Basis for outlook

(Published on 9 February 2021)

Collaboration agreements with other pharmaceutical companies are an important component of Orion’s business model. Agreements often include payments recorded in net sales and operating profit that vary greatly from year to year. Forecasting the timing and amount of these payments is difficult. In some cases they are conditional on terms such as research outcomes which are not known until studies have been completed, the progress of research projects or the attainment of specified sales levels. On the other hand, neither the outcome nor the schedule of contract negotiations is generally known before the final signing of the agreement. 

In 2020 Orion received a total of EUR 42 million in milestone payments, most of these in connection with the commercialisation of Nubeqa® in Europe and Japan (EUR 28 million in total) and the transfer of distribution rights to Parkinson’s products to new partners around the world. In 2019, Orion received a total of EUR 51 million in milestone payments, of which EUR 45 million in connection with the commercialisation of Nubeqa® in the United States. The net sales and operating profit estimates for 2021 include less than EUR 5 million of milestone payments, a significantly lower figure than in the preceding years.

Orion estimates that its operating profit in 2020 was around EUR 40 million higher due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic than the Company estimated at the beginning of 2020. More than half of this came from the increased international sales of dexmedetomidine products and the rest from lower than anticipated expenses and increased sales of other products. The outlook for 2021 does not contain similar impacts due to the pandemic.  

The outlook is based on the assumption that Orion’s own production can continue to operate normally despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This requires, among other things, continued success in employee protection so that absence rates do not significantly increase, that personal protective equipment, starting materials, intermediate products and materials are available and that the logistics chains are sufficiently functional.

The outlook does not include any income or expenses associated with possible product or company acquisitions. 

Net sales

Orion continues persistent actions to generate growth more rapidly than growth of the market in the long term. However, in 2021 net sales will be negatively affected by significantly lower milestone payments than in the previous years, generic competition and expiration of a major distribution agreement in the Animal Health unit. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the demand for some Orion products in 2020, but similar added sales beyond normal demand are not anticipated for the same products in 2021, which negatively affects net sales in comparison with 2020.

Sales of Orion’s Dexdor® and Simdax® will decrease due to generic competition. In 2020, the sales of Dexdor® remained at the previous year’s level due to the increased demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but in 2021 its sales are expected to decline.

Nubeqa®, the drug developed by Orion in collaboration with Bayer, received marketing authorisation in the United States in 2019 and in the EU and Japan in 2020. Nubeqa® has now been approved in several other countries as well, and marketing authorisation application filings in other regions are underway or planned by Bayer. The outlook anticipates that the net sales of Nubeqa® booked by Orion will clearly increase in 2021. Orion’s estimate is based on forecasts received from its partner Bayer.

The sales of the Easyhaler® product portfolio will continue to grow also in 2021 due to combined formulations (budesonide-formoterol and salmeterol-fluticasone) launched in the past few years. However, growth is expected to be slower than in the preceding years. The sales of Orion’s branded Parkinson’s drugs (Comtess®, Comtan® and Stalevo®) are estimated to remain at the same level as in the previous year. 

The Scandinavian distribution agreement between Orion’s Animal Health unit and the animal health company Zoetis, in effect for several years, terminated at the end of 2020. As a consequence, the net sales of Orion’s Animal Health unit in 2021 will decrease clearly from the previous year. Distribution of Zoetis products contributed around EUR 28 million to Orion’s net sales in 2020.

Sales of generic products account for a significant proportion of Orion’s total sales. Decline in the price of generic drugs and availability disruptions due to causes other than the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted Orion’s net sales negatively in the past few years. However, the combined negative impact of price decline and product shortages is estimated to be clearly smaller in 2021 than in the previous years. The demand for some generic drugs sold by Orion exceeded normal levels in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the demand for these products is estimated to return to a more normal level this year, negatively affecting net sales development in 2021 in comparison with 2020.

The outlook for 2021 includes under EUR 5 million in milestone payments, which is clearly less than what was booked in 2020 (EUR 42 million) or 2019 (EUR 51 million).

Operating profit

Orion anticipates clearly lower milestone payments in 2021 than in 2020, and the Company’s net product sales are expected to decrease slightly from 2020. Operating profit will also be affected by declining sales of the proprietary products Dexdor® and Simdax® due to generic competition. Growing sales of products like Easyhaler® product portfolio or Nubeqa® will not be able to compensate for the resulting decline in operating profit. Orion therefore estimates that operating profit will be lower or clearly lower than in 2020.

Orion anticipates that operating expenses will remain at a similar level with the previous year. Depreciations related to the acquisition of sales and distribution rights for the Parkinson’s drugs were booked for the final time in 2020, and this will reduce sales and marketing expenses by around EUR 12 million. At the same time, increasing investments are made in the sales and marketing of products that are experiencing growth. Expenses that saw a decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic are anticipated to return to a more normal level in the second half of 2021. R&D expenses are estimated to remain at a similar level as in the previous year.

The Group’s total capital expenditure in 2021 is expected to be more than in 2020, when capital expenditure was EUR 49 million. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may slow down the implementation of planned investments. Orion has launched a project to renew its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and renovations of the Company head office in Espoo will also commence in 2021. Most of the investments in these projects will materialise in 2022–2023.

