GLP-1 giant Novo Nordisk pairs up with GE HealthCare on device treatment for obesity, Type 2 diabetes

Though Novo Nordisk continues to rake in massive profits from its blockbuster drugs Ozempic, Wegovy, Victoza and Saxenda—prescribed to treat obesity and Type 2 diabetes—the Danish drugmaker is still courting other approaches.

In its ongoing work to branch out from pharmaceutical injections, which also include a variety of insulins and their respective delivery technologies, Novo has joined forces with GE HealthCare to develop a drug-free, noninvasive treatment for obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

According to Thursday’s announcement about the partnership, their treatment will center on peripheral-focused ultrasound technology, an area in which GE HealthCare has already conducted “extensive foundational research.” Financial terms of the team-up weren’t disclosed.

While ultrasound has traditionally been used for monitoring and diagnosis, PFUS allows the technology to take a more active role in treating disease: It sends out soundwaves to activate specific areas of the nervous system, with an aim of modulating certain nerve responses.

GE researchers have been working on developing PFUS technology since 2016, with support from a variety of research institutions and the U.S. government—in the form of a $2.9 million project it began in 2018 with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA.

A study published in 2021 by scientists from GE Research and the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research described how using ultrasound to stimulate metabolic sensory neurons in the livers of mice over the course of eight weeks was associated not only with significant weight loss but also a reduction in inflammation and other obesity-related complications.

A year later, another study demonstrated similar success in applying the PFUS technology to Type 2 diabetes: The authors concluded that sending ultrasound pulses to stimulate metabolic nerve pathways in mice livers could restore glucose homeostasis, preventing or reversing the onset of high glucose levels.

The new partnership will build on those findings, adding Novo Nordisk’s expertise in metabolic disease treatment and management into the mix to fine-tune the PFUS technology for real-world, human use.

“In an era where diabetes is increasing around the globe, we are enthusiastic about the potential for ultrasound to help people live healthier lives,” Roland Rott, president and CEO of the ultrasound division at GE HealthCare, said in this week’s release. “This collaboration with Novo Nordisk opens a path to evolve ultrasound from a means of screening and diagnosis into therapy, as well. We are eager to validate and further develop this potentially groundbreaking science, as we strive to offer patients alternative treatment options for chronic diseases.”

This isn’t the only non-pharmacological avenue that Novo Nordisk is currently exploring to expand the treatment options for Type 2 diabetes and obesity beyond ultra-popular semaglutide injections.

Earlier this year, the Big Pharma pulled back the curtain on a deal with Aspect Biosystems to back its development of bioprinted tissues that aim to treat the root causes of diabetes by replacing, repairing or bulking up existing cellular processes inside the body. Their collab kicked off with a $75 million upfront payment from Novo, but Aspect’s haul could ultimately reach as high as $2.675 billion, with $650 million available in milestone payments for each of four potential product lines.