Massive Novo insulin plant aims to make more with less

Novo's Kalundborg insulin-producing plant--Courtesy of Novo

About an hour and a half west of Copenhagen is a little coastal town, Kalundborg, with 16,000 inhabitants, a famous five-steepled church and a castle dating back to at least the 14th century. It also happens to be the home of the plant that produces half of the world's insulin, the key component to most diabetes treatments.

When King Valdemar IV built the Kalundborg castle, he could never imagine a building as big as Novo Nordisk's ($NVO) Kalundborg API facility, much less the high-tech equipment inside. He'd understand, however, the concept of visitors armoring up, in this case with white coveralls and blue booties.

Novo Nordisk uses genetically modified yeast to produce its insulin, so it's no surprise that the first few chambers of the plant smell a bit like, well, yeast. But once the yeast has done its work, the job is removing it from the insulin it has made, and purifying and drying the insulin to a dry, crystalline powder--ironically, for a drug designed to control blood glucose, a powder that resembles table sugar.

The numbers are staggering. Enough raw insulin to treat up to 15 million people a year, 4 cubic meters drawn every hour from a host of fermentation tanks--and the cabling to power it and run it all amounting to 550 km, about the distance from Copenhagen to Oslo, Norway. The Kalundborg site itself, which houses several more production facilities, is the size of 156 football fields, about 1 million square meters. "We could play a lot of football here," jokes Jan Hoff, Novo's SVP who heads the Kalundborg production site. "If we didn't have the factories."

But the numbers Hoff wants to focus on are carbon emissions, waste production, and water and energy use. That's because his mandate for Kalundborg is to produce more insulin--with less carbon, waste, etc. Read more at FiercePharmaManufacturing >>