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Novo Nordisk to Open Oxford Diabetes Research Center

Diabetes devices

(stevepb, Pixabay)

30 January 2017. The pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk will build a research center to study type 2 diabetes on the campus of University of Oxford in the U.K. The company, based in Denmark, says it expects to spend £115 million ($US 144 million) on the facility over 10 years, and employ some 100 researchers.

Diabetes is a chronic disorder where the pancreas does not create enough insulin to process the sugar glucose to flow into the blood stream and cells for energy in the body. In type 2 diabetes, which accounts for some 90 percent of all diabetes cases, the pancreas produces some but not enough insulin, or the body cannot process insulin. In 2015, according to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affected 415 million people worldwide, of which 60 million were in Europe.

Novo Nordisk’s corporate focus is diabetes. The collaboration with Oxford, says the company, seeks to cross-fertilize new ideas from the interaction of academic and industrial researchers. “Our vision,” says Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Novo Nordisk’s chief scientist in a company statement, “is that the unique combination of industrial and academic know-how will eventually lead to a new generation of treatments to improve the lives of people with type 2 diabetes”

James Johnson, a diabetes researcher at University of British Columbia in Canada, will be director of the new Novo Nordisk Research Centre Oxford. Johnson’s lab at UBC studies the biology of islet cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, particularly their signaling mechanisms that affect both types of diabetes. The lab also studies the impact of these processes on other diseases including pancreatic cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

The research center is the second major collaboration between Novo Nordisk and Oxford. The company currently funds up to 32 postdoctoral fellows at Oxford, a program begun in 2013 and renewed in 2015. The company solicits collaborators from academic labs to study peptides and similar small proteins affecting insulin production, glucose control, and obesity, as well as related disorders and complications from diabetes such as diabetic kidney disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, a type of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Novo Nordisk is not alone in pursuing diabetes solutions, including through collaborations outside its industry. As reported in Science & Enterprise, in September 2016 drug maker Sanofi and Verily Life Sciences, a division of Alphabet — parent company of Google — created Onduo, a joint venture to create health management solutions for people with diabetes. That partnership is developing products and services that help people with type 2 diabetes make better decisions managing their condition and overall health.

The collaboration between Oxford and Novo Nordisk, based in an European Union member country, comes on the heels of the U.K. government’s announcement that it intends to leave the EU through Brexit sooner rather than later. Britain’s prime minister Theresa May signaled recently however, that it wants to carve out an exception for scientific collaborations.

In a speech on 17 January, reported in the Times’ Higher Education, Prime Minister May noted that …

One of our great strengths as a nation is the breadth and depth of our academic and scientific communities, backed up by some of the world’s best universities. And we have a proud history of leading and supporting cutting-edge research and innovation. So we will also welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives.

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