A miracle drug amidst the war

Strange things are happening in the basement of the Orion plant. Mould grown in large bouillon bowls has begun to develop into a new miracle drug. The next phase is for the laboratory employees to put on their fur hats and go to the ice cellar: the mould needs to be processed at a temperature of +5 °C. Finally, the solution is frozen and dried. This is the first batch of penicillin to ever have been produced in Finland.

Orion begins its penicillin experiments amidst the war. The drug is discovered by the British Alexander Fleming in the 1920s, but does not attract wider interest until the late 1930s. Its mass production begins in the United States and England in 1943. Finland soon learns about this new medicine, and Orion starts an experiment to prepare penicillin in late 1943. The experiment is led by K. O. Renkonen, who is a professor of serobacteriology.

The company intends to start large-scale production during 1944, but the war interferes with the plans.

“Unfortunately, it seems that, for a long time, we will not be able to produce penicillin in amounts that would be sufficient for general care. We hope that we will be able to acquire penicillin from other sources in the near future,” Renkonen says in Duodecim in 1945.

After the war, it becomes evident that, even though the quality of the penicillin produced by Orion is quite high, its production costs are not competitive in comparison with the imported products. Orion decides to discontinue its penicillin production in 1946.

The topic of penicillin is not revisited until 1955, when Orion decides to start the production of penicillin V. During the 1960s, Orion becomes the sovereign market leader in penicillin products in Finland.