Novo Nordisk teams up with Harvard, Broad Institute on diabetes and cardiac fibrosis

Novo Nordisk will collaborate with Harvard and the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology to develop three new programs over the next three years to tackle diabetes and cardiac fibrosis.

This isn’t the first time Novo Nordisk, Harvard and the Broad Institute have teamed up. Back in 2021, the Danish biopharma—maker of blockbuster drugs Ozempic and Wegovy as well as many diabetes products—gave the institutions $47.5 million through its foundation to set up the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Genomic Mechanisms of Disease, where researchers mine genetic data to learn how genetic variants lead to conditions like diabetes.

The latest initiative aims to find drug targets for subtypes of Type 2 diabetes and understand the genetic basis of cardiac fibrosis, or scarring of the heart, the company and institutions announced Sept. 6. On the diabetes side, one program will look at insulin resistance unrelated to a patient’s weight, while another will tackle the loss of beta cell function. The idea is to go beyond the current standard of managing symptoms of diabetes, like high blood sugar, to treating the disease itself, Broad Institute researcher Jose Florez, M.D., Ph.D., who will co-direct the programs, explained in the press release.

“Right now, we have nothing that reverses diabetes,” Florez said in the press release. “Addressing these problems at the root, rather than simply treating the symptoms, would really change how we treat this disease.”

For cardiac fibrosis, the institutions will use machine learning and genomics, or the study of the genome, to see how the condition is linked to heart disease. Cardiac fibrosis occurs when scar tissue builds up in the heart, which can cause the heart muscle to stop pumping properly and lead to many complications. While it can come about following a heart attack, it can also stem from diabetes or may have no clear cause at all.

There is no cure for cardiac fibrosis. Current treatments, like beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, are only used to help the heart pump more efficiently. The new program aims to change that by identifying genes that can be targeted to inhibit or perhaps even reverse the condition.