Novo Nordisk plots $82M tablet capacity upgrade for diabetes blockbuster-to-be Rybelsus

Novo Nordisk didn’t let the pandemic scupper the launch of its oral diabetes drug Rybelsus last year. Now, with strong sales on the docket, it’s pledging millions to expand future capacity for the blockbuster-in-waiting.  

Novo Nordisk plans to spend 500 million Danish kroner ($82 million) to expand its production facility in Måløv, Denmark. The plant currently turns out Rybelsus, Novo’s oral semaglutide follow-up to its injectable Type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic.

The project, which is expected to wrap in 2022, will lock up future tablet production capacity for Rybelsus. Novo didn’t say what its final capacity would be when the expansion is complete.

Novo is building a new three-story building with expanded production facilities at the site, which will boost the drugmaker's footprint in Måløv by some 54,000 square feet, Michael Bachner, director of corporate communications and media relations, said via email. 

The Måløv plant, with a workforce of around 700 people, forms the “cornerstone” of Novo’s Rybelsus manufacturing operations, Henrik Steen Jensen, vice president for oral semaglutide manufacturing, said in a release. It's also the only site involved in the later stages of Rybelsus production, Bachner said. 

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Alongside production facilities for diabetes drugs and other biopharma products, the site houses drug discovery labs and facilities for formulating and upscaling production of clinical drug candidates, Novo says on its website. The company plans to hire on more staffers at Måløv, too, though it can't yet say how many new jobs it will create, Bachner added. 

Novo for many years sought to develop an oral insulin formulation before pivoting to its “holy grail” diabetes med Rybelsus, which bagged an FDA green light in September 2019.

Last November, Novo laid out an eye-popping $1.8 billion to buy out New Jersey-based Emisphere Technologies, snagging the tablet technology used to make Rybelsus. At the time, the company told Reuters it was plotting “significant investments” in Emisphere’s so-called Eligen SNAC tech, with a view to expand oral biologics offerings in diabetes and other diseases.

RELATED: Novo Nordisk debuts animated Rybelsus ad after COVID-19 nixed film shoot

In February, Novo pulled out its checkbook again, drawing plans to spend some $1.3 billion on capital projects in 2021 as it looks to beef up capacity for active pharmaceutical ingredients. That cash will also propel Novo’s oral drug delivery work, Chief Financial Officer Karsten Munk Knudsen said on a call with analysts.

Meanwhile, Novo held off on its full Rybelsus launch until it could secure access through payer negotiations. By August, the company had locked up 70% combined access for the med in the U.S., shifting into “strike mode,” CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said on a conference call.

Despite significant hurdles to launching a drug during COVID-19, Rybelsus has continued gaining steam. In the first nine months of the year, the drug posted sales of $173 million, compared to Ozempic’s $2.36 billion. Over the full year, Rybelsus raked in $1.87 billion Danish kroner ($303 million), versus Ozempic’s 21 billion kroner ($3.4 billion), according to the company’s annual report.