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BGI on board with ‘Novo Nordisk Way’
April 2012
by Lori Lesko  |  Email the author

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark—With diabetes striking 280 million people across the world —a statistic that is expanding—Novo Nordisk, a world leader in diabetes care, and Shenzhen, China-based BGI Europe, a genomics company, are collaborating to create a global framework to "accelerate their growth, execute their global partnering strategy and support disease research and development efforts."  
 
Under the terms of an agreement announced March 2, BGI will contribute its next-generation sequencing platforms and bioinformatics capabilities, and Novo Nordisk will contribute its drug development expertise.  
 
Novo Nordisk plans to leverage its portfolio of modern insulin and delivery devices while developing new antidiabetic agents and a new generation of insulin to better address future needs for effective diabetes care, according to company statements.  
 
Allan Ertmann Karlsen, Novo Nordisk's corporate vice president, tells ddn, "Our service framework agreement with BGI establishes the legal and operational boundaries when we are using BGI's services to generate data in our research projects. The main goal of our collaboration is to investigate the transcriptional changes that occur when normal tissue is being subjected to diabetic blood glucose challenges. Long-term, we hope that those findings will enable us to discover new biologics that can be used in our ongoing commitment to develop better treatments for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients."  
 
BGI "is the world's largest provider of advanced sequencing technology and bioinformatics," Karlsen says. "We firmly believe that BGI is the best partner for us to pursue our goal to understand the complexities of global transcriptional regulation in diabetes."
 
In February, BGI officially opened its European Genome Center in Denmark, where Novo Nordisk is headquartered. The global framework extends to Novo Nordisk's international production facilities in seven countries and affiliates in 75 countries, as well as to BGI's affiliates, BGI-Hong Kong, BGI-Europe and BGI-Americas, among others. BGI's "newly established state-of-the-art facilities in the heart of Copenhagen provides our scientists in diabetes biology with unparalleled access to direct discussion with BGI's scientists on both technical and scientific issues with regards to our collaborations," Karlsen says.
 
Ning Li, director of BGI Europe, stated in a news release that the agreement "will provide an excellent platform for us and our collaborators, and we are looking forward to establishing more collaborations with more partners across Europe and worldwide." Both companies declined to discuss the specifics of its collaborative enterprise or whether a new diabetes delivery system would be pursued.
 
BGI spokesperson Jia Liu tells ddn, "Details are not suitable for publication now." Novo Nordisk is owned by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, a nonprofit institution "whose formal purpose is to provide a stable basis for its company's operations and to make contributions to scientific, humanitarian and social progress," the company has stated. Novo Nordisk is an organization "built on heritage and places huge emphasis on the 'Novo Nordisk Way,' a value-based framework which defines the principles for how the company does business from vision to policies.
 
Novo Nordisk was the first international pharmaceutical company to open an R&D Center in China in 1997. Currently, the facility employs approximately 100, with