Fermion – half a century of vital pharmaceuticals

Fermion Oy, a subsidiary of Orion, produces pharmaceutical ingredients that require highly specialised expertise and are essential in the treatment of many diseases. The 50th anniversary of Fermion has coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, but production has been secured despite these exceptional times.

Fermion manufactures the active ingredients for Orion’s proprietary drugs, as well as for a number of the corporation’s other products.

"Besides Orion, we also supply pharmaceutical ingredients to other pharmaceutical companies. Moreover, we develop and manufacture pharmaceutical ingredients under contract to drug development companies, for example, that have limited expertise or resources in this area. In this way we contribute to the launch of new drugs on the market", says Arto Toivonen, CEO of Fermion.

Fermion is especially well-known as a manufacturer of ingredients of high efficacy that require specialised expertise and are used in cancer drugs, among others.

Nearly 100% of production is exported

Fermion’s story began 50 years ago when Orion and Kemira, known then as Rikkihappo Oy (literally Sulphuric Acid Ltd.), established a joint venture with the aim of launching industrial-scale production of antibiotics in Finland. Since then, the company has specialised in the chemical production processes of pharmaceutical ingredients.

Both Fermion and Orion have, over the decades, invested heavily in several localities in Finland and secured steady growth as well as expansion into international markets. 

"Nearly 100 per cent of the pharmaceutical ingredients we produce is exported at the moment, either as ingredients in Orion’s products or as supplies for other companies." 

Responsibility is paramount

Fermion’s business environment has changed fundamentally during the past five decades.

"Regulatory control of the pharmaceutical industry is becoming stricter by the day, as are the expectations of our customers. Thus corporate responsibility is central to everything we do." 

Fermion has therefore focused particularly on quality assurance and occupational health and safety.

"Thus, the manufacture of ingredients classed as especially potent takes place largely within a closed process, without any human contact."

Fermion is also committed to minimising its environmental burden and has introduced various collection systems for pharmaceutical wastewater and solvents, for example.

A remarkable success story for many patients

The milestones in Fermion’s history are often linked with Orion’s innovative breakthroughs and growth.

Toivonen has been especially pleased, for example, by the very positive way in which Orion’s new prostate cancer drug, Nubeqa, has been received. Its active ingredient, darolutamide, is manufactured by Fermion.

At its plants in Hanko and Oulu, Fermion also produces the entacapone, dexmedetomidine and levosimendan that are still important to Orion for manufacturing Stalevo (for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease), Dexdor (a sedative used in intensive care) and Simdax (for the treatment of heart failure).

Fermion is also a world-leading producer of methotrexate (for treating cancer and rheumatoid arthritis), azathioprine (for the prevention of transplant rejection) and mercaptopurine (for colitis).

In-house production improves security of supply

In Toivonen’s opinion, an in-house subsidiary producing pharmaceutical ingredients increases a company’s security of supply and its agility to rapidly adjust production. This has been particularly significant during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Inhouse pharmaceutical ingredient production is one of Orion’s strategic strengths when competing against the global pharmaceutical giants. It also helps maximise the lifecycle of a drug.

"Orion’s scientists discovered and developed entacapone 30 years ago. And now, in 2020, Fermion is still producing the ingredient in large quantities, and Orion is still continuing to sell its Stalevo and Comtess drugs!"

Securing production during the pandemic

Fermion is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a spirit of "getting things done". However, due to the restrictions necessitated by the current corona situation, the festivities have been postponed until next year, and Fermion’s plants have been placed under a strict visitor ban.

"As producers of indispensable ingredients we are well aware of our responsibilities and have taken every possible step to prevent disruptions to production due to our people falling ill."

Fermion’s operations have continued not only as normal, but perhaps even more efficiently than normal!

"This is a sign of tremendous commitment and high professionalism. We really owe a big thank you to every single one of our employees", Toivonen concludes.

Photo: Rikkihappo Oy and Lääketehdas Orion Oy signing an agreement to establish a joint venture company. Persons from left: A.W. Heino, Martti Hovi, Erkki Leikola, Sauli Sipilä, Reino Salonen and Pentti Koskelo.

Text: Matti Välimäki