Aurexel Team

Please select a Team Member below to read a short biography and additional information on the professional experience of each of our experts.

Sanna Käkönen, PhD, Adjunct Professor
Founder, CEO

While preparing her PhD thesis in Molecular Biotechnology and In Vitro Diagnostics between 1993-1999, Dr. Sanna-Maria Käkönen held various research assistant, teaching and scientist positions at Division of Biotechnology, University of Turku. Following her two-year postdoctoral position as a Research Fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center, she spent one year as an Assistant Professor at the same institution continuing her work on molecular mechanisms, animal models and imaging of cancer metastases. After her academic career Sanna continued her work in cancer biology and cancer drug development for over a decade in the international pharmaceutical industry, first with Schering (later Bayer) in Berlin and later with Amgen, before finally founding  Aurexel Consulting in 2012. Expert in translational research

• Over 20 years of experience of international research projects in drug and biomarker discovery and development for pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies
• Early and translational research project management in oncology drug development
• Evaluation of new targets and compounds, diagnostic methods and biomarkers available for in-­‐licensing in oncology
• Preclinical in vivo imaging techniques and biomarker research, In vivo and in vitro models of cancer and bone diseases
• Feasibility evaluations and landscape analyses for clinical trials in oncology
• Collaboration with academic groups and participation in international networks
• Working as a facilitator between contract research organization or academic groups and diagnostic/biotech/pharma companies in diverse type of projects
• Scientific counseling to clinicians and nurses on disease and therapy mechanisms in oncology
• Successful track record of key customer relationship management.

Sanna's personal LinkedIn page.
Click here for scientific publications by Sanna Kakonen.
Salla Laine, PhD, B.Eng. (Biotechnology)
Partner, Project Manager

Before her position at Aurexel, Dr. Laine carried out her doctoral studies at the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Turku, Finland. Her thesis was related to the microRNA-mediated regulation of bone and cartilage cell differentiation. At the beginning of her doctoral studies, she was awarded a position in the national Drug Discovery Graduate School (present FinPharma Doctoral Program – Drug Discovery, FPDP-D). She received her Master’s degree in Health Biosciences, University of Turku, in 2006 and Bachelor of Engineering degree in Biotechnology, University of Applied Sciences, Turku, in 2003.

Over 10 years of experience in academic research
– Postgraduate at Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Turku (2005- 2012)
– Research Assistant at Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy, University of Turku (2002-2005)
– Research Assistant at Department of Parasitology, Åbo Akademi (2000)

Areas of expertise:
- microRNAs
- mesenchymal stem cells
- differentiation of bone and cartilage cells
- scientific writing
- teaching

Salla's personal LinkedIn page
Riina-Minna Väänänen, PhD
Project Manager

Dr. Riina-Minna Väänänen held a position as a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Biotechnology, University of Turku (Finland), before joining the Aurexel team. She received her PhD in Molecular Biotechnology and Diagnostics from the University of Turku in 2014. Her doctoral work examined novel markers of prostate cancer diagnostics in collaboration with Turku University Hospital (Finland), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York, USA), and Skåne University Hospital (Sweden), with an emphasis on the association between the mRNA level expression of the candidate genes and tissue histology. Dr. Väänänen received her Master’s degree in Molecular Biotechnology and Diagnostics in 2007 from the University of Turku. Over 10 years of experience in academic research at the Department of Biotechnology, University of Turku (Senior Research Fellow 2014-2015, Project Researcher 2007-2014, Research Assistant 2004-2007)

Areas of expertise include:
- gene expression research
- development and optimization of quantitative RT-PCR assays
- medical and scientific writing

Riina's personal LinkedIn page
Birgitta Sjöholm, MSc (Biochemistry)
Project Manager

During her over 20-year long professional career, Birgitta has got versatile experience from drug research and development. After graduating she did additional training at Faculty of Biomedicine, having pharmacology as the main discipline. Since 2000, she has been recruited to pharmaceutical industry (Bayer Schering Oy), a preclinical service provider (SBW/Toxis Oy Ltd) and a clinical service provider (CRST).   In 2014, she joined the Aurexel Team.

