Antero Kallio reminds: “Thinking by quarter does not fit drug development”
Pharmaceutical industry is a line of business where quick wins are rare. Test marketing and surveys of consumer preferences are not applicable in drug development; the process of getting a new product to pharmacies always takes years. Patience is required from researchers as well as financiers, it’s a fact known to Antero Kallio who manages the clinical development at Biotie Therapies Corporation in Turku. Dr Kallio had an important role in the development of the drug for alcohol dependence on which Biotie has worked for a long time and which recently received marketing authorisation.
December marked an important milestone for the Turku-based pharmaceutical company Biotie Therapies. Years of development work on the product that reduces the pleasurable effects of alcohol resulted in a marketing authorisation recommended by the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). In practice it means that the drug named Selincro with nalmefene as the effective agent will probably be launched within a few months. At the same time, Biotie will gain the right to receive royalties from the Danish company H.Lundbeck A/S which has been largely responsible for the clinical phase development since 2007.
The first steps of nalmefene in the late 1990s
The story of nalmefene dates back to 1988. In that year Antero Kallio changed jobs from Schering to a new pharmaceutical company Contral Pharma based in Espoo.
“Orion’s former Senior Vice President, Research and Development, Kauko Kurkela founded Contral Pharma and invited me to join the development of a new drug. A few years later the first extensive clinical phase was started. When Contral Pharma and Biotie merged in 2002, nalmefene became Biotie’s product”, Antero Kallio says.
It has taken a decade and a half for nalmefene to become a drug that generates a cash flow to its owners. Once launched, it would be Biotie’s first drug to go for sale and, in addition to milestone payments, it would generate royalty income as of the current year to the company from Lundbeck which has licensed it. Lundbeck is responsible for the manufacture, marketing authorisations and marketing of Selincro.
Biotie also reported another positive result in December, as the company’s tozadenant being developed for Parkinson's disease displayed significant effects and was generally well tolerated in a large Phase 2b study. Decisions on starting Phase 3 will be made during the first months of this year.
“Nalmefene and tozadenant are important achievements for the new generation of Finnish pharmaceutical industry, and show that long-term development work can create results. Quick wins are unlikely in this line of business, and thinking by quarter e.g. in terms of traditional financial figures does not fit drug development. During the ‘bioscience fever’ at the turn of the millennium that was perhaps not emphasised enough”, Dr Kallio says.
Career in various drug development duties
Dr Kallio’s own career got up to speed after his doctoral dissertation in 1989. He started at Farmos, currently Orion, as a project manager for a drug that affects alpha 2 receptors. In 1993–94 he worked at this product as the director of clinical research of Orion-Farmos in San Francisco. The long processes of the industry are also reflected by the fact that this pharmaceutical product used in the treatment of intensive care patients received marketing authorisation in Europe under the name Dexdor in 2011. In pharmaceutical industry the products don’t go out of date as quickly as in many other fields.
In 1995, Dr Kallio returned to Turku to work at Leiras, heading the pharmaceutical safety unit set up as a result of Finland’s EU membership. A few years later he started work at Contral Pharma which merged with Biotie in 2002. At Biotie he also worked as Chief Medical Officer, but focuses currently on managing clinical drug development in Turku.
“Biotie’s business has been based on clinical phase drug development since late 2010. The acquisition of American company Synosia Therapeutics in early 2011 strengthened the chosen strategy and expanded our product development portfolio. At present, half of our some 40 employees are based in Turku and half in Silicon Valley in the United States. In addition we have a small office in Basel, Switzerland.”
One of Biotie’s key events in the near future is the final approval for the marketing authorisation of Selincro, which is expected from the European Commission within a few months. Another important issue is the decision on further development of tozadenant which is expected from the licensing partner UCB in the first quarter. As an employee of a listed company Dr Kallio can’t say much aloud about Biotie’s future outlook, but he says that the good news late last year gave him a hopeful view for the current year.
“Looking at the pharmaceutical industry at a more general level, Asia seems to be rising in this sector, too. I believe that contacts in that direction will increase in the future. For myself, most business trips still take me to the USA.”
Family of physicians
Antero Kallio was born in Turku. He graduated as a physician from the University of Turku and defended his doctoral dissertation here. Both Dr Kallio’s father and grandfather were physicians, so his son who is studying medicine will represent the fourth generation of the profession. Antero Kallio’s wife Jaana is also a doctor.
The Kallios live in a terraced house in Kohmo district in Turku with two whippets. The dogs see to it that they get enough outdoor activities.
“Our cottage in central Finland is an important place of leisure for us. We also spent last Christmas there. One of our summertime hobbies is sailing. We own a share of a sailing boat that has its home port in the Greek islands. We spend traditionally one week of our summer holiday there, sailing.”
- Born in Turku in 1960
- Matriculation examination in Turun Suomalainen Yhteiskoulu school in 1979
- Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Turku, where he
defended his doctoral dissertation in 1989
- Has worked in drug development in pharmaceutical industry e.g. at Orion,
Schering and Contral Pharma
- Currently responsible for the clinical drug development in Finland at Biotie