Novo Nordisk pens $2.6B deal with Aspect Biosystems for 3D-printed tissue treatments for diabetes

Novo Nordisk’s diabetes treatments have so far revolved around injected insulins and other medications—including the popular semaglutide medication Ozempic—along with a slate of insulin pen technologies to help perform those injections.

Now, however, the Big Pharma is looking even deeper under the skin for its next diabetes therapeutic. Case in point: In a deal announced Wednesday, Novo is offering up hundreds of millions of dollars to help Aspect Biosystems develop bioprinted tissues that could help treat the root causes of diabetes on a cellular level.

Under the terms of their agreement, Novo will start by shelling out $75 million in upfront payments, research funding and a convertible note investment in Aspect. From there, Aspect will be eligible to rake in up to $650 million more in milestone payments as each of the products that come out of their collaboration reach certain development, regulatory, commercial and sales goals. With up to four potential product lines included in the agreement, the total deal value could therefore stretch as high as $2.675 billion.

Aspect’s bioprinting platform is essentially a 3D printer for tissue therapeutics. Researchers first use Aspect’s software to design tissues with an aim of attacking a health condition at the root—by replacing, repairing or bulking up an existing cellular process inside the body—after which the printer combines therapeutic cells and other biomaterials to churn out new tissues that can be surgically implanted.

The partnership will combine Aspect’s bioprinting technology with Novo’s expertise in altering stem cells to fit certain biological needs and its large-scale manufacturing resources, which will help produce the vast numbers of therapeutic cells needed to create new treatments, the companies said in Wednesday’s announcement.

To start, the duo will work on developing bioprinted tissues that could help people with Type 1 diabetes stay within normal glucose levels without requiring immunosuppression, which can lead to an increased risk of further infections.

Novo isn’t the only one looking to Aspect’s technology for a new approach to developing therapeutics. Last year, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation tapped the Canadian tech maker with a similar proposition: to make a bioengineered tissue therapeutic that could improve glycemic control for people with Type 1 diabetes as an alternative to leaving them on immunosuppressant drugs for long periods of time.

Beyond diabetes, Aspect has also teamed up with Johnson & Johnson’s DePuy Synthes in the world of orthopedics. They signed a deal at the start of 2017 to develop a 3D-printed meniscus that could replace the so-called “shock absorber” in the knee after a tear—though their partnership is no longer listed on Aspect’s website.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the total value of the partnership deal.