Riikka Oksala: Research requires strong teamwork

Helping patients is the greatest motivation for the research team at Orion. Even the smallest successes inspire the researcher to work harder.

Riikka Oksala, who recently gained her PhD, is happy to have completed a huge project. She defended her doctoral dissertation on the drug treatment of prostate cancer at the University of Turku in June. In her research, Oksala discovered new information about the progress of castration-resistant prostate cancer, new tools to support drug development and a new potential drug development target.

Her dissertation is one of Orion’s drug development projects. As a result of drug development, darolutamide, a treatment for advanced prostate cancer, is now in Phase III trials on patients.

Oksala has been working as a researcher at Orion for 16 years now. “In its category, Orion is one of the leading drug development companies in Europe. We have excellent facilities, a good research environment and modern equipment.”

The greatest benefit at Orion, however, is the multidisciplinary teams.“We have experts from various fields, and the quality of research is high. The opportunity of developing better treatments and helping patients is the greatest motivation to us all.”

Aiming to beat cancer

Everyone knows someone with cancer, Oksala says. Even if cancer can be cured more often nowadays, it is still quite an enemy for researchers. “The way cancer suppresses systems own protection mechanisms and becomes resistant provides an ongoing research challenge. But we continue finding effective treatments for patients.”

Cancer research at Orion focuses on the discovery and development of new treatments, which inspired Oksala to find a job at Orion.“We do have clear targets in our work, but we also have lots of freedom. We can experiment and be bravely creative.”

Once a research project is completed, there remains various research paths that could be studied further. New target proteins are also identified all the time in Orion’s projects.“As a researcher, you always want to do more and better. The work is never done,” Oksala says.

It’s the little things that count

Great breakthroughs are rare in research. But sometimes they are made, darolutamide being one of the recent ones. As a researcher, one must be happy about the smaller milestones as well, Oksala says.“When our team succeeds in taking a project to the next phase or solving a problem, it infuses us with enthusiasm and courage.”

Drug development path is long, and there will always be setbacks on the way.“In addition to nonclinical models, we have to find out what are the effects in the human body. We cannot model everything in the laboratory. Any drug can trigger surprising mechanisms or cause unexpected adverse effects. No matter how carefully we research and test a drug, it can always have a different effect in the human body.”


Best thing about Orion: "The best colleagues in the world. We have the leading experts in their fields here, and I am so proud to complement the team with my own expertise."



Text: Johanna Paasikangas-Tella

20 September 2018