Novo Nordisk Adds Diabetes Research to Seattle Immunology Team

1/23/12Follow @xconomy

Novo Nordisk, the world’s largest maker of diabetes treatments, is increasing its bet on Seattle’s biomedical research community.

Denmark-based Novo said today it is establishing a new center with 20 scientists in Seattle who will conduct research into type 1 diabetes. This new group will be housed in South Lake Union alongside Novo’s team of autoimmune/inflammatory disease researchers. Matthias von Herrath, the director of the Type 1 diabetes research group at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, will lead the new Novo research center, which is expected to open this summer, the company said in a statement.

“My dream has always been to see some of the treatments that my and other research teams have tested in animal models translated into better treatments for type 1 diabetes,” von Herrath said in a company statement. “As head of the research center, I hope to pursue this dream, while also forging new public-private collaborations within this field.”

Novo Nordisk has a long history in Seattle, partly through its past ownership of ZymoGenetics, and more recently through its own autoimmune and inflammatory disease research team. Novo announced its intent in the summer of 2008 to build an 80-person research team dedicated to the study of diseases in which the immune system goes haywire and starts attacking healthy tissue. Type 1 diabetes is thought to be one of these disorders, in which the immune system attacks the pancreas, making it unable to produce enough insulin to control people’s blood sugar. Type 1 is a different condition than the more common form of diabetes, type 2, in which people—typically once they become overweight—gradually lose the ability to use insulin properly.

For more on Novo’s plans to tap into Seattle’s immunology talent pool, see this feature story from January 2009, and another post from its Seattle research center’s grand opening in September 2009.

Novo tends to keep a pretty low profile in the pharma industry, but it generated controversial headlines earlier this month when it was revealed that celebrity chef Paula Deen, famous for cooking high-fat foods, has developed diabetes and become a spokesperson for Novo. The relationship rankled critics, because poor diets have led to a rapid increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes. About 25 million people in the U.S. are thought to have type 2 diabetes, and the total cost to the U.S. health system is estimated at about $3.4 trillion in the 10 years through 2020, according to UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest health insurer.

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