The founding of Novo Nordisk

The history of Novo Nordisk spans over 70 years. The story begins in 1922 when a Danish couple, August and Marie Krogh, travelled to America. August Krogh was a professor at the University of Copenhagen, who had received the Nobel Prize in physiology. His wife, Marie Krogh, was a doctor and researcher in metabolic diseases and, perhaps most importantly, Marie suffered from late-onset (Type 2) diabetes.

While in America the Kroghs heard of two Canadian researchers, Frederick Banting and Charles Best, who were treating people with diabetes with an insulin extract from bovine pancreases. The Kroghs were very interested in this treatment because of Marie’s diabetes, and ultimately were granted permission to produce insulin in Denmark.

On their return to Denmark, August Krogh founded Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium (Nordisk) with Hans Christian Hagedorn, a specialist in the regulation of blood sugar, with the financial support of August Kongsted. On 21 December 1922 Nordisk successfully extracted a small quantity of insulin from bovine pancreas; the first patients were treated in March 1923.

In 1923 the engineer Harald Pedersen joined Nordisk to build the machines used for insulin production. His brother, Thorvald Pedersen, was later recruited to analyse the chemical processes during insulin production. However Thorvald Pedersen did not get on with Hagedorn, and in 1924 Hagedorn fired him. Out of loyalty to his brother Harald resigned and the two brothers set up on their own. By 1924 they too were successfully producing insulin and in 1925 the brothers sent a letter to Danish pharmacists informing them that Insulin Novo and the newly developed Novo syringe were now on sale. The brothers named their company Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium (Novo). There were now two firms in Denmark that were to develop into the world’s leading manufacturers of insulin.

Over the next 65 years both companies rapidly expanded. Both established large research units and competed furiously to be the first on the market with new products for the treatment of diabetes. Nordisk and Novo also both began to diversify by developing other products. Novo became the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes, and Nordisk developed drugs for the treatment of haemophilia and growth disorders.

In January 1989 Novo and Nordisk decided to join forces. Having competed with each other for over 60 years, the two companies could now concentrate their combined forces on developing new products within diabetes treatment and conquering world markets. The new company was called Novo Nordisk A/S.

In early 1999 it was decided that Novo Nordisk would de-merge into two main businesses: Healthcare and Enzymes. The de-merger enables the two businesses to increase their operational freedom and focus on what they do best. On 14 November 2000 Novo Nordisk and Novozymes began operating as two separate listed companies. And so the story continues…