Novo Nordisk buys diabetes startups founded by Lilly R&D veteran

Novo Nordisk ($NVO) has gone on a shopping spree in Indiana, picking up a pair of biotechs co-founded by Eli Lilly ($LLY) R&D veteran Richard DiMarchi. The startups, the oldest of which was founded in 2013, are both developing protein-based diabetes drugs based on research performed by DiMarchi.

Bagsværd, Denmark-based Novo Nordisk has handed over an undisclosed amount for the biotechs, Calibrium and MB2, both of which are based in Carmel, IN. Details of exactly what the companies are working on are sketchy but what is known puts them right in the sweetspot for Novo Nordisk. On its website, Calibrium lists its focus as discovery and early development of peptides to treat diabetes and related metabolic diseases. And Novo Nordisk said the chance to pick up intellectual property on obesity programs was part of the attraction.

A lot of work must still be done before any of that intellectual property starts to make an impact on Novo Nordisk's business. Neither of the startups has invested much in R&D yet. Calibrium raised $1.7 million in 2013 and MB2 added $1.5 million out of a planned $4 million late last year. Whatever Novo Nordisk offered was enough to turn heads at Calibrium and prompt investors to cash out early. "It's relatively quick, I have to say. It was a great opportunity," Calibrium CEO Fritz French told the Indianapolis Business Journal.

French and DiMarchi are developing a track record of flipping biotechs to large biopharma firms. The pair were last seen together at Marcadia Biotech, which Roche ($RHHBY) picked up in a deal worth up to $537 million in 2011. Marcadia, like Calibrium, was based on diabetes research by DiMarchi's lab at Indiana University and helmed by French. DiMarchi started working at the university in 2003 after 22 years at Lilly. Marcadia was absorbed into Roche but the message coming out of Novo Nordisk is that it wants more than just programs and intellectual property from Calibrium and MB2.

The Danish diabetes specialist called the acquisitions "a basis for expanding Novo Nordisk's research presence in the U.S.". Novo Nordisk is also expanding its manufacturing in the U.S. by committing to building an API plant in Clayton, NC.

- read the release
- here's IBJ's take