Partnering and Fostering External Innovation: A Q&A with Novo Nordisk

Oct 16, 2023

The following is an interview with John McDonald, Corporate Vice President, Global Head of Business Development and M&A at Novo Nordisk. To learn more about Novo Nordisk’s approach to innovation and partnering, register for Novo Nordisk Pharma Day on October 26, 2023 in the MassBioHub.

What is Novo Nordisk’s approach to innovation?    

Novo Nordisk has a longstanding heritage of driving innovation in diabetes and obesity care. We have a 100-year legacy in type 1 diabetes R&D, initially based on insulin. In recent times, we have also become a leading force in type 2 diabetes based on GLP-1 medicines and have established a mainstay in obesity. Our GLP-1 drugs have allowed us to explore new cardiometabolic disease areas adjacent to diabetes and obesity, such as heart, kidney and liver disease. In addition, Novo Nordisk continues to drive change in rare blood and rare endocrine disorders and explores opportunities in other serious chronic diseases. While we continue to have internal innovation at the core, with our projected growth and expansion into new therapy areas, we also have increased our focus on partnering and fostering external innovation to the next level to expand and sharpen the competitiveness of our internal efforts. 

Why is Novo Nordisk working with MassBio to support emerging companies?    

Partnering with MassBio is a great opportunity for Novo Nordisk to advance its network with a wide range of players in the region and support the company’s ambition in one of world’s leading life science and healthcare ecosystems. Earlier this year, we have announced plans to expand our research and development presence in the greater Boston metro area, creating one of our largest R&D hubs outside of Denmark. This new hub leverages the company’s existing presence in Lexington, Cambridge and Watertown, Massachusetts, and will be home to the majority of Novo Nordisk’s US-based R&D activities. With this expansion, greater Boston becomes a key strategic area to accelerate our discovery, research, and development, allowing us to tap into the world’s most highly concentrated ecosystems of academia, medical institutions, venture capital firms, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies – and provides access to an extensive network of scientific talent and collaboration opportunities. In order to accelerate therapeutic progress through co-creative partnerships and an entirely externally anchored portfolio, Novo Nordisk has also established the Bio Innovation Hub as a cross-disciplinary R&D unit based in Cambridge. The team partners with academia, emerging and established biotechs, and venture capital groups to accelerate science in a meaningful, impactful way – with the goal of reaching people living with chronic conditions sooner.  

Which therapeutic or R&D areas does Novo Nordisk want to partner on? What types of companies or innovators does Novo Nordisk want to partner with?  

In general, we are searching for partners with complementary expertise to develop innovative solutions to address unmet medical needs and enable access to patients. That goes for all the therapy areas we are focusing on, but especially for diabetes and obesity, where we have the ambition to develop leading portfolios of superior treatments, and in a more focused way cardiovascular disease and rare blood disease. We are particularly looking for new biologies, new possible targets and new mechanisms of action with the potential to expand our internal R&D activities. We are also interested in options that advance our existing core capabilities and help us establish new technology platforms. This can include oral delivery platforms, technologies that are new to us, like cell and gene therapies, as well as disruptive, next-generation technologies. On a broader level, we are also looking at digital and data-driven opportunities and devices. In all these areas we are interested in the full range of business development activities – from early-stage research alliances to clinical-stage development collaborations, from commercial partnerships to asset and company acquisitions. 

How will Novo Nordisk help emerging companies grow their businesses?    

With our unique capabilities, our strong innovation focus, our best-in-class R&D organization and our global reach, we are the right partner to transform great ideas into groundbreaking therapies. We have a track record of successful partnerships, including Corvidia, Dicerna. Flagship. Forma. Life Edit and Ventus in the Massachusetts biotech ecosystem. 

And we have aligned our organizational structures with the increased focus on external innovation: In 2022, the Business Development teams in Copenhagen, Boston and Zurich have been consolidated into a new corporate area to combine corporate strategy, search and evaluation, business development and integration and alliance management. A growing team of experts is building the capabilities of processing an increasing number of deals, with post-deal management playing a key role. From strategic alliance management of research or development collaborations, to the management of commercial partnerships, to integration management of acquired assets and companies – all these activities are coordinated by the same team, to ensure that we realize the full potential of every partnership.

Author Bio   

John McDonald is Corporate Vice President, Global Head of Business Development and M&A at Novo Nordisk. Before joining Novo Nordisk in 2018, John was Vice President, Business Development at Biogen. From May 2006 through June 2011 John was a managing director at MPM Capital, one of the world’s largest science-dedicated venture capital firms. Prior to that he worked at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Genentech, Inc. and Genzyme Corporation. John holds a J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, and an M.B.A., Beta Gamma Sigma, and a B.S., Phi Beta Kappa, from the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. 

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