Orion R&D’s own strengths build the foundation for success

Speed and focusing on own strengths build the foundation for success in Orion’s Research and Development, estimates Outi Vaarala, the company’s new Senior Vice President for R&D.

Outi Vaarala, Orion's new Senior Vice President for Research and Development, who will take up her new position at the beginning of June, was attracted to medical studies by pediatric psychiatry. However, summer work in the laboratory of the National Public Health Institute (now THL) revolutionized the plans and ignited in a young student a passion for research and immunology. Continuing with advanced studies and dissertation work led Outi to an academic career in immunology.

As the second career turning point, Vaarala describes her transition from an academic career to research and management positions in the pharmaceutical industry at AstraZeneca. The idea for a career change came when she spent years evaluating new biological medicines coming to market for the Finnish Medicines Agency, the current Fimea.

"The relevance of drug development work opened up to me in a whole new way when I got to see new 'miracle drugs' that were of great help to patients. In particular, I have been reminded of tnf alpha-blockers, which enabled rheumatic patients with physical inactivity to walk again. In drug development work, the opportunity to do something concrete for the benefit of patients with one's own expertise also attracted me. This was very important to me, because in my research career, I had unfortunate limited possibilities for patient care", says Outi.

Outi transferred from Medimmune / AstraZeneca to Orion last summer as director of cancer research. Darolutamide was in the headlines a lot at the time, also drawing Outi's attention.

"Successful work with darolutamide shows that Orion has medical and drug development expertise. At the same time, it is a strength, because success tends to generate more success. Orion's involvement in immuno-oncology and the development of biological drugs also inspired me, "Outi recalls.

"Our skilled scientists and at the same time Orion can change the world," Outi sums up her view.

Vision in the future

Orion's R&D pipeline is at an interesting stage, when the results of the ongoing Phase III study of ODM-109 are expected during the summer. Outi follows all clinical development projects with great interest, although at the same time the vision is already in the longer future – just as the head of research and development should have.

Outi's long-term vision is that Orion would be able to bring new innovations to the market in a steady stream, independently or together with partners. The realisation of the vision requires that new projects from early stage research regularly enter the clinical development phase. In a tough competitive environment, the strengths are speed, agility and focus on your own strengths.

"The foundation of successful R&D is built on hard science and focus. The changing operating environment constantly places new demands on research, which companies must be able to meet. In addition, the competition in drug development is extremely fierce, so when the right project hits the spot, you need to be able to move forward and make decisions quickly so that you will not be left second”, Vaarala estimates.

Make Orion's expertise more visible internationally

One of Outi's missions in her new role is to strive the drug development expertise of Orion and Orion employees to become more visible internationally. She wants Orion to be internationally known for its innovation and new ideas, and thus also as an attractive partner and employer.

"My personal dream would also be to get Finnish medical researchers more into international assignments and to break the glass roofs that unfortunately many Finnish researchers in international companies still run into.”

“If Orion is a good springboard for a Finnish medical researcher to an international career, it will also increase Orion's attractiveness in the eyes of foreign experts. It would be great if a Doctoral degree or further education conducted at Orion could be seen internationally as a merit", Outi reflects.


Text: Orion

June 1, 2020