Working for FinPharma: University Researcher Tatu Lajunen
Returning from Japan, Tatu Lajunen is familiar with the University of Helsinki Viikki campus from before, as he used to work on the campus as recently as in 2019. In April 2021 Lajunen will begin working in his new position, which involves the delivery of biological drugs with the help of nanoparticles.

Tatu Lajunen, who is currently working as assistant professor at the Tokyo University of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, has been combining his interests in Finland and Japan for years. Studying at the Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki, he also studied Japanese at the University’s Language Centre.

“Thanks to the connections of Professor Arto Urtti, after graduating with a master’s degree in pharmacy, I applied and was appointed to a fixed-term researcher position in the pharmaceutical company Santen in Japan. After a stint serving the industry, I wanted to further my academic research career, which is why I transferred to pursue postgraduate studies here in Japan after a brief visit to Finland. In all, I’ve spent more than five years in Japan over a number of separate periods,” Lajunen says.

At the moment, Lajunen is investigating adjustable nano-sized drug carriers, which can be used to target the effect of drugs at specific sites and reduce their adverse effects. Drug carriers are composed of liposomes, or vesicles surrounded by a double-layered lipid membrane. They are made to release the drug they are carrying when targeted with an activating near-infrared light. Currently, Lajunen’s efforts are focused on cell and animal experiments related to cancer medication.

Biological drugs and nanoparticles utilised in ocular drug delivery

After returning to Finland and the FinPharma network, Lajunen aims to investigate the targeting of biological drugs with the help of nanoparticles. Biological drugs are an effective form of therapy whose share among new drugs entering the market has become increasingly significant. However, delivering biological drugs to the appropriate site of action continues to pose several challenges, the biggest of which relate to pharmaceutical therapies targeted inside cells and to targeting medication to the eye, the central nervous system and other similar protected organs.

“In fact, I’m particularly interested in ocular drug delivery and the coatings and activation techniques of related drug carriers. Eye diseases are a growing problem, as the population gets older. They cause significant decline in the quality of life and financial expenses (hundreds of millions of euros every year in Finland). Effective treatment implemented using an advanced drug carrier would make patients’ life easier to a significant degree.”

Tatu Lajunen also aims to include in his research cell experiments carried out in a flow chamber, which could help simulate animal tests and the human body. Through such simulations, Lajunen hopes to be able to produce reproducible research data relevant to the body without relying heavily on animal testing.

Inspired by smooth collaboration between Finnish research centres and universities

Lajunen considers the exponential growth of research on advanced biological drugs and the increase in knowledge pertaining to their importance a great development.

“There are a number of promising initiatives in the field in Finland, and I think Finland is placed very high even on the global scale. I’m particularly inspired by the smooth collaboration and utilisation of strengths among Finnish research centres and universities. Bureaucracy is not usually allowed to hinder interesting partnerships, and I think resources are being rationally used in the Finnish research landscape.”

Lajunen hopes that the media attention given to the coronavirus pandemic will increase the respect afforded to science.

“This year’s events have demonstrated that a minor matter such as poor hygiene in an animal market can have considerable global effects in the modern world. We have to be prepared for such occurrences also in the future. I think the current pandemic has highlighted the importance of rational scientific thinking and reliable research. Pharmaceutical research is not only about colourful fluids in test tubes and fancy equipment that pings. Instead, it’s about progress taken in baby steps and great strides to make healthier life possible,” Lajunen states.

Tatu Lajunen will start working as a university researcher under the auspices of the FinPharma research network in the beginning of April 2021. The position is shared 50/50 between the University of Helsinki (Faculty of Pharmacy, Division of Pharmaceutical Biosciences) and the University of Eastern Finland (Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Pharmacy, Kuopio campus).

At the Faculty of Pharmacy (University of Helsinki), his position is located at the Division of Pharmaceutical Biosciences. Therefore, his research duties in Helsinki will be primarily linked with projects focused on nano-sized drug delivery techniques, to be carried out in cooperation with newly appointed Professor Timo Laaksonen. Concurrently, Lajunen will be establishing a research group of his own.

At the School of Pharmacy (University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio) Lajunen will mainly focus on ocular drug delivery and the advanced animal models employed by the network. Particular emphasis in the research is on pharmacokinetics.