Meet Novo Nordisk, Denmark’s biomedical ‘Google’



Danish drug maker Novo Nordisk is now valued at $ 100 billion, which  means that it’s become so big that it threatens to upset the balance in the index of the 20 largest caps of the Danish stock exchange. (The Danish stock exchange will cap its weight at 20 % to remedy this, just like the Helsinki exchange did with Nokia twice).

Novo Nordisk is a leading manufacturer of insulin for diabetes patients, with more than half of the market share by volume, and 44 % of the market share measured by value. The diabetes epidemic in developed countries has allowed it to show double digit growth for a decade now.

Last year, it’s stock surged more than 40 percent, and Novo Nordisk thinks that’s not the end of its growth. In a presentation I found online, it’s clearly very bullish on the future of the diabetes market, what with a rapidly ageing population in all the developed markets (it’s good news for Novo Nordisk but less so for the rest of us):

Beer and pigs

The success of Novo Nordisk can be traced back to two traditional Danish strenghts: beer and pigs.

When insulin extracted from pig pancreases became available in the 1980′s, the Danish biomedical industry was well placed to compete, thanks to the huge number of pigs in Denmark. The Danish pig population is estimated at 20 million, for 5.6 million people. Expertise from the Danish brewing industry helped Novo Nordisk refine the fermentation for the insulin.

A wealth of biomedical companies have emerged in Novo Nordisks wake. If the recipe to do a successful startup in the US is to ‘attend Stanford, work at Google and get into Y Combinator’, startup founders in the Danish biomedical industry do well to work at Novo Nordisk for a while.

It is said that “almost everybody in the Danish biomedical industry worked for Novo Nordisk at some point”. As one of the biomedical CEO’s told the Globe and Mail:

“Novo Nordisk is feeding the life science engine in Denmark”.

Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Rebien Sorensen said that he thinks Novo Nordisk could be on its way to become the biggest pharma player in the world. But all through its rapid expansion, Novo Nordisk will stay decidedly Danish. Just like BMW will always remain distinctly German, Sorensen told Reuters:

“We have a strong core location in Copenhagen. We are also skewed in leadership to one nationality, in the same way that BMW is very German and Apple is quite American.”

 [Globe&Mail][photo: Flickr, Stewart]

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Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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