Orion staff brace for layoffs, program terminations after cancer and pain emerge as R&D stars

Orion is hunting for opportunities to slim down its R&D unit. The Finnish drug developer plans to refocus the operation on cancer and pain, leading to the cessation of investment in rare and neurodegenerative diseases and the departures of up to 37 employees.

Currently, Orion, a European drugmaker with a 5.7 billion euro ($6.3 billion) market cap, invests across a wide range of therapeutic areas, with treatments for cancers and pain related to neurological diseases advancing alongside programs focused on Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s and orphan indications. The pipeline also features inhaled candidates that are in early-phase development. 

Now, Orion wants to exit several areas of R&D. The plan is to narrow the focus to cancer and pain over the coming months. Orion intends to gradually phase out investment in neurodegenerative and rare diseases by the fall while evaluating the commercial potential of its inhaled candidates. 

“Oncology is already well represented in our development projects. We have promising new research projects for pain management and we expect to proceed to clinical trials within the next twelve months. We have also worked hard to identify new opportunities for cooperation in pain management,” Outi Vaarala, senior vice president of R&D at Orion, said in a statement.

The changes will affect some employees. As required by Finnish labor laws, Orion has issued a negotiation proposal. The negotiations concern 430 employees at three Finnish sites that are involved in the areas of  R&D that Orion wants to exit, although only a fraction of those people will end up out of work.

At most, the negotiations may reduce Orion’s headcount by 37. Orion wants to implement some of the planned workforce changes through “retirement, part-time work and training opportunities.” Transfers to other parts of the company are also possible.

Orion will emerge from the process focused on therapeutic areas in which it has enjoyed some success. In oncology, Orion worked with Bayer to develop Nubeqa, an oral androgen receptor inhibitor that won FDA approval in 2019. Bayer recently raised its peak sales forecast to 3 billion euros in response to phase 3 data in prostate cancer. Orion also has CYP11A1 inhibitor ODM-208 in the clinic.