Citing significant progress on a cure for diabetes, Novo Nordisk beefs up its stem cell pipeline with new collaborations

A growing group of biotech startups looking to advance a lineup of potential stem cell cures for Type 1 diabetes can look to a big and very effective rival moving forward in the field.

Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen

Novo Nordisk says it’s been making major progress on developing the embryonic stem cell lines it needs for a world-class manufacturing operation. And Novo adds that they’ve also been moving forward in developing a new encapsulation device to guard their stem cell therapy from a destructive immune response — all part of the Holy Grail for developing a cure for the disease.

Novo is still some years away from definitive human studies, but their preclinical progress will become a standard bearer for one of several serious efforts to find a cure for diabetes. Eli Lilly recently partnered with Sigilon on its pursuit of a stem cell cure. Then there’s Semma, out of the lab of Harvard’s Doug Melton, which raised $114 million for its approach to creating insulin producing beta cells. 

Stem cell therapies have been up — and they’ve been down. But this new activity among big and little companies in regenerative medicine underscores the growing belief that new technology related to manufacturing and delivery can overcome some big challenges that separated the early hype from the reality of developing a cure. As they move forward, you can bet that Sanofi and other giants will pay close attention.

Novo, one of the most focused R&D players in the world, says its progress on diabetes inspired the company to broaden its stem cell pipeline to include programs for Parkinson’s, working with the Swedish biotech company Biolamina and Lund University. And Biolamina is also collaborating with Duke (Singapore) and Novo on chronic heart failure and age-related macular degeneration. More are on the way.

“Our collaboration with UCSF is also expected to accelerate current and future partnerships to develop stem cell-based therapies for treatment of other serious chronic diseases,” said Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, executive vice president and chief science officer of Novo Nordisk.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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