Novo Nordisk steps up interest in diabetes, Parkinson’s stem cell therapies

Novo Nordisk has talked up the progress of its Type 1 diabetes stem cell therapy program. With the diabetes project clearing milestones and moving to within a few years of the clinic, Novo is stepping up its interest in stem cell therapies more broadly. 

The foundation for Novo’s stem cell therapy expansion was laid in collaboration with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). Novo staffers are now working alongside academic collaborators at a GMP laboratory at UCSF. And the Danish drug developer has picked up the rights to technology to generate human embryonic stem cell lines.

In parallel, Novo has worked with Cornell University to address some of the barriers to the use of stem cells in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes. Specifically, the partners have created a device to protect beta cells from the host’s immune system.

With cell line work advancing at UCSF and the Cornell collaboration raising hopes a major barrier to curing diabetes can be overcome, Novo has set its sights on getting a diabetes candidate into human testing in the next few years. That makes Novo one of the bigger beasts in a race that also features Eli Lilly partner Sigilon Therapeutics and the well-financed Semma Therapeutics.

An effective stem cell treatment for Type 1 diabetes would be a major drug but Novo isn’t limiting its focus to that opportunity. Rather, Novo wants to apply its growing stem cell know-how to other areas, thereby advancing its broader effort to diversify beyond diabetes. 

Novo has teamed up with Sweden’s BioLamina and related groups for the stem cell therapy expansion. The agreements give Novo a chance to license the fruits of BioLamina's cell culture matrices, which researchers at Lund University and Duke-NUS in Singapore have used to develop therapies aimed at Parkinson’s, chronic heart failure and age-related macular degeneration. 

The agreements give Novo the makings of a multiasset, albeit early-stage, stem cell therapy pipeline. Novo wants to enter into more collaborations to expand into other chronic diseases.