Denmark’s Novo Nordisk buys UK insulin technology pioneer

Denmark's Novo Nordisk, the world's top insulin maker, said Friday it has acquired a British firm that is pioneering a new technology which could help people with diabetes inject themselves more safely with insulin.

Denmark's Novo Nordisk buys UK insulin technology pioneer
File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Novo Nordisk said in a statement it has acquired Bristol-based Ziylo in a deal that could potentially exceed $800 million.

Ziylo describes itself as a scientific incubator that is developing glucose responsive insulins or GRIs.

A GRI would “help eliminate the risk of hypoglycaemia, the main risk associated with insulin therapy and one of the main barriers to achieving optimal glucose control,” Novo Nordisk said in a statement.

Hyperglycaemia or high blood sugar is when there is an excessive amount of glucose in a person's blood. And insulins are used to lower those levels.

However, the level of glucose that is deemed to be too hyperglycaemic varies from person to person, making it tricky to monitor those and inject the correct amount of insulin.

Novo Nordisk said that a GRI “could also lead to better metabolic control and therefore reduce the overall burden of diabetes for people living with the disease.”

The acquisition gives Novo Nordisk full rights to Ziylo's technology, which the Danish healthcare giant sees as “a key strategic area… in its effort to develop this next generation of insulin, which would lead to a safer and more effective insulin therapy.”

Novo Nordisk said it acquired all shares in Ziylo for an upfront payment and earn-outs.

Total payments could ultimately exceed $800 million depending on Novo Nordisk's achievements, developments and sales.

The Danish company controls nearly half of the global market for insulin, while its haemophilia and hormonal treatments account for about 20 percent of overall sales.

Last year, there were 425 million people with diabetes in the world, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), and the figure is expected to rise to 629 million in 2045.

Only half of the world's diabetics are currently diagnosed with the illness. And only 50 percent of those who are diagnosed have access to treatment.

Complications caused by diabetes, including cardiovascular and renal diseases and lower limb amputations, kill four million people a year, according to the IDF.

Just over a week ago, Novo Nordisk's share price took a battering due to a change in legislation in the US that reduces prices on prescription drugs such as its diabetes treatments, Tresiba and Victoza.

READ ALSO: Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk profits jump in diabetes scourge


Novo Nordisk sees increased profits despite pandemic

Denmark's Novo Nordisk, the world's number one producer of insulin, on Wednesday reported an eight percent bump to net profits in 2020 despite the pandemic leading to a drop in new patients.

Novo Nordisk sees increased profits despite pandemic
Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

In line with analysts' expectations, the company recorded an annual net profit of 42.1 billion Danish kroner (5.6 billion euros).

Revenue came in at 126.9 billion kroner, up four percent compared to a year earlier, not counting currency effects, driven by sales of GLP-1 products for treating diabetes.

According to Novo Nordisk, the company claimed 47.2 percent of the global market for insulin in November 2020, and 39.4 percent of the US market, which is the drugmaker's single largest market.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that there are over 425 million diabetics in the world, a number expected to top 629 million by 2045 as changing diets and lifestyles provoke the condition whereby the effectiveness of naturally produced insulin is reduced and people cannot convert sugar in their bloodstream for use as energy, causing health problems such as heart disease, vision loss and kidney disease.

However, only half of people with diabetes are currently diagnosed and of those only half are receiving treatment, according to the IDF, which says an estimated four million people die from the disease and the health complications it causes every year.

The Covid-19 pandemic cut into the number of people receiving help, according to Novo Nordisk.

“During the period of social distancing implemented in many markets, fewer new patients are initiating treatment,” said the company.

Novo Nordisk also develops and markets treatments for haemophilia and growth disorders, where sales fell by four percent and increased by six percent respectively, not counting currency effects.

Sales of its anti-obesity medicines, mainly Saxenda, increased by three percent.

In 2021, Novo Nordisk expects sales to grow by five to nine percent and operating profit to increase by four to eight percent.

In the early hours of trading on the Copenhagen stock exchange, shares in Novo Nordisk were up 4.6 percent.

READ ALSO: Novo Nordisk cuts donations to US politicians