Antti Nurmi, Managing Director of the international drug development company Charles River Finland, has had his foot in the private sector’s door ever since the beginning of his research career. Even before defending his dissertation on brain ischaemia in 2004, Nurmi was hired by Cerebricon Ltd, a private contract research organisation based on the Kuopio Campus at the time.
“After my PhD, I continued there as a full-time researcher, working on the same topic.”
Nurmi’s thesis supervisors, Juha Yrjänheikki and Jari Koistinaho, were the founders of Cerebricon, which was purchased by the Charles River Laboratories in 2009. The company’s Finland office offers pre-clinical research services for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies seeking to develop treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Over the past fifteen years, Nurmi’s own research has expanded to cover all the major disorders affecting the central nervous system.
“For a long time, my work was largely basic research in the lab. The focus has since shifted towards supervision, reporting and development, but I never want to lose touch with the practical side of things,” says Nurmi, who became Managing Director of the company in spring 2017 after serving as Scientific Director.
Clients’ drug development projects are at the core of the company’s operations.
“We also do some methodological development of our own, with the aim of finding better tools for drug research.”
“It’s a privilege to work with major companies to develop innovative drugs for different diseases, many of which are still lacking a treatment altogether.”
However, it’s often a challenge that promising results from pre-clinical models can’t be replicated in humans.
“We need a better understanding of the human biology and disease mechanisms in order to create more sophisticated disease models and to target our drugs better.”
At the moment, biological drugs in particular are expected to result in breakthroughs in many diseases affecting the central nervous system.
“Antibodies, gene therapy and RNA interference are experiencing a boom, and Parkinson’s disease and rare diseases are now trending in drug development.”
According to Nurmi, Kuopio is an excellent location for expanding and developing business activities.
“Our goal is to stay here. The University of Eastern Finland is home to some the world’s leading research in neurosciences, and we have joint projects especially in the field of imaging. We have invested in MRI in our drug research, and this is also important in clinical care. Together with the university and Kuopio University Hospital, we are building a pre-clinical platform for the development of radiological drugs.”
According to Nurmi, it would be great if the university was able to host commissioned research projects more flexibly and in larger numbers than it currently does.
“For us, the university is also a pool of talent, and we employ graduates from neurosciences, pharmacy and physics, for example. For our employees, we offer a vantage point to global drug development, and career opportunities all over the world.”
“Motivation and persistence are important. Today’s young people expect their careers to take off instantly, but the fact is that responsible roles require years of basic work experience.”