- Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk will pay $75 million as part of a new collaboration with a Canadian biotechnology startup that aims to create cell therapies for diabetes and obesity.
- Announced Wednesday, the deal grants Novo an exclusive, worldwide license to use Aspect Biosystems’ “bioprinting” technology to develop as many as four treatments targeting diabetes, obesity or both diseases. This technology combines cells and various “biomaterials” to create three-dimensional, tissue-like structures designed to be biologically functional, protected from the immune system and suitable for surgical implantation.
- The collaboration will initially focus on therapies that can keep blood glucose levels at a normal range without the need for immunosuppression, which, according to Novo, may “represent a transformative treatment for people living with type 1 diabetes.” Novo also said these therapies will be allogeneic in design, meaning the cells are derived from a donor as opposed to the patient.
Novo, while historically not big on buyouts, has turned to acquisitions over the past couple years to expand its slate of technologies and research programs. In late 2021, it agreed to spend north of $3 billion on Dicerna Pharmaceuticals, a company specialized in so-called RNA interference. And in 2022, it picked up Forma Therapeutics in a $1 billion deal that provided an experimental drug for sickle cell disease in late-stage clinical testing.
Yet, Novo’s core business still revolves around diabetes and, more recently, obesity. Aided by newer drugs like Rybelsus, Wegovy and, especially, Ozempic, the company last year recorded a 26% increase in net sales and a 34% increase in gross sales.
The new collaboration with Aspect indicates that Novo sees further room to grow in its core areas. Per deal terms, Aspect is eligible to receive as much as $650 million for each resulting product, provided it hits certain developmental, regulatory, commercial and sales goals. Additionally, the biotech would get tiered royalties on future sales of any products.
The deal also further entrenches Novo in the field of cellular medicine. The company established a California-based manufacturing site dedicated to stem cell therapies in 2018. And currently, it’s researching ways that cell therapies could be used to treat illnesses like Parkinson’s disease, chronic heart failure and Type 1 diabetes.
Partnering with Aspect “adds an important component to our strategy to develop comprehensive cell therapy products,” Jacob Sten Petersen, Novo’s head of cell therapy research and development, said in a statement.
Novo isn’t alone in its pursuits, however. Just last month, Vertex Pharmaceuticals announced that it would be licensing gene editing technology from CRISPR Therapeutics to develop therapies for Type 1 diabetes. The two companies had already been collaborating on a gene editing therapy for sickle cell and another blood disorder, and CRISPR had been working with the biotech Viacyte on its own Type 1 diabetes cell therapy program.
Vertex bought Viacyte last year for $320 million, hoping that the biotech’s tools would help accelerate the development of VX-880, an experimental, stem-cell-derived therapy targeting Type 1 diabetes, which Vertex got through its $950 million acquisition of Semma Therapeutics in 2019.