Get To Know Our Sponsor: Novo Nordisk

19 September 2017

In December 2012, Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and Phil Southerland, co-founder and CEO of Team Novo Nordisk, came together to create Team Novo Nordisk, based on the shared goal to inspire, educate and empower people around the world affected by diabetes.

Yet Novo Nordisk’s history and commitment to people with diabetes goes back nearly a century.

In 1921, Canadian scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered the revolutionary new drug insulin. That set into motion the founding of two small Danish companies, Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium (founded in 1923) and Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium (founded in 1925).

Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium

Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium’s story began in 1922 when August and Marie Krogh arrived in the United States by sea. August Krogh was a professor at the University of Copenhagen and had received the Nobel Prize in physiology in 1920, while his wife was a practicing doctor. In 1914, she became the fourth Danish woman to earn a doctorate in medicine. The couple was invited to the US by researchers at Yale University, who had asked August Krogh to lecture throughout the country on his medical research.

On their tour of the US, the couple heard daily reports of people with diabetes being treated with insulin. Marie had several patients with type 1 diabetes at her practice, and she had type 2 diabetes herself. Marie suggested her husband contact the University of Toronto where the life-saving insulin extract was being produced.

So August wrote to the head of the University of Toronto, Professor Macleod, and after meeting, the couple returned to Copenhagen in December 1922 with permission to manufacture and sell insulin in Scandinavia.

While still abroad, Marie wrote a letter to her colleague in Copenhagen, Dr. Hans Christian Hagedorn who together with the pharmacist Norman Jensen had developed a very precise method of measuring blood sugar, about the discovery.

The day after the Krogh’s returned to Copenhagen, August and Dr. Hagedorn decided intensive research was required and the first experiments took place at Hagedorn’s house and the Krogh’s institute, the Laboratory of Zoophysiology. On December 21, 1922, the men succeeded in extracting a small quantity of insulin from a bovine pancreas.

That same December, August Krogh and Dr. Hagedorn approached August Kongsted who owned of the pharmaceutical company Løvens kemiske Fabrik. They needed money to continue performing insulin research. Kongsted paid for the research and to start production, and in return, he asked that their first insulin product be named Leo – the Latin word for lion.

By 1923, August Krogh founded Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium in partnership with Dr. Hagedorn and financial assistance from Kongsted. Experiments began, and in the spring of 1923, Krogh and Dr. Hagedorn marketed Insulin Leo, the first insulin product in Scandinavia. 

August and Marie KroghNovo Terapeutisk Laboratorium

As Krogh and Dr. Hagedorn began manufacturing insulin at Nordisk, they agreed to bring in Harald Pedersen to build machines for insulin production. Pedersen, who originally was a smith and later became a machinist, was an unusually talented inventor. After an accident at work in which he lost an eye, he worked as a manager of the mechanical workshop at the Zoophysiology Laboratory.

Harald’s brother, Thorvald Pedersen, was a pharmacist who worked at the Danish company Dansk Soyakagefabrik. He was hired by Nordisk in autumn 1923 to analyze the chemical processes in insulin production.

Yet Thorvald didn’t get along with Dr. Hagedorn, and in April 1924 things came to a head with Dr. Hagedorn firing Thorvald. Out of loyalty to his brother, Harald Pedersen handed in his notice to Krogh and the brothers set off to manufacture insulin themselves.

By spring 1924, they produced a stable liquid insulin product they called Insulin Novo. Harald designed a special syringe – the Novo Syringe – that ensured patients could comfortably inject themselves with correctly dosed insulin.

The brothers were ready to place their products on the market but doubted they could adequately handle the marketing side of the business. They reached back out to Nordisk in hopes of a collaboration. Krogh and Dr. Hagedorn declined, and the brothers went it alone. Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium was born and on February 16, 1925, they sent a letter to Danish pharmacists informing them that Insulin Novo and the Novo Syringe were on sale.

Since those early days, Nordisk and Novo focused on the development of products that benefited people with diabetes. They competed intensely with one another for decades, and both companies developed into two of the best in their field.

Finally in 1989, the two companies merged and created Novo Nordisk. The company has expanded rapidly ever since with leading positions within diabetes care, obesity care, hemophilia care, growth hormone therapy, and hormone replacement therapy.

share this story

related stories