Member Spotlight: Q&A with Novo Nordisk

May 01, 2024

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Every month, MassBio spotlights a member company and its efforts in advancing the life sciences industry and supporting the patients we serve. In May, we profile Novo Nordisk and speak with Marcus Schindler, PhD, Prof, Chief Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President of Research & Early Development at Novo Nordisk. Since 2021, he has led the transformation of Novo Nordisk’s drug discovery towards a “human centric” approach in serious chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and rare blood disease. Marcus has expanded the organization’s project portfolio and increased the focus on novel treatment modalities, including cell therapy and RNAi. With a focus on collaboration and co-creation, Marcus has set-up powerful innovation initiatives such as the Bio Innovation Hub in Boston. Marcus has close to 25 years of experience in leadership roles in international large pharma and biotechnology companies including AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim and OSI (Prosidion).

A professional headshot of Marcus Schindler, PhD, Prof, Chief Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President of Research & Early Development at Novo Nordisk.
Marcus Schindler, PhD, Prof, Chief Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President of Research & Early Development at Novo Nordisk

Tell us about the mission and overall approach of Research & Early Development at Novo Nordisk. How does its presence in the Greater Boston Area contribute to it?

In Research & Early Development at Novo Nordisk, we are building on our 100-year heritage in protein and peptide engineering and diabetes research to develop potentially life-changing medicines for patients living with chronic disease. We are harnessing the power of data science tools, human datasets, strategic partnerships, and technology platforms in a multi-faceted approach that enables us to accelerate our research efforts across multiple chronic disease areas. All the while, our focus remains on areas with the highest unmet needs – and those where we are best positioned to compete.

The Greater Boston area is a world-renowned hub for innovation and cutting-edge science and technology. Our presence in this location is vital to achieve our scientific aims. I am particularly proud of the strides made by Novo Nordisk’s Bio Innovation Hub (BIH), a cross-disciplinary biotech-like R&D unit designed to accelerate the development of therapeutics via co-creative partnerships with academia, emerging and established biotech companies and venture capital groups.

An example of that is the unique partnership model established with Flagship Pioneering. In this, we work at the intersection of science and business to drive innovation by merging Novo Nordisk’s expertise in cardiometabolic disease biology and Flagship Pioneering’s array of next generation platforms. We formulate biological questions and together come up with solutions to solve them, working through an exciting partnership model in which we don’t know what we will invent next.

When we started our activities in Boston, our goal was clear: to not only be a part of the ecosystem, but also to exert influence on it, to inspire the academic and biotech community to join us in working towards novel therapies for serious chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. We recognise the importance of supporting the startup community, particularly during a time where the market has little influx. Annually, we host a Golden Ticket pitch competition at LabCentral, where small companies compete by presenting their ideas for the chance to develop early concepts and expand their business. This competition is a great way to foster innovation and help preserve Boston’s innovative edge.

How do your organization’s activities benefit patients now and into the future?

One hundred years after the start of our company, we are applying the same passion, skills, and determination of our founders to defeat serious chronic diseases. Having a legacy of innovation gives us an opportunity and responsibility to continue innovating for the future.

Diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, or rare blood disease affect hundreds of millions of people, often leading to life-threatening complications and placing a growing burden on individuals, families, and communities.

One way in which we strive to lessen this burden on patients is by developing medicines that need to be administered less frequently. For patients who must regularly inject insulin for example, this would be particularly beneficial. Innovations such as these also have important environmental implications, as by doing so, we significantly reduce the amount of plastic in landfills and manufacturing needs.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the life sciences industry today?

Meeting the increasing demands of patients and healthcare providers is one of the greatest challenges facing our industry. As the landscape evolves rapidly, we must discover faster and more efficient ways to develop drugs to meet these demands. Simultaneously, we are also confronted with other societal issues such as health equity. Pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity to play an active role in addressing this challenge. This work starts in the drug design process, in how we think about the features of our molecules.

It is important to me that we make our medicines not only efficacious and safe, but also more accessible to patients around the world. For example, we aim to enhance patient access to our medicines by improving the thermostability of our drugs. By doing so, our drugs could be transported over longer distances without compromising their stability. They can also be reliably stored in a variety of environments, including homes without refrigeration. This effort expands our global reach, allowing us to reach more patients in need of our life-changing therapies.

What’s next for your organization; what are you focused on in the coming years?

We are building upon our heritage and strong capabilities in drug development to advance new transformative treatments in the future. Looking ahead, there are many scientific and technological avenues to pursue, and we are now taking advantage of modern computational technologies to harvest opportunities.

If we can combine a very potent molecule with a long half-life, infrequent injections, and improved accessibility then we can imagine a future where a vaccine-like drug for diabetes or obesity could become a reality. It can become thinkable that we not only address disease treatment, but one day work towards a cure.

At Novo Nordisk, we’re also delving into a new realm where we ask: “What if we could intervene in disease processes and halt them before they even begin?” Instead of merely addressing the consequences of disease, we’re actively seeking strategies and solutions for prevention. This marks a pivotal shift in our perspective on tackling chronic disease. Ultimately, it is through scientific and technological innovation that we can create exciting possibilities for healthier populations and more sustainable healthcare systems around the world.

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