Domestic production guarantees security of supply

Orion’s subsidiary Fermion manufactures active ingredients for several cancer drugs. Manufacturing them in Finland improves the security of supply for these vital medicines. Fermion is also a significant manufacturer on the European market.

Fermion produces the active ingredients for proprietary medicines developed by Orion. It also produces pharmaceutical ingredients for other pharmaceutical companies.

Jouko Oikarinen, Plant Manager at Fermion Oulu, says the company manufactures active ingredients for, for example, many vital cancer drugs.

“A major proportion of the pharmaceutical ingredients manufactured by Fermion is for Orion’s own production. Patients benefit from having these ingredients and medicines manufactured in Finland. It greatly improves the security of supply,” Oikarinen emphasises.

Exports are another important sector in Fermion’s output, either as part of Orion’s medicines or through contracting for other companies.

“Of all the pharmaceutical ingredients manufactured by Fermion, 90 percent are aimed at the global markets, either directly or in Orion’s products. We are also a major European pharmaceutical manufacturer, as an increasing amount of production takes place in Asia,” says Liisa Hurme, Orion’s Senior Vice President, Global Operations at Orion and the Chair of the Board at Fermion.

Oikarinen adds that Fermion has been able to continue its operations without disruptions under all kinds of circumstances. During the coronavirus pandemic, Fermion even managed to up its production volumes.

Growth and new capabilities to meet the demand

Fermion operates two plants, both in Finland. The Hanko plant focuses on high-volume products while the Oulu plant specialises in more niche products.

Oikarinen took the helm at the Oulu plant in May 2020. Prior to his appointment as Plant Manager, Oikarinen served in several different roles at the Oulu and Hanko plants. Oikarinen first joined Fermion in 1994.

“Over the years, Fermion has come to be viewed more as one unit. For example, we consider on a case-by-case basis where it is the most feasible to manufacture each product. Many of our experts share their time between the two plants. We are also working more closely with Orion these days.”

Over the years, Fermion has expanded as a unit. New modules have also been built at the Oulu plant.

“The demand for our products has increased and we have also improved our capacity to manufacture new types of products.”

Capacity to produce active ingredients for cancer drugs

In the 2010s, a module was built in Oulu for the manufacturing of cytostatics, which are used in cancer treatment. Another fairly new addition is the module for producing other high-level pharmaceutical ingredients and run pilots for R&D.

Fermion is one of the largest producers in the world of an ingredient that is used, for example, in cancer and rheumatic arthritis therapies.

“We are planning a new investment in Oulu to increase the production capacity for this specific ingredient,” Oikarinen says.

Ingredients for inhalers

The new capacity at the Oulu plant also includes small micronisation equipment for producing pharmaceutical ingredients for inhalers used by asthma patients.

“In practice this means that the ingredients are ground into extremely fine particles smaller than ten micrometres, and 90 percent of them must be smaller than 5 micrometres.”

Oikarinen says that the production capacity for these pharmaceutical ingredients will also be increased.

“The ingredients are used in Orion’s dry powder inhalers, the demand of which is on the rise.”

The environment and safety at work are a priority

The Oulu plant has invested in many ways in environmental safety.

“We have cryogenic cooling equipment which captures organic volatile compounds with the help of liquid nitrogen,” Oikarinen says.

As the ingredients manufactured at the Oulu plant are highly potent and effective in very low doses, occupational safety is a particular concern.

“In practice, pharmaceutical ingredients are manufactured through closed processes without any direct human intervention.”

Quality and security of supply supporting global competitiveness

One of Fermion’s strengths is that it controls entire manufacturing cycles.

“With pharmaceutical ingredients, the production chains are typically long. The process from beginning to end, from the raw materials arriving at the plant to the dispatch of marketable products, may take up to nine months. We are in control of this entire chain.”

Fermion’s other strengths include process development.

“Our international contracting customers trust our professionalism and reliability.”

Text: Matti Välimäki

June 2, 2021