Foundation behind Novo Nordisk to invest $260M in vaccine R&D

Foundation behind Novo Nordisk to invest $260M in vaccine R&D

Dive Brief:

  • The Novo Nordisk Foundation, which owns a controlling stake in drugmaker Novo Nordisk, said Monday it will invest 1.8 billion Danish kroner, or about $260 million, to fund development of new vaccines for respiratory diseases.
  • The new initiative will study ways to build immunity at the site of infection inside airways for diseases like tuberculosis, influenza and group A streptococcus, which the foundation says collectively cause more than 2.5 million deaths annually.
  • Dubbed the Novo Nordisk Foundation Initiative for Vaccines and Immunity, the program will test new vaccine targets and methods of delivery alongside each other, rather than focus on only one approach. The initiative will consist of a research center and an accelerator that together will support the translation of basic research through to mid-stage clinical testing.

Dive Insight:

Novo Nordisk has been buoyed by the success of its in-demand diabetes and weight loss medicines, despite manufacturing issues that have slowed sales.

The company’s boom is lifting its parent Novo Holdings, which is wholly owned by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. In October, the CEO of Novo Holdings said he expected to funnel the windfall from Ozempic and Wegovy into other intiatives. Now, the Foundation, alongside the University of Copenhagen, is unveiling a major new vaccine program.

A research center, which is funded via an eight-year grant, will conduct basic research, while a limited liability company will handle licensing vaccine technologies and coordinating clinical testing of any potential candidates. Any revenue generated by the accelerator will be reinvested back into the program.

The goal is to find vaccines that build immunity in the airways, rather than systemically, which could help prevent infection and block transmission.

Both group A streptococcus and tuberculosis can be treated with antibiotics. However, antimicrobial resistance is a growing public threat, with tuberculosis a major contributor. The only available tuberculosis vaccine doesn’t prevent lung disease in teenagers and adults, meanwhile.

No vaccine is available for group A streptococcus. While flu vaccines are available, there are still gaps in protection that drugmakers are working to fill with their own shots.

The fast progress made on vaccines for COVID-19 helped catalyze the foundation’s new initiative.

“While [COVID vaccines] did save countless lives, they weren’t able to stop infection or transmission,” said Peter Lawætz Andersen, head of infectious diseases at the Novo Nordisk Foundation in a statement to BioPharma Dive. “In this way, the COVID experience exposed the major limitation of current vaccines against respiratory pathogens — that they generate a systemic immune response, not a response at the site of infection.”

The initiative will partner with the Danish research institute Statens Serum Institut, and draw on the University of Copenhagen.

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