University cooperation promotes world-class drug development at Orion

Cooperation with the scientific world is an integral part of drug development at Orion. The common goal for academia and industry is to develop new therapies and improve patients’ quality of life. Bringing together the pharmaceutical business and academic expertise will benefit society as a whole.

Orion cooperates in the field of drug development with universities in Finland and abroad. Its partner institutions are located throughout Europe and in the US and Australia. 

“Pharmaceutical development is a truly international and highly competitive sector. When Orion develops new therapies for the global market, it is essential that we work together with the best possible research groups,” says Heikki Mansikka, Vice President, Neurological Disorders Research, Orion.
 

Patients as beneficiaries of science – cooperation with universities supports basic research at Orion 

The shared goal of the scientific world and Orion is to advance science and develop new medicines. A recent example of successful pharmaceutical research is a prostate cancer medicine, which has now been launched after several years of research. 

“The trials proved that the drug significantly prolongs the life expectancy of patients with non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. Success stories such as these motivate us to develop new medicines that improve patients’ quality of life,” says Anu Moilanen, Director of Oncology Research

Orion’s research on diseases of the central nervous system focuses on pain relief and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. There are currently no disease-modifying drugs for Parkinson’s disease and only symptoms can be managed. The aim is to develop a medicine to stop or slow down the progression of the disease. 

Research cooperation plays a key role in Parkinson’s research. The development of more effective and better-tolerated new medicines for pain relief is also underway.
 

Long-standing and new partnerships 

Academic cooperation is part of everyday life at Orion’s research unit. Students are involved in the projects at various stages of their studies and Orion also participates in doctoral and postdoc programmes in which the researchers divide their time between the university and Orion. Likewise, Orion’s researchers visit academic research groups and in this way share and expand knowledge about the latest methods and technologies at Orion. 

Actual research cooperation takes place with researchers or groups whose research interests are the same or closely related to those of Orion. Research projects can last several years, and with some partners the cooperation has lasted for more than a decade. 

“However, we are constantly looking for new partners as new projects are launched and progress,” says Moilanen. 

We are also looking for world-class experts to consult as advisors in each project.
 

A researcher values a direct connection with patient benefit 

When assessing whether a potential partner has the necessary skills or resources that it needs, the background of Orion’s own researchers helps open doors in the scientific community. The relations and contacts are good and there is a shared understanding how the different groups can contribute to a project. A well-targeted cooperation proposal is usually successful. 

“The biggest asset that cooperation with us can offer a researcher is the direct connection between the molecular research carried out and the patients who will benefit from the treatment. This is not necessarily the case in other projects. For a university, it is important that the research be as closely linked as possible with applications in society,” says academic researcher Kari Kurppa, Academy Research Fellow from the University of Turku. 

Kurppa and his group study resistance to cancer therapies, a research area that closely tallies with Orion’s similar ongoing project. The synergies include the range of technologies utilised by the two partners, who share a doctoral researcher. 

Kurppa is impressed by the new thought models developed. 

“As an academic researcher, it is fascinating to see what a pharmaceutical company considers to be a priority and area of importance. At the same time, we learn more about strict and systematic focusing of resources.”
 

Bringing benefits to everyone in Finland and internationally 

Whenever top-level research helps develop new therapies, the whole of Finnish society benefits. The benefits materialise as sales and tax revenues, as well as new international talent and ultimately new taxpayers. 

“Cooperation projects also ensure that we can keep abreast with technological development,” says Anu Moilanen. 

And, of course, the value of enabling people to return to the world of work from long periods of sick leave is immeasurable. Since medicines are developed for the global markets, the benefits of Orion’s research are felt much more widely than in Finland alone.
 

Innovative research projects for world-class researchers 

Orion’s goal is to enhance its reputation in the international scientific community and raise its profile as a pharmaceutical manufacturer. This will help attract even more talent from outside Finland. 

“Orion has a number of extremely interesting drug candidates under research. We are well positioned to develop innovative therapies and improve the quality of life for patients with these diseases,” says Heikki Mansikka. 

“I believe that the opportunity to work at the top level in their field is always of interest to experts.”

Text: Sanna Jäppinen

1 February 2022

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