Novo Nordisk adds to diabetes pipeline with Evotec deal

Novo Nordisk
The deal also covers related diseases such as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, cardiovascular diseases and diabetic kidney disease. (Novo Nordisk)

Novo Nordisk has signed another deal intended to keep it at the top of the tree when it comes to developing new diabetes and obesity drugs.

The Danish drugmaker has agreed to an early-stage R&D collaboration with German biotech Evotec to develop small-molecule drugs for diabetes, obesity and related healthcare issues such as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), cardiovascular diseases and diabetic kidney disease.

Evotec will come up with preclinical compounds and Novo Nordisk will then use the German company’s INDiGO platform—acquired along with Aptuit in a $300 million deal last year—that is used to rapidly select candidates for clinical trials. No financial details of the alliance were disclosed.

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Novo Nordisk has been a major force in diabetes for many years thanks to its insulin products and other antidiabetic agents like GLP-1 agonist Victoza, and, given its heavy reliance on these products, has been actively seeking partnerships of late to keep it at the forefront of the sector.

Earlier this month Novo Nordisk bought U.K. start-up Ziylo to claim rights to its R&D in the area of glucose responsive insulin drugs that can help control blood sugar without raising the risk of hypoglycemic episodes, the main risk associated with insulin therapy. The insulin could circulate in the bloodstream in an inert form, only to activate when it detects a rise in glucose levels.

It’s also been bulking up its stem cell expertise in the hope of developing a new generation of cell-based therapies for Type 1 diabetes that can replace or protect the insulin-producing beta cells that are attacked by the immune system. Meanwhile, it’s been moving sideways into diabetes-related indications like obesity—spearheaded by once-weekly injectable and oral formulations of GLP-1 drug semaglutide—as well as other diseases such as kidney dysfunction.

Those deals came after Novo Nordisk missed out on a chance to acquire Ablynx after the company opted instead for a larger takeover offer from rival Sanofi.

Evotec Chief Operating Officer Mario Polywka, D.Phil., said the two partners form a “powerful combination” given Novo Nordisk’s track record in diabetes and obesity and his company’s drug discovery expertise.