Heikki Joensuu wants to create better treatments for cancer patients

“If you manage to develop even one good cancer drug that is effective and well tolerated, it will have an earth-shattering global impact. This is a goal that is worth working towards,” says Joensuu.

Professor Heikki Joensuu joined Orion’s R&D organisation in December 2017 as Vice President of Therapy Area Oncology. One of the things that attracted Heikki Joensuu to this position in Orion is that he doesn’t need to change the focus of his research. He has always wanted to develop better forms of treatment for patients, and he will be able to continue doing this in the future.

Orion’s R&D organisation is divided into three areas, and oncology is one of these. The task of the Oncology Therapy Area is to develop new oncology drugs, from initial idea all the way to finished product.

“This felt like a very challenging task, but I am the type of person who likes to take on challenges,” says Joensuu.

Joensuu believes that Orion has huge potential, excellent researchers and an interesting portfolio. Another important factor is the fact that Orion is a Finnish company, and he hopes that in his new position he will be able to promote Finnish life sciences and create excellent products that will provide benefits all around the world.

“If you manage to develop even one good cancer drug that is effective and well tolerated, it will have an earth-shattering global impact. This is a goal that is worth working towards,” says Joensuu.

Positive spiral in the cooperation between companies and universities

Academia is so deep-rooted in Joensuu that he believes that he will always retain his identity as an academic researcher. Therefore, being able to continue to further the cooperation between a Finnish pharmaceutical company and academia in a completely new way feels like a fascinating challenge to him. Joensuu hopes that life sciences and bioindustry will be even stronger in Finland in in the future. Cooperation between companies and universities will trigger a positive spiral of which there are plenty of good examples around the world.

“Universities produce new ideas, and these go on to produce new companies and these companies are sometimes incredibly successful. These companies then support the university, which attracts the world’s best researchers to the university. This positive spiral should also be triggered in Finland.”

In practice, this would require the lowering of the barriers between the academic world and companies. This would allow companies to benefit more from the potential of universities and universities would gain resources from pharmaceutical plants, for example for research. Joensuu is hoping to be able to have an impact on this development.

Work will continue at the Comprehensive Cancer Center

Professor Joensuu's appointment is in fact a good example of cooperation between a company and a university. Joensuu will continue to work at the Helsinki University Hospital’s Comprehensive Cancer Center as a scientific advisor.

“The fact that I am able to continue working at both organisations is very interesting. I am glad that this is possible. I hope that everyone will benefit from this, especially the patient.”

In practice, Joensuu will work at HUS for a few hours a week, helping researchers in their research projects and providing consultation to those patients he has been working with for a long time.

However, there are clear rules. Joensuu will not write any prescriptions or handle any matters which are associated with companies. He emphasises that he is purely a scientist and will help out with patients.

“Working with patients is very important for me, and especially those patients whose treatment has, in practice, been entirely my responsibility for several years. I feel it is important to ensure that these patients do not feel like they are being abandoned or that they will be getting lower quality treatment. We have exceptional doctors and it is just a matter of transferring the know-how accumulated over the years to the other doctors. I plan to do this as well as I can,” says Joensuu.


11 January 2018