Areas of expertise:
- extensive experience in drug development
- GLP and GCP procedures
- scientific and medical writing
- pharmacokinetics
- preclinical safety assessment
- method development and validation
- receptor pharmacology

Birgitta's personal LinkedIn page
Anna Huhtinen, PhD 
Project Manager 

Before joining the Aurexel team, Dr. Anna Huhtinen carried out her
doctoral studies at the Department of Pharmacology, Drug Development and
Therapeutics, University of Turku, Finland. She received her PhD in 2017 and her
thesis was related to G protein-coupled receptors (specifically alpha2-adrenoceptors)
and the regulation of vascular smooth muscle contraction and proliferation.
During her doctoral studies, she held a position in the national Drug Research
Doctoral Program, DRDP (former FinPharma Doctoral Program – Drug Discovery,
FPDP-D and Drug Discovery Graduate School, DDGS). Anna received her Master of
Science (Technology) degree in Applied Microbiology and Bioprocess Technology
in 2002 from the Helsinki University of Technology (present Aalto University).

15 years of research experience both in the pharma industry and in the

Areas of expertise include:

- Pharmacology, specifically cardiovascular pharmacology
- G protein-coupled receptors
- Regulation of vascular smooth muscle cells (contraction, proliferation, differentiation)
- Mammalian cell culture
- Development and validation of cell-based assays and ligand binding assays
- Scientific writing
- Teaching
Timothy Wilson, PhD
Medical Writer

Dr. Wilson received his Master’s degree in Health Biosciences in 2006 from the University of Turku. He received his PhD in Medical Biochemistry and Genetics from the University of Turku in 2011. His doctoral thesis was completed in collaboration with the Turku Clinical Biomaterials Centre and examined the effects of silica based biomaterials on bone marrow derived cells with a focus on bone regeneration and tissue engineering. After completing his PhD, Dr. Wilson pursued a degree in English, focusing on academic discourse and scientific writing, receiving his second Master’s degree in 2015, also from the University of Turku. Eight years of experience in academic research at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Genetics, University of Turku, and the Turku Clinical Biomaterials Centre (Researcher 2006-2011, Research Assistant 2003-2006).

  Areas of expertise include:
- medical and scientific writing
- silica based biomaterials
- bone regeneration
- cell culturing and tissue engineering
Rami Kakonen
Senior Partner 

Before joining Aurexel, Mr. Kakonen was the President of Boston-based MediSapiens Inc., a US subsidiary of a Finnish bio-IT company. During his career he has gained extensive experience in business development, commercialization, marketing and international sales from various positions in the life sciences industry. He is also experienced in small animal imaging, and was responsible for the Imaging Core Facility at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Key areas of expertise:
- Inbound marketing and content marketing strategy and planning
- Lead generation and nurturing, especially within pharmaceutical and life science industries
- Identification of new business areas and cultivation of business prospects within these areas
- Planning of business expansion to US market
- Market analysis and global business development
- Brand development
- Strategic consulting, including business plan & marketing strategy development

Rami's personal LinkedIn page
Heta Svärd, MSc (Biology)

Project Manager Heta received her degree in Biology from the University of Oulu in 2011 with focus on animal physiology, neuroscience and behavioural pharmacology. During her studies, she gained experience in in vivo pharmaceutical R&D, working two summers as research assistant in the Laboratory of Non-Clinical Safety Assessment in the pharmaceutical industry (Orion Pharma). After graduating, she worked for four years as research scientist in the same company, gaining expertise in preclinical pharmaceutical in vivo research within the fields of cognitive disorders, neurodegenerative diseases and pain.

Areas of expertise include:
- behavioural pharmacology
- in vivo assessment of CNS drug efficacy

Heta's personal LinkedIn page