The adoption of digitalisation and data-driven methods is a big trend in the pharmaceutical sector around the world, as there is a huge need for new, effective and safe treatments. Drug development is expensive and risky, so it is hoped that the use of data, machine learning and artificial intelligence will accelerate the drug development process and improve its chances of success. The volume of data is growing continuously, but even more resources and special expertise are required to ensure its optimal use. Finland has this expertise, but it needs to be brought together, into a combined force.
“Orion is now a leading company in building the pharmaceutical research ecosystem. This means bringing together Finnish companies, research institutes and universities in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and technology that specialise in data use and artificial intelligence. Combining our expertise will also allow us to be more competitive in the international arena,” says Julius Sipilä, Discovery Data Technology Lead.
The research ecosystem works by harnessing the expertise of different actors and by sharing data. This makes it possible to create new data and predictive models, and increase reliability with data at different stages of drug development.
“During the drug development process, we carry out a wide range of verification tests and analyses. If data can provide more reliability in the results, the need for further analysis is reduced and progress is more straightforward. We have estimated that the ecosystem could reduce the time it takes to develop a drug by years,” says Timo Korjamo, Principal Data Scientist.
The foundations of the pharmaceutical research ecosystem are in place and a roadmap is being developed
In March, Business Finland granted nearly EUR 10 million in funding to build the pharmaceutical research ecosystem, and it has earmarked nearly EUR 20 million for the research institutes and companies participating in the ecosystem. A condition for receiving this funding is that the participants in the projects must provide a significant share of self-financing, so the project has a significant overall impact. The process of putting together the ecosystem was started at Orion in April with the design of the project roadmap.
“We have spoken to suitable partners for the ecosystem and actors in different fields of expertise and have already launched several collaborations and projects. At Orion, we have launched three projects focusing on different phases of drug development,” says Nelson Kibinge, Senior Scientist Bioinformatics.
These will include, for example, the development of
- an automated machine learning platform that generates models that predict the drug development using laboratory results.
- a virtual research laboratory, where universities and companies work together to transfer data from the research process into a common model that is understood by computers. This means the data is available to everyone and it can be processed by different algorithms to make decisions based on the data.
- an active learning laboratory to increase knowledge about synthetic molecules and about interactions between proteins and substances, for example, through more targeted laboratory experiments. A toxicology data package is also being developed to provide more reliable predictions of the effects of different substances in the human body.
In addition to Orion's own development projects, the aim is to create several co-innovation projects outside Orion within the framework of the drug development cycle. The aim of these network projects is to bring significant overall development to the Finland’s drug development field.
“Orion is monitoring both its own projects and the ecosystem’s projects and making sure that everything is moving in the right direction,” says Sipilä.
Project has attracted widespread interest
In addition to Sipilä, Korjamo and Kibinge, dozens of Orionees have participated in the project and the number will increase as the project progresses. The project has attracted the interest of potential partners and several actors have already joined the cooperation.
“As a leading company, Orion also acts as a link for Finnish partners to other research networks and EU-wide research projects, which is important both for the actors involved in the ecosystem and from Business Finland's perspective,” Sipilä says.
The target for the ecosystem is that by 2027 Finland will have comprehensive expertise in the use of AI as part of pharmaceutical R&D and evidence that drug development can be carried out in a modern and competitive way in partnership by different actors.