Drug development goes remote

The need for new medicines never stops, and Orion has continued its research operations to the best of its ability even during the coronavirus pandemic. Patient safety and the integrity of research is never compromised.

Thanks to modern communication technologies and services, such as telephone interviews, drug development involving patients can continue even during challenging times such as the coronavirus pandemic. The integrity and high quality of research is never compromised, however, and the guidance of Finnish and foreign medicines agencies is always complied with.

Orion is currently conducting studies to investigate the efficacy of levosimendan in alleviating breathing difficulties in patients with ALS. The studies had already progressed to a fairly advanced stage before the coronavirus outbreak, and the team has been able to continue studies throughout the pandemic. At the moment, the studies are at the phase of patient trials.

Steps have been taken to ensure the safety of participating patients during the coronavirus pandemic. Whenever it has not been possible for the patient to visit the research unit, the team has communicated with the patient by other means. For example, the research assistants in the HUS area have visited patients at home wearing full PPE and the medicines have also been delivered to the patients at home.

The patients have been highly motivated to continue with the studies despite the pandemic. Nearly 500 patients managed by 104 research centres in different countries are participating.

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a rare, progressive disease that leads to the weakening of neurons that control muscles. As the disease progresses, patients gradually lose their ability to breathe.

Levosimendan was developed by Orion initially to treat acute heart failure. There is no cure for ALS, but levosimendan may support the patient’s breathing, which helps maintain their functional capacity.

Hope for prostate cancer patients

Studies conducted by Orion in the development of drug therapies for prostate cancer are at an earlier stage than the studies on levosimendan. Clinical trials on a prostate cancer drug have been conducted in Helsinki and Tampere in Finland, and in France, Denmark and the UK. Studies on patients have continued despite the pandemic, while ensuring safe access of the participating patients to hospitals.

Paula Rytilä, Chief Medical Officer at Orion, emphasises the importance of persistent development of medicines, such as the prostate cancer drug, despite the coronavirus epidemic.

“These patients suffer from advanced cancer and they do not necessarily have any other treatment options left.”

Rytilä praises the smooth collaboration between supervisory authorities and research centres during the pandemic and is satisfied that the authorities have been able to promptly update their guidance on clinical trials.


Text: Pirkko Koivu

Neurologist Hannu Laaksovirta from HUS was also interviewed for the article.

10 June, 2020