Novo Nordisk's long-term chief scientific officer Thomsen retires, becomes its foundation chief

After a 21-year run as Novo Nordisk’s chief scientific officer, Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Ph.D., is stepping down from the diabetes specialist.

In a brief statement made during its financials early Wednesday morning, the Danish pharma said Thomsen, who has been CSO since 2000 and started at the company all the way back in 1991, was retiring this month.  

He will be succeeded by Marcus Schindler, Ph.D., who is promoted to CSO and executive vice president for early R&D, and Martin Holst Lange, M.D., Ph.D., who is promoted to EVP for development.

Thomsen steps down from the pharma company, but not the Novo family, as he will be taking up the position as the new CEO of the Novo Nordisk Foundation, which for more than a decade has been handing out grants for R&D projects, as its 12-year CEO veteran Birgitte Nauntofte stands down in March after a handover.

“For many years, I have been following the incredible development of the Novo Nordisk Foundation at close range, and it is both with a sense of enthusiasm and humility that I now take over the reins after Birgitte,” said Thomsen. “Today, the Novo Nordisk Foundation is among the three biggest foundations in the world, and over the last couple of years it has built a highly experienced and competent organization, which I look forward to working with. The ambition is to support even more initiatives and projects that benefit people and society.”

Thomsen leaves behind a legacy that has seen the pharma become one of the biggest names in diabetes, though it has struggled to match that success in its pipeline in others areas. 2020 was a particularly tough year for its R&D, with pauses and stoppages for a slew of trials.

This includes most recently in October last year scrapping development of anti-IL-21 antibody NN9828 in combination with Victoza after getting a look at phase 2 data in Type 1 diabetics.

This was, in fact, another setback for a drug that has underwhelmed in multiple indications over the past decade.

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Back in August, it was also forced to ax two obesity drug programs: a phase 1 glucagon-GLP-1 co-agonist and tri-agonist projects (a triple full agonist of the native human GLP-1, gastric inhibitory peptide and glucagon receptors). Novo said they are victims of the success of their two other meds, the approved semaglutide (aka Ozempic) and another investigational med, AM833, an amylin analogue.

Back in March, Novo also had to halt one midstage and two late-stage tests of its bleeding disease drug concizumab after seeing blood clots in some patients, although it was allowed to later resume in August. This is a key therapy for the company, as it looks to rival Roche’s Hemlibra—though the future looks like it will be made up of one-and-done gene therapies.

These therapies have much potential but also a lot of research hurdles to get through; Novo itself joined that race in 2019, penning a three-year deal with bluebird bio for a gene therapy approach to hemophilia and other genetic diseases.

Much of its immediate R&D focus is on the approved semaglutide, which is looking for more indications in diabetes and obesity.