Novo Nordisk buys university spinout Ziylo — adding a potential remedy for hypoglycemia to its diabetes pipeline

The busy R&D group at Novo Nordisk is adding an early research program to its arsenal of diabetes therapies.

In a “staged acquisition” that could be worth up to $800 million — with an upfront that the companies aren’t disclosing — Novo has gained full rights to some glucose binding molecules developed by Ziylo, a Bristol, UK-based biotech whose team will now work directly with Novo researchers in both Oxford and Copenhagen.

Marcus Schindler

When diabetics control their condition with insulin, they need to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels and could sometimes experience hypoglycemia where the levels fall too low. Ziylo’s expertise in these synthetic molecules, combined with Novo’s longtime work in insulin, could give birth to a new class of glucose responsive insulin molecules that are only active when glucose levels are high, according to Marcus Schindler, Novo’s SVP of global drug discovery.

“The ambition we have is to build an insulin molecule that gives those people with diabetes a peace of mind, not having to worry about hypoglycemic events or monitoring,” he said in a video accompanying the announcement.

Harry Destrecroix

Professor Anthony Davis at the University of Bristol first designed the glucose binding molecules in the center of this deal. Harry Destrecroix, then a PhD student in his lab, co-founded Ziylo and has served as its CEO since.

Just before selling itself to Novo, Ziylo spun out a new company dubbed Carbometrics to develop the diagnostics and glucose monitoring applications of its tech. Carbometrics, which is now the new home for all Ziylo researchers, will help Novo optimize their glucose binding molecules as a collaborator.

These are chemists, Schindler told me, that Novo has observed and talked to for years. As the technology began to look ready for further development, his team initiated partnership talks but ultimately found acquisition to be a better model.

“At the end of the day, to cut a long story short, we actually felt it’s such a competitive area — other companies, biotechs, even not-for-profit organizations are working in this field — and we just wanted to make absolutely sure that we have control and own the leading chemistry that we believe is out there,” he said.

The new program joins a number of promising preclinical programs at Novo, from the in-house efforts to find a stem cell cure for diabetes to the ReS39 program it licensed from Belgium’s reMYND last year, which promises to restore the pancreas’ insulin production and increase insulin sensitivity.

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