Near-term risks and uncertainties

The outlook is based on the assumption that Orion’s own production can continue to operate normally despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The sales of Orion-manufactured products depend on the ability of production and the entire supply chain to operate at the planned level. This involves numerous pandemic-related risks that may cause even material production disruptions. Such risks include the infection of employees, poor availability of personal protective equipment, poorer availability of starting materials and intermediate products as well as logistics chain disruptions.

In the course of 2020, as the agreement with Novartis expired, Orion transferred the distribution of the Parkinson’s drugs Stalevo® and Comtan® to new partners in most non-European markets with the exception of Japan. Orion started to sell these products on its own in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and continues to sell them in Europe. These changes, as well as continued generic competition affecting sales negatively, have been factored into the outlook for the current year. However, they still entail uncertainty that may materially affect the accuracy of the estimate made at this stage. 

The basic patents for Dexdor® and Simdax® have expired and generic competition on these products has begun. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic strongly increased the demand for intensive care sedatives, and therefore the sales of Dexdor® decreased far less than anticipated. Its sales are estimated to notably decrease in 2021, but this estimate is subject to substantial uncertainty due to the pandemic situation. Generic competition to Simdax® started in the first markets in 2020. In 2021, net sales of Simdax® are estimated to decrease, but it is difficult to make exact estimates of sales at this point. Actual sales will be affected, among other things, by the timing of the beginning of generic competition in the various markets and the intensity of this competition.

Sales of individual products and also Orion’s sales in individual markets may vary, for example depending on the extent to which the ever-tougher price and other competition prevailing in pharmaceutical markets in recent years will specifically focus on Orion’s products. Product deliveries to key partners are based on timetables that are jointly agreed in advance. Nevertheless, they can change, for example as a consequence of decisions concerning adjustments of stock levels. In addition, changes in market prices and exchange rates affect the value of deliveries. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly increased the demand for some Orion products in 2020, but similar added sales beyond normal demand are not anticipated for the same products in 2021. There is uncertainty around this estimate, since the path of the pandemic and its impacts on the demand for Orion’s products are difficult to assess with any precision. On the other hand, Orion is unaware of how much of the stockpiles acquired by customers in 2020 are remaining and when customers might start using inventories that exceed normal stock levels.

The structural exchange rate risk due to the US dollar has decreased in recent years because the share of Orion’s net sales invoiced in dollars has fallen to below ten per cent and at the same time the value of purchases in dollars has increased. The weight of the US dollar will increase due to increasing sales of Nubeqa®. The greatest exchange rate risk at present relates to European currencies such as the Swedish and Norwegian crown and British pound. However, the overall effect of the risk due to currencies of European countries will be abated by the fact that Orion has organisations of its own in most of these countries, which means that in addition to sales income, there are also costs in these currencies. The exchange rate performance of the Japanese yen is significant due to increased sales of Parkinson’s drugs in Japan. The exchange rate effect related to the Russian rouble has increased due to the strong volatility of the currency. However, Russian sales are not a significant portion of Orion’s entire net sales.

Orion’s broad product range may cause risks to the delivery reliability and make it challenging to maintain the high quality standard required in production. The impact of availability disruptions on the Company’s net sales has increased in the past few years. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has clearly ramped up this risk, as restrictions on travel and other operations and the increase in sick leaves in different parts of the world may cause delayed disruptions in pharmaceuticals’ global distribution and logistics chains. In Orion’s estimate, the COVID-19 pandemic will not significantly affect the availability of Company products in the first half of 2021, but there is a risk of poorer product availability in the second half of the year. Authorities and key customers in different countries carry out regular and detailed inspections of drug development and manufacturing at Orion’s production sites. Any remedial actions that may be required may at least temporarily have effects that decrease delivery reliability and increase costs. Orion’s product range also contains products manufactured by other pharmaceutical companies and products that Orion manufactures on its own but for which other companies deliver active pharmaceutical or other ingredients. Possible problems related to the delivery reliability or quality of the products of those manufacturers may cause a risk to Orion’s delivery reliability. The single-channel system used for pharmaceuticals distribution in Finland, in which Orion’s products have been delivered to customers through only one wholesaler, may also cause risks to delivery reliability.

Research projects always entail uncertainty factors that may either increase or decrease estimated costs. The projects may progress more slowly or faster than assumed, or they may be discontinued. Nonetheless, changes that may occur in ongoing clinical studies, for example due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are reflected in costs relatively slowly and are not expected to have a material impact on earnings in the current year. Owing to the nature of the research process, the timetables and costs of new studies that are being started are known well in advance. They therefore typically do not lead to unexpected changes in the estimated cost structure. Orion often undertakes the last, in other words Phase III, clinical trials in collaboration with other pharmaceutical companies. Commencement of these collaboration relationships and their structure also materially affect the schedule and cost level of research projects.

Collaboration arrangements are an important component of Orion’s business model. Possible collaboration and licensing agreements related to these arrangements also often include payments to be recorded in net sales that may materially affect Orion’s financial results. In 2014–2020 the annual payments varied from EUR 5 million to EUR 51 million. The payments may be subject to conditions relating to the progress of research projects or sales or to new contracts to be signed, and whether these conditions or contracts materialise and what their timing is will always entail uncertainties.