Novo Nordisk CEO Jørgensen aims to leverage diabetes know-how, deals into the new decade

Novo Nordisk CEO
Novo CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen outlined four key strategies and other plans out to 2025 at an event Wednesday. (Novo Nordisk)

Novo Nordisk, the world's biggest insulin producer, has set itself an unaccustomed task: Expand beyond diabetes. Wednesday, it outlined just how it plans to do that and how it plans to measure its progress on the way.

Here's a hint. The whole thing depends on diabetes; that is, it depends on the cash churned out by its current blockbusters, and, of course, the latest franchise it's building around semaglutide in its first-ever oral version—the brand-new Rybelsus—and weekly injectable, Ozempic.

For one thing, Novo figures it can make a bigger mark in obesity, where it's currently running with Saxenda and working on pipeline meds at a designated R&D center in Seattle.

“We believe that by investing and building the market, by investing in continued innovation, we can unlock this market” and make it a growth contributor, CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen told an audience at the company's 2019 capital markets gathering Wednesday.

When Jørgensen took the reins three years ago, he set out to change the company’s focus and culture to recapture market share, plus raise the “innovation bar,” which meant taking more risks. So far, Novo has made strides against those goals, he said.

Jørgensen isn't just talking about more innovation. Just this week, the company laid out $225 million in a collaboration with Dicerna to test the company's RNAi platform against metabolic and liver-related diseases including nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Last summer, the company inked a collaboration with Germany's Evotec on small-molecule drugs to treat diabetes, diabetic kidney disease, NASH and cardiovascular diseases.

Jørgensen said he can’t recall a time when the company had a stronger portfolio of offerings. Each is competitive in categories where the company is participating, he added.

As for Novo's strategies, the company firstly wants to strengthen its leadership in diabetes. The helmsman said his company now has its “strongest portfolio ever" in the disease area and is gaining market share.

Next, Novo has ambitions in obesity and wants to gain momentum in its biopharmaceuticals group, or drugs that treat hemophilia and growth disorders. Lastly, the company wants to leverage its competencies and assets in other chronic diseases “where we can make a meaningful play"—hence the deals like Dicerna and Evotec.

RELATED: Novo preps for Rybelsus 'strike mode' as Ozempic hits blockbuster heights

While the company says it's on track to hit its 2019 financial guidance, Novo also rolled out a set of 2025 strategic initiatives to provide market watchers with a fuller picture about how the company views itself. They detail the company’s plans to operate with “purpose and sustainability,” advance innovation, execute on commercial goals and deliver a strong financial performance. 

As pharma deals with a reputation crisis, Jørgensen told the audience it’s “really important that all of us stay sharp" on defining purpose. He said Novo exists to "drive change to defeat diabetes and other serious chronic diseases."

RELATED: Novo Nordisk taps Dicerna's RNAi tech in $225M metabolic, liver disease deal

The strategy event comes early in Novo's launch for Rybelsus, its important oral GLP-1 diabetes offering. The drug won U.S. approval in September and is expected to bring in megablockbuster sales and reshape the diabetes market. Even as that rollout ramps up, the injectable version of the med just hit blockbuster status for 2019. Jørgensen recently told FiercePharma the company plans to go into "strike mode" with its Rybelsus rollout after it secures U.S. payer contracts.