of the hottest topics in science. Re- searchers have managed to sequence Neander- thal DNA and discover a previously unknown species of humans. The Estonian Biocentre has been collaborating with Danish scientists who have managed to locate some of the oldest available DNA from modern humans. Most recently, they published, in the journal Nature, the genome analysis of a boy who lived 24,000 years ago on the shores of Lake Baikal in Siberia. The analysis revealed that the people living in Siberia back then were not the same groups we might encounter there today. Rather, these peo- ple became the ancestors of modern Europeans and, more surprisingly, also Native Americans. Previously it was thought that Native Ameri- cans stemmed from the people currently living in East Asia. This analysis showed that Native Americans are a mixture of East Asian and (fu- ture) European people. In 2010, the team received another ancient surprise when analysing some old hair found in Greenland. The dark lock of hair belonged to a man who settled in Greenland some 4,000 year ago, during the “first wave of migration”. It was unclear who these people were: whether they were related to modern Greenlanders or to Native Americans or to some other group. DNA from the hair showed that these people were completely different from the Inuits cur- rently inhabiting Greenland. They were also not related to Native Americans. Rather, their closest modern relatives are in Siberia and the Aleutian Islands. “When we reconstruct the demographic his- tory of people and only use current variability, we can come up with all kinds of scenarios that have left no traces,” Metspalu explains. “Peo- ple might have died out and modern DNA re- veals nothing about that. This is why old DNA is important.” Estonian Biocentre researcher Chandana Basu Mallick is measuring skin pigmentation in the state of Tamil Nadu, India.All participants also gave the gene sample. Cross section through the MA-1 individual’s humerus.The central void is the medullary cavity. 25WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA PhotobyMaitMetspalu Photoby:ThomasWStafford,Jr
  25. 25. Hoping to find out where Estonians fit in is what got Estonian researchers doing popula- tion genetics in the first place. That was in the mid-1990s. Metspalu reminisces, “We had the idea that the general global structure was fixed and we only needed to find out where the place of Estonians was,” he says. “But we found out very quickly that this was not the case and that actually the field was quite un- explored. So we had to start working on the global level.” This is the reason why the Estonian group has published several articles in such prestigious science journals as Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, dealing with the ancestry of Native Americans, Indian tribes and Jewish population groups. Indian genetic prehistory was also the subject of Metspalu’s own doctoral thesis. Also, the Estonian Biocentre has several researchers from India who are studying this genetically very diverse subcontinent. “While Africa is the birthplace of mankind, India is its cradle,” Metspalu explains. “To un- derstand how people came out of Africa and started to populate Eurasia, you need to start looking at India. To get to most of Eurasia, you at least have to pass through India.” That is where people went before populating the rest of the world. Some of the groups just passed through, while some stayed a little longer. But, either way, they left some of their genes behind by mixing with other groups. “How, when and where have populations been divided and who mixed with each oth- er?” he asks in describing the main problems the research group is trying to solve. Burial of Mal'ta child redrawn from Gerasimov (1935), with photos of the plaque and swan from the burial and a representative Venus figurine from the excavation. The genetic structure of world population. Based on around 600,000 locations covering all human genome, this analysis highlights the similarities in genomes between different nations.The columns represent the weight of different components by individuals. Photoby:KellyEGraf Source: Estonian Biocentre LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER26 I SCIENCE & INNOVATION
  26. 26. All of these events can be traced from the ge- nome thanks to two characteristics of genes. Firstly, they change. There is evolutionary pres- sure favouring certain gene variations over others. But there are also random mutations that occur over time and at certain rates, mak- ing each population genetically distinctive af- ter some time and making it possible to calcu- late back to the common ancestor of different populations. Secondly, having sex allows genes to mix. The offspring always has half of the genes from the mother and half from the father. When one of the parents is from another population, this inserts some new variants into the gene pool and later helps geneticists to uncover when and where different groups mingled. For a long time, the main sources of this in- formation were the Y-chromosome (which gets passed on from father to son) and mi- tochondrial DNA (which each child inherits from the mother). As sequencing techniques have developed and become cheaper, re- searchers have begun using more powerful tools. They now use gene chips, which allow them to look at hundreds of thousands of single letter differences (SNPs) in the genome and gather even more information