FALL 2013

Novo Nordisk: The ‘R’ in R & D

Novo Nordisk opened its Seattle center for inflammation research in 2009. After three years of success, Novo Nordisk is incorporating their Seattle research center into their quest to treat — and possibly cure — diabetes.
By: Daniel C. Brunell
Novo Nordisk: The ‘R’ in R & D

Denmark’s Novo Nordisk — one of the leading developers and manufacturers of medicines in the world — is betting on Seattle to help them make life easier for millions worldwide.

In January, the company announced that it is establishing a Type 1 diabetes research and development center at their Seattle research center. This expansion brings the total number of employees at their South Lake Union office nearly to 100. The new center will be on the same premises as Novo Nordisk’s current South Lake Union office and will open in the summer of 2012.

The center’s initial aim when it opened in 2009 was to do early-stage research on autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases are diseases that arise when the immune system mistakes some part of the body as a pathogen and attacks its own cells. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroiditis, Crohn's disease and diabetes.

“We are really the ‘R’ in research and development,” said Jan Beck, director of research operations for Novo Nordisk. “We get to do the real groundbreaking and exciting part of the industry in coming up with real solutions to treat these diseases.”

A Part of the BioMedical Revolution
Novo Nordisk is a part of one of the fast growing business sectors in Washington state — the biomedical industry. Fueled by academic institutions like the University of Washington and research centers like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood has become a hotbed for medical research.

“Seattle is a biotech center of excellence, and placing our inflammation research center here allows us to attract top scientists and collaborate with high-quality partners,” said Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Novo Nordisk’s, executive vice president and chief science officer.

Seattle was one of many cities Novo Nordisk was looking at for their research facility in 2009 according to Beck. “What we found here is a vibrant community of researchers and companies that we wanted to be a part of. We’ve developed some great partnerships with surrounding research facilities and businesses.”

With the expansion of their Seattle office, Novo Nordisk hopes to add the skills and talent they procured towards Type 1 diabetes research. The expansion also shows that Novo Nordisk will continue to be one of the anchors of the Seattle biotech community.

“Novo Nordisk has been a tremendous partner in Seattle’s biotech and life science community since opening their inflammation research headquarters in 2009.  By selecting Seattle for its North American diabetes research headquarters, they will add dozens if not hundreds of new jobs to our region, it also demonstrates that Seattle is a global leader in the biotech and life science industry,” said Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association.

“This expansion is a confirmation of the success we’ve had the last three years at this facility. It reconfirms our original assessment that this place is where we can see a longer term growth and build an even larger presence in the United States,” said Beck.

This also means that Novo Nordisk has entrusted its Seattle research facility with one of the company’s defining goals — to cure diabetes.

Defeating Diabetes
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three Americans will have some form of diabetes by 2050. More than 25.8 million Americans — one out of 12 — currently have some form of diabetes. In 2007, the direct medical cost of diabetes topped $116 billion. Besides the financial toll the disease takes, diabetes also carries severe, devastating health complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease —  even amputations. The race to cure diabetes is not an easy one.

The disease can be found in many forms, but fits in one of two categories: Type 1 diabetes — previously known as juvenile diabetes — is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not have the ability to produce insulin — the hormone needed to convert glucose into energy. In Type 2 diabetes, the body loses its ability to produce a sufficient amount of insulin and usually strikes later in life. Ninety to 95 percent of all diabetes cases are of the Type 2 variety.

The need to cure this disease is becoming greater by the minute. Diabetes — mainly Type 2 diabetes — is an epidemic in the United States. The number of cases of Type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing in the United States due to obesity, poor diet, and lack of exercise. While the number of Type 1 diabetics is also climbing, it pales in compared to the rise in Type 2. Seventy-five percent of Novo Nordisk’s business comes from the sales of diabetes medicines — making it the world’s largest producer of diabetes medicines. The company offers a comprehensive and innovative catalog of diabetes medicines and delivery devices. For example, Novo Nordisk created the first insulin pen that made it easier for diabetics to measure and inject their dosage of medicine.

While Novo Nordisk develops medicines and treatments for both prevalent types of diabetes, the Seattle research facility will focus on researching Type 1 diabetes.

In the past decade, Type 2 diabetes has been the main focus among diabetes researchers and pharmaceutical companies because of the dramatic rise in the number of people living with the disease. Unfortunately, this has meant that there has been a lack of major scientific progress in Type 1 diabetes research in recent years.

With the opening of the Seattle research and development center, Novo Nordisk hopes the expertise they’ve developed in immunotherapy research will pave the way for significant progress in Type 1 diabetes research.

“With the new Type 1 diabetes research and development center, we hope to accelerate the process of finding new and innovative ways of treating people with this disease,” said Thomsen. “Our vision is to prevent, treat and ultimately cure diabetes.”

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