Improving Outcomes

Novo Nordisk

Indeed, Novo Nordisk boasts the broadest diabetes product portfolio within the industry and offers some of the most advanced insulin delivery solutions. The company has also become a leader in haemophilia care, growth hormone therapy and hormone replacement therapy. Currently, the company markets product in 180 different countries and employs 34,000 people in 75 nations around the globe, including a Canadian office in Mississauga, Ontario.

History

In 1921, a team of Canadian researchers discovered the hormone insulin. It was a lifesaving discovery. Diabetes had been documented for several thousand years, but treatment was still virtually nonexistent in the early twentieth century. At the time of the Nobel Prize winning discovery, the only known way to control diabetes was through an extremely restrictive low carb, high fat, high protein diet. This course of action was woefully insufficient, however, and diabetics typically lived no longer than a year or two after their initial diagnosis. Some even starved to death from the severe diet.

Not surprisingly, Danish physiologist August Krogh and his wife Marie were fascinated by reports of diabetics being treated with the newly discovered hormone when they visited the U.S. in 1922. As a Nobel Prize winning scientist himself, August had reason enough to be intrigued. But the interest was also personal – Marie had type 2 diabetes. Without insulin, her prognosis was dire.

Moreover, Marie was a leading medical professional in her own right (in 1914 she had become the fourth Danish woman to be awarded a doctorate in medicine) and she had a keen interest in finding better treatments for her diabetic patients. Marie urged her husband to contact the University of Toronto, where the first insulin extract had been produced. By the end of the year, the couple had received permission to manufacture and sell insulin in Scandinavia. Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium was born.

The fledgling company quickly grew, with the financial backing of Danish pharmacist August Kongsted and the intellectual contributions of Dr. Hans Christian Hagedorn. The success was immediate – Krogh and Hagedorn managed to extract their first sample of insulin from a bovine pancreas within weeks of setting up shop. That spring, the company began supplying patients with lifesaving insulin.

Brothers Harald and Thorvald Pedersen soon began working for the company. Thorvald and Hagedorn clashed however, and the situation quickly became impossible. Hagedorn fired Thorvald in 1924 and Harald resigned from Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium out of loyalty for his brother. The two began experimenting on their own, and they quickly succeeded in producing a stable liquid insulin product they dubbed Insulin Novo. Harald also designed the Novo Syringe to administer the product. This clever invention made it possible for patients to more easily inject themselves with the proper dose.

Armed with these successes, the brothers decided to go it alone. They launched Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium in 1925, and almost immediately, the new company became a fierce competitor of Nordisk. Indeed, for the next 64 years the rivals scrambled to produce the newest, most advanced treatments first.

Not surprisingly, Novo and Nordisk achieved many notable firsts during that time period: the first to produce a highly purified product, the breakthrough development of NPH and Lente® insulin, and the first to produce human insulin for the commercial market. Finally, in 1989, Nordisk and Novo combined forces. It was a good match – Novo Nordisk instantly became the world’s leading producer of insulin.

Diabetes

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) reports that more than 371 million people currently have diabetes worldwide. According to Novo Nordisk, this means that 8.3 percent of the global adult population are now living with diabetes. And these numbers are increasing every year –five million more people have diabetes this year than last year. Even more alarming, the IDF predicts that, in just two more decades, over 556 million people around the globe will suffer from the condition.

The number of cases is increasing throughout the world, but people living in low and middle income countries are the hardest hit. Already, four out of five diabetics live in underdeveloped nations. Unfortunately, these populations are also the least likely to have access to proper care. And without proper care, the effects of diabetes can be devastating. Novo Nordisk reports that when diabetes is left untreated, or is improperly treated, the patient’s risk of developing serious conditions – such as eye and kidney failure and cardiovascular diseases – increases dramatically. On the other hand, a reduction of the average blood sugar level by just 1 percent may decrease diabetes-related deaths by as much as 21 percent.

Novo Nordisk is acutely aware of the dual problem – the rising number of people with diabetes and the fact that so many of them do not have their condition under control. Indeed, the company is committed to fighting what it calls the “rule of halves.” In general, the company explains, about half of most common chronic disorders go undiagnosed, and only half of the people who are diagnosed receive proper care. Only half of these patients receiving care will achieve their treatment target. And, of those meeting their treatment target, only half will live a life free from diabetes-related complications.

The team believes that greater global awareness, better detection methods, and more effective treatments are crucial in fighting the “rule of halves.” The company advocates for “concerted action to address the pandemic, challenging systems, political priorities and health expectations worldwide,” its website reports. “In addition, we collaborate with global organisations and governments in driving diabetes awareness, prevention and equal access to care.”

Novo Nordisk offers diabetes support and education to help patients learn to manage their condition and live life to the fullest. In fact, the company reports that 21 percent more patients reach their treatment targets if they are supported with diabetes education. Education is also a key to prevention. Novo Nordisk points out that a whopping 80 percent of diabetes cases could be prevented with a healthy lifestyle.

Haemophilia

Haemophilia is a bleeding disorder characterised by a lack of clotting factor VIII or IX. Clotting factor is a protein in people’s blood that controls bleeding. Without it, a patient may bleed longer than is normal and may suffer spontaneous internal bleeding. Haemophilia is usually an inherited disorder that people are born with. However, the World Federation of Haemophilia (WFH) reports that around 30 percent of patients have no family history of the condition. Very rarely, a person may even develop Haemophilia later in life, but these cases often resolve with appropriate treatment.

To treat haemophilia, clotting factor can be injected directly into the bloodstream to stop excessive bleeding. With the right care, people with hemophilia can often expect to live a healthy life. Without treatment, however, the outcome can be dismal. Most children suffering from severe hemophilia will die young if they do not receive proper care. Tragically, of the estimated 400,000 people living with hemophilia around the world, only 25 percent receive adequate treatment, the WFH reports. And patients who do receive adequate care may develop an immune system reaction to proteins in factor concentrates. In these cases, inhibitors form in the patient’s blood to fight the foreign proteins. This reaction will stop the clotting factor from working properly and can make bleeding very difficult to control.

Novo Nordisk is working toward a future in which all people with haemophilia – including those with inhibitors – have “the opportunity to lead the life they desire.” The Changing Possibilities in Haemophilia® program demonstrates the company’s commitment to support people affected by this rare bleeding disorder. The program’s underlying goals are to improve society’s understanding of haemophilia, improve access to diagnosis and treatment, and improve treatment and care possibilities.

Novo Nordisk has been at the forefront of medical research for ninety years. The team has worked diligently to improve patient outcomes and continuously push the boundaries of what we believe is possible. It is hard to imagine today’s world without the lifesaving assistance provided by an injection of insulin or clotting factor. And, after nearly a century, this is still only the beginning. Just imagine the lifesaving breakthroughs yet to come.

August 21, 2017, 7:54 AM EDT

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