about similarities and differences between populations. The ultimate goal is already within reach: full genome se- quencing. Reading all three billion base pairs that make up our genome will give scientists a unique window into the past. “Almost all demographic history has affected the length of shared pieces of the genome,” Metspalu says. “Looking at only one part of the DNA, such as the Y-chromosome, the role of chance is much bigger, and less common [gene] signals are more likely to get lost.” The complete genome also makes it possible to look for genes that affect our appearance. “The populations living in the cold north, for example, have shorter hands and legs and stockier bodies than the people of India,” Met- spalu says. The Estonian Biocentre is currently preparing the biggest full genome database in the world – 300 individuals from one hundred Eurasian populations – specifically meant for doing pop- ulation genetics. Such full genome analysis has revealed, and will continue to reveal, surprises about our past. For example, Metspalu and his col- leagues were involved in the analysis of the genome of an Aboriginal Australian. The data indicates another possible migration out of Africa. It might be that before the bulk of modern humans left Africa, a small- er group made their way along the Indian Ocean coast and some of their genes survive in Aboriginal Australians. “This is one of the central questions we want to investigate with our full genome data set,” Metspalu says. “Things might be more compli- cated that one migration out of Africa.” So we now know about Australians and In- dians. But what about Estonians? Have the researchers finally managed to solve the prob- lems they started investigating some 20 years ago? Metspalu bursts into laughter. “We would like to,” he says. “We are still working on it.” Photoby:NiobeThompson Lake Baikal in south-central Siberia, where Mal’ta is situated. Genome of the Mal’ta child revealed that an Upper Palaeolithic population from this region admixed with ancestors of present-day East Asians, giving rise to the First American gene pool. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 27
  27. 27. The trial of the most famous Estonian male cross-country skier, Andrus Veerpalu, in the international Court of Arbitration (CAS) became a match of scientists in which three relatively unknown Estonians beat the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Scientists saved the honour of a national heroText: Mihkel Kärmas / Photos: Scanpix LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER28 I SCIENCE & INNOVATION
  28. 28. At the press conference. In the middle,Andrus Veerpalu; beside him, on the left, the lawyer Aivar Pilv and, on the right, his coach Mati Alaver. On either side of the table, Sulev Kõks and Anton Terasmaa, scientists of the University of Tartu and members of Veerpalu’s defence team. In April 2011, the Estonian public received perhaps the biggest moral shock of recent years: one of the most beloved national sports heroes, the cross-country skier Andrus Veerpalu, tested positive for doping. This, among other things, explained why, a month earlier, the champion had suddenly pulled out of the Oslo World Championships, where he was con- sidered to be one of the favourites in his preferred event—the 15-kilome- tre classic style—and instead announced that his skiing career was over. At the press conference of the Estonian Skiing Union, where the news was officially announced, the now 40-year-old double Olympic gold medallist and world champion swore that he had not used any prohib- ited substances. Many felt personally affected when the embodiment of the hard-working modest Estonian and the father of five broke down in front of journalists. Quickly the Facebook group “We believe Andrus Veerpalu” was created and over 60,000 people joined, a truly signifi- cant number for a small nation. Despite the emotional explanations of the athlete and his coaches, the doping panel of the International Ski Association (FIS) gave Veerpalu a three-year competition ban because of the traces of human growth hor- mone (HGH) in his blood. Veerpalu’s defence team decided to appeal to the Court of Arbitration (CAS), which postponed the decision on three occasions until, after two years of agony, on 26 March 2013, the next news bomb exploded: Veerpalu had been acquitted! “These have been the most difficult two years of my life and I hope no-one else has to experience what I have gone through. I am happy that justice has been done,” said the skier, emphasizing the input of the scientists on his team. “I am not sure whether we can call Veerpalu’s ac- quittal a triumph of Estonian scientists, but it certainly is the beginning of a triumph,” said Anton Terasmaa, a member of Veerpalu’s defence team and one of the three scientists who were able to prove that the growth hormone test internationally used for years is flawed. Doping hunters and competitors, however, were disappointed. Sarah Lewis, Secretary General of FIS, compared the case to speeding with an uncalibrated speedometer. “Veerpalu was caught doing 180 kilometers an hour, and the speed limit was 120. Then when they checked out the machine to measure speed, they showed that it may not have been accurate between 118 and 119, and at that speed there could be a false positive. And consequently, even though he had done 180, and that’s not disputed, he was nevertheless given the benefit of the doubt because