| Category: Success stories

Product development for discovering new pharmaceutical innovations

Pfizer Oy is one the biggest pharmaceutical companies actively operating in Finland. Pfizer carries out drug trials and promotes health. The company employs around 120 people in Finland and there are around 90 drugs under the Pfizer brand in the Finnish market. In 2022, Pfizer Finland had a turnover of EUR 260.6 million. Pfizer Oy’s CEO is Sami Huilla. Pfizer has been operating in Finland since 1959 and carries out clinical drug trials and is involved in funding many research collaboration projects between the public and private sectors. 

“Pfizer engages in research collaboration in multiple ways. We have processes that enable researcher-driven research, meaning that researchers can directly contact local medical experts with their research proposals that may concern basic research, register-based studies or clinical trials. Preliminary joint discussions and finding a common interest are important, after which the proposal can be submitted to Pfizer system. Pfizer Global also has a Competitive Grants Programme, where Requests for Proposal typically have a specific time window and a specified theme.  In Finland, Pfizer medical advisors inform clinics and networks of the ongoing requests, says Merja Väkeväinen, Medical Lead at Pfizer.

”Pfizer is also carrying out local and international research collaboration. The partners are typically found in the company’s collaboration networks. They can include clinicians but also other professionals involved in research. The research collaboration projects can be sponsored by Pfizer but they can also be jointly funded. The third area is purely focused on clinical trials sponsored by Pfizer. The trials often include direct contact with clinics in a specific field. The research collaboration projects and clinical trials have included a lot of collaboration with university hospitals and central hospitals, but private clinics have also been involved. 

More drug trials needed in Finland

“Overall, the current situation of clinical drug trials in Finland is not particularly good and we are unable to get as many of them in Finland as we’d like. This applies to the whole pharmaceutical industry. One of the main reasons for this is the strain that Finnish healthcare is under. Research requires time and support and it cannot be conducted outside working hours. We know that for example in the Kuopio region, a joint decision has been made to prioritise research and also keep investing in it in the future.”

“Another reason is that global companies make global decisions on where to implement their clinical trials.  From an investor’s point of view, it is important to obtain data and large patient volumes as quickly as possible. This means that Finland needs competitive advantages that enable us to sell studies to global organisations. When we’re able to secure the trials as a small country, it is crucial to make sure that we give the client exactly what we’ve promised”, Väkeväinen continues.

In its clinical trials, Pfizer’s interest lies in focus areas that line up with its global strategy, which includes oncological diseases (particularly urological and haematological cancers and breast cancer), inflammatory and immunological diseases (particularly rheumatic diseases, intestinal diseases and dermatological disorders), various vaccines, metabolic diseases and cardiovascular diseases. Migraine research is also a current focus area. 

Merja Väkeväinen

Finland has strong vaccine research

Finland is one of the top countries for vaccine research on a global scale. As a result, nearly all Pfizer vaccine trials are at least proposed for Finland. Finland’s infrastructure is excellent for vaccines. Finland has also achieved outstanding work in oncology, and there are currently many ongoing and planned oncological drug trials in Finland. We’ve been proactive when it comes to research, we’ve collaborated closely in the Nordic countries and the trials we’ve managed to get here have resulted in a positive snowball effect that has led us to get more trials”, Väkeväinen explains.

“Attitudes towards vaccines and vaccine trials are also highly positive in Finland. We also have good registers that provide us with long-term data. The register of the Finnish National Vaccination Programme and Finnish National Infectious Diseases Register has excellent quality and their data is highly reliable”, Specialty Care Lead Tero Ylitalo adds.

Tero Ylitalo

Understanding the logic of drug research also important for the general public

In recent years, a phenomenon known as dirty pharma has been associated with pharmaceutical factories and drug trials, and it is common that there are rumours and conspiracies around things that people lack knowledge of.

“However, drug research is ethical, regulated and of high quality, and we wish to make these activities more visible and raise awareness. I find that it is important to cooperate with the public and private sector and other operators as well as to provide information about what and how we conduct research, which quality criteria have been set for trials and studies, and what sort of regulatory control is required. It is also essential to raise awareness of the criteria set for pharmaceutical companies and provide more detailed information about these criteria. While this is, of course, something we can develop, we also encourage our research partners to openly explain what drug research is”, Ylitalo summarises.

“Drug research requires a lot of capital; the price tag on a medication or vaccine development can be up to a billion euros, and the road from research to a ready-made product is long and many projects fail. The innovations that end up benefiting patients and in use by healthcare professionals also fund drug research. This is also an area where we should provide transparent information about the logic of the industry”, he adds.

Currently, Pfizer has hundreds of ongoing drug trials around the world. The company had nearly one hundred research programmes in the clinical trial and registration phases. Pfizer has in total nine large research and development centres. Seven of them are located in the United States and two are in the United Kingdom. The company also has several smaller research centres around the globe. There is a clear need for new medications: there is no effective treatment for a large proportion of known diseases, of which there are around 30,000. In fact, Pfizer is focusing its research and product development activities on areas with the highest demands for new therapies.

Stakeholder cooperation plays a key role

Pfizer is also actively engaged in Finnish society, as comprehensive health promotion requires more extensive development of healthcare and new kind of collaboration. Pfizer also contributes to promoting the growth strategy for national research and innovation. It aims to attract more healthcare investments and generate economic growth. As a result, joining Kuopio Health and the health ecosystem came naturally to the company.

“I’ve known Aki (Gröhn) for a long time and was catching up with him. Aki told me about Kuopio Health and its activities and I told him I work at Pfizer. We both pointed out that our organisations have mutual interests and we could work on them in a larger group. We discussed potential areas of cooperation and how we could move them forward”, Ylitalo explains.

“In February 2023, several Pfizer employees came over to get to know Kuopio and Kuopio Health. Aki had invited some members of the ecosystem to introduce themselves to us. This gave us a broad view of the kinds of activities that are going on in Kuopio, the organisations that operate in the city and what Kuopio Health is. We were convinced by all the high-energy activities going on around this theme in Kuopio. After this meeting, we began to think about what kinds of cooperation models we could utilise, and the partnership model was one of them. The operators involved in the ecosystem and content relevant to Pfizer had a big impact. We believe that this sort of cooperation has the potential to increase innovations and clinical trials and perhaps discover start-ups in the Kuopio region whose projects we can advance from research and development perspectives.”

“We clearly share mutual interests and Kuopio Health has competence that enables moving the region forward. It is important to promote research and innovation cooperation. Kuopio has brilliant expertise in research on the added value brought by drugs and data-driven management that makes use of registers. Kuopio also has an environment and attitude that promotes finding new opportunities, sometimes even surprising ones. Pfizer is a strongly international company that can get major international networks involved in the activities”, Väkeväinen adds.

“Pfizer’s so-called global reach, an opportunity to take start-ups’ innovations to the global level, is also sure to benefit the ecosystem.  Pfizer also has wide networks in Finland that can be used to generate new value. We believe that cooperation with several different operators will bring advantages to the wellbeing service county. In the best-case scenario, patient support solutions, digital services and their co-creation will end up supporting patients in the local region and through this, improve the efficiency of healthcare. We must also make room for making discoveries together with others, so we’re embarking on finding out what we’ll discover here with an open mind. We’ve already identified some main focus areas but we’re also genuinely curious and wish to also provide opportunities for things we’ve perhaps not even thought about yet”, Ylitalo concludes.

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