there was a fault in the machine,” said Lewis. Battle of David and Goliath Athletes, functionaries and fans may or may not believe in Veerpalu’s innocence, but the decision has been taken and is not a matter of ap- peal. The case is special precisely because the scientists of the Estonian skier’s defence team achieved what many in the whole world no longer believed was achievable. They proved that the growth hormone test, which the powerful FIS and WADA—organisations which control mil- lions of euros—have used for the last eight years is not reliable. The team of the David who successfully battled Goliath included three scientists of the University of Tartu – Sulev Kõks, Krista Fischer and Anton Terasmaa - who say they worked on their own initiative and without charging a fee. “I believe that their unbelievable professional- ism and dedication will be properly acknowledged and rewarded,” said Veerpalu in gratitude after being acquitted. When the trio of volunteers first took on the case two years ago, they just had the handwritten statements of the skier, his trainer and physi- cian: three pieces of paper stating that the athlete had not consumed any prohibited substances. Assuming that Veerpalu was telling the truth, the scientists started to look for a reason why the test showed the use of growth hormone. “At first we did not pay much attention to the testing methodology, because we did not believe that the results of years of work by other scientists would include principal flaws,” explains Doctor Fischer, a bio- statistician and Senior Researcher at the Estonian Genome Centre of the University of Tartu. “We investigated whether Veerpalu’s genetic characteristics might explain a false positive result, or whether mistakes had been made during the testing process.” They put forth the theory that the positive doping test had resulted either from Veerpalu’s genetic uniqueness or the fact that the test was con- ducted after a difficult training session and stay in an alpine lodge in high mountain conditions. However, they could not prove their theory. What proved decisive was not a faulty test or method, but the measuring tech- nique through which the doping hunters compared Veerpalu’s results. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 29
  29. 29. Inaccurate method Growth hormone is a naturally existing hormone in the human body, but how can one set the boundary which, if crossed, indicates that someone has used an external growth hormone (commonly called “doping”)? People are different and the level of the hormone and its isoforms vary even within one day. “The more we focused on the growth hormone test, the more questions and suspicions we had about its reliability,” says Professor Sulev Kõks, the leader of the group of scientists. “Most suspiciously, we never found a methodical and scientific expla- nation for the testing method, nor did we receive such an explanation from WADA. WADA claimed that they had never had a false positive re- sult, in other words a case where an athlete who had not taken growth hormone had tested positive, thus declaring that it wasn’t possible. As proof they said that, of the dozen athletes who had been caught, no- body had been acquitted. But that is not something you can take seri- ously! That is not scientific proof!” says Fischer. The team asked for help from the American biomedicine statistician Don Barry. “In fact, the testing method for growth hormone has been criti- cised for years,” explains Fischer. “We simply went further, carried out some serious work and presented scientific arguments.” The scientists assert that they were definitely unbiased. “As a scientist I would have accepted it if the test marginal rates had been correctly and thoroughly defined and working. Then we would have looked for other solutions. But those rates have never been scientifically proven,” says Fischer. When the team presented their questions about the testing method to CAS, there was a delay while FIS, in cooperation with WADA, tried unsuccessfully to patch up the holes discovered by the Estonians. In the end, CAS decided in favour of the Estonian team. “The scientific report presented by WADA to FIS regarding testing guidelines was not consid- ered satisfactory by the judges and, therefore, it could not be claimed with certainty that Veerpalu was guilty of doping. Everything boiled down to the technical problems with the test. In conclusion, the test is still considered reliable but in future WADA must set clear guidelines,” explained Matthieu Reeb, Secretary General of CAS. Sulev Kõks, Professor of Physiological Genomics at the University of Tartu, who led Veerpalu’s scientific team, is one of the most talented Estonian genetic scientists. LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER30 I SCIENCE & INNOVATION
  30. 30. Miracle calf, sports gene and toxins of the Vietnam War Sulev Kõks (42), Professor of Physiological Genomics at the University of Tartu, who led Veerpalu’s scientific team, is one of the most talented Estonian genetic scientists. In addition to his work on the defence team of our sports hero, Kõks was the main theorist behind the cloning of the first Estonian trans- genic calf, in collaboration with the Estonian University of Life Sciences. The calf Juuni was introduced to the public last September and she was supposed to be the first of many cloned cows with a transplanted human gene whose milk was supposed to yield growth hormone for the pharmaceutical industry. This is potentially a business worth hundreds of millions of euros, because until now the pharmaceutical industry has used a more expensive and clumsy method of pro- ducing growth hormone. In October, Juuni died at the age of three months, but the project continues and, ac- cording to plans, the herd of cloned calves of the Estonian University of Life Sciences will grow to ten or more in the next few years, which is considered sufficient to meet the en- tire world pharmaceutical industry’s demand for growth hormone. Today, the cloning of transgenic calves has become so ordinary that it is done on average twice a week at the lab of the Estonian University of Life Sciences. Gene test which helps to identify potential top athletes Kõks also helped to develop a unique genetic test, available on the market beginning this year, which helps to better identify children who have the genetic predisposition to suc- ceed in certain kinds of sports: to find poten- tial future top athletes. Genetic tests for sports ability are nothing new, but mostly they have relied on one or two genes. For the first time ever, Estonians have pulled together six genes, so this test should give a better overview of an individual’s capabilities. “We are quite able to predict what field of sports is suitable for a person,” Kõks explains. “Broadly speaking we differentiate between whether someone has more potential for sports requiring strength where one has to en- dure a brief moment of huge muscle tension or a more endurance-sport-type biochemistry. More endurance-sport-prone people do not get tired as easily, their metabolism encour- ages the economic use of energy and such a person is able to train for three to four hours intensively. In addition, Kõks has researched the impact of toxic dioxin in Vietnam. Dioxin was re- leased into nature when the US Army de- stroyed jungle areas with plant toxins during the war in order to prevent the enemy from hiding. As a result, approximately three million Vietnamese people are suffering from differ- ent health problems today. It is believed that dioxin causes developmental problems, birth defects and cancer. The aim of the project is to identify the link between dioxin in the environment and the occurrence of disease. Although Vietnam has the highest levels of dioxin in nature, it is not just a problem of one country: many countries have dioxin in their environments as a result of production processes. “The dioxin project is clearly a global issue. It is not just a prob- lem for Vietnam, but also for other developing countries and for the United States,” states Kõks. A precedent for many Many people believed that Veerpalu was let off the hook because of procedural mistakes made by doping hunters and was not actually clean. Don Catlin, who consulted with the defence team and is the “father of modern doping”, emphasises that a person is innocent until proven guilty. “Veerpalu’s case is truly stunning and frightening because it shows how innocent people can be found guilty.” Catlin believes that WADA should take this case into consideration and ask Estonian scien- tists for help in correcting the testing procedures. Veerpalu was acquitted, and FIS annulled the competition ban and had to pay 8,200 euros in compensation. “I think it’s a small miracle that in our dispute with such a large organisation, and the whole system, we were carefully listened to. Until the end, I was uncertain of whether our appeal would be rejected or not,” says Veerpalu’s lawyer, Aivar Pilv. The victory, which was due to a fundamental statistical flaw, is significant because the same test had been questioned for a long time by others. For example, the ruling was welcomed by the players of the American NFL professional football league, whose union had fought the WADA growth hormone test for years, claiming that it was not based on sci- entific proof. “This ruling confirms the demands of players for a scien- tifically valid, completely regulated and transparent system,” the union said in its official statement regarding the decision by CAS. Due to the ruling, the Finnish skier Juha Lallukka was also acquitted and released from his competition ban. Having lived under immense pressure during the whole court process, Andrus Veerpalu returned to skiing at the top level this autumn, not as a competitor but as an adviser to the Kazakhstan ski champion Aleksei Poltoranin, who is set to go for gold during the next Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. However, for Veerpalu’s former coach Mati Alaver, this affair cost the opportunity to become the main trainer of the Russian national skiing team, and he returned to coach the Estonian national team after the scandal. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 31
  31. 31. MetaMed rescues wealthy patients from the randomness of the medical system Jaan Tallinn’s company MetaMed offers a personal medical service to the wealthy which can cost up to 250,000 USD. Inspiration for the creation of the company came from Steve Jobs’ fight with cancer. Text: Toivo Tänavsuu LIFE IN ESTONIA I 2013 / 2014 WINTER I ECONOMY AND BUSINESS 32
  32. 32. Based in New York, MetaMed was established in 2012 by an interesting group of people: in addition to Jaan Tallinn, who was also one of the founders of Skype, the futurist Michael Vassar, the legendary card player and former professional “Magic: The Gathering” player Zvi Mowshowitz, and the megastar investor Peter Thiel, who also founded PayPal. Thiel invested half a million dollars in the company. MetaMed has a simple vision: to offer a high- end personal medical service and thereby show the potential future of medicine. Metamed is primarily directed towards pa- tients in poor health who doctors have either given up on or who are themselves sceptical of doctors. For a cost reaching thousands of dollars (fees begin at 5,000 USD), MetaMed researchers study the patient’s medical and health history and genetic research, subse- quently researching medical publications and studies. The company employs over twenty re- nowned scientists and doctors, who are called Medical Advisers or Health Researchers. For each patient, they prepare a thorough re- port in which they investigate the medical his- tory and illness of the patient in the minutest detail. They find the likely cause of the illness, and introduce potential treatment methods and describe the risks involved. However, MetaMed emphasizes that the report does not prescribe any treatment. The decisions regard- ing treatment need to be taken by a medical doctor, together with the patient. For example, there are over ten different ways to treat a melanoma. For one client, MetaMed compiled a report of approximately twenty pages, which introduced all of the treatment options and discussed their advantages and drawbacks. On the basis of clinical studies, it mentioned dosage amounts, predictors of ef- fectiveness, side-effects, response rates and survival rates. For another patient, MetaMed compiled an 18-page report on the causes of kidney stones and different existing treatment methods. No single doctor is able to provide such a compre- hensive overview in the tight time-frame avail- able for each patient! In the USA, an average visit to a doctor lasts approximately only 11 minutes and the majority of that time is spent on paperwork. MetaMed is no longer unknown in medical circles, although the company has not carried out a large advertising campaign. MetaMed services have been advertised on Adwords. Jaan Tallinn claims that marketing is their main challenge: “Sometimes I get the feeling that we’re building the first law firm in a world where law firms have not been invented yet.” Today the company has dozens of patients. One of the first patients paid 8,000 USD for a 10-page report on a rare form of skin cancer. Later the cancer was successfully treated on the basis of the report. It is also possible for patients to Google infor- mation on their illnesses, but MetaMed spe- cialists have better access to different sources and they are able to better assess the quality of the information available. MetaMed is convinced that the US medical system is rotten to the core. And this shows the dire need for change. The United States spends a fifth of its GDP on health, but be- cause of medical mistakes nearly 100,000 people die each year in hospitals and 40 mil- lion patients receive inadequate or late treat- ment caused by no access to or the lack of information. More than half a million medical articles are published annually and every day over fifty clinical trials commence. MetaMed has done the numbers: if general practitioners in the United States wanted to be somewhat in- formed of the latest medical achievements, they would need to spend 25 days each month reading articles and research results! Doctors cannot be adequately informed of the latest news, and this leads to wrong diagnoses and treatment choices. The inspiration for creating MetaMed came to the research manager of the company, Michael Vassar, as he thought about the late Steve Jobs and his difficult fight with cancer: would Jobs have lived if his treatment had been overseen collectively by a room full of Nobel Prize laure- ates and top medical doctors? In an interview with the weekly Estonian news- paper Eesti Ekspress about MetaMed, Vassar claimed that their deeply scientific approach to medicine not only helps people to be treated more effectively but, in the long term, it will reduce healthcare costs in the United States. At times Vassar seems paranoid about the current system. According to his theory, only the smartest scientists and leading doctors are able to distinguish the truth from medical “bullshit”, find the right treatment on their own or even carry out clinical trials if neces- sary. The fate of other patients has been left to an ineffective medical system and the random care of doctors. Vassar believes that the current medical system ignores scientific breakthroughs and discover- ies, offering patients one-size-fits-all and often unsuitable treatment. MetaMed is on a mis- sion to help patients by “opening their eyes”. Yet he admits that the company’s service is only attainable by a few. In addition to the field of medicine, the philan- thropist Jaan Tallinn is concerned with another large question “threatening human lives”: ex- istential risks to humanity. For example, Tallinn is concerned about the development of artifi- cial intelligence, developments in neuroscience and the rapid growth of genetic- and biotech- nology. He has funded several research institu- tions, including ones at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the UK. “Humankind today is spending less on thinking about how to sur- vive the 21st century than on developing new lipsticks,” he has said. WINTER 2013 / 2014 I LIFE IN ESTONIA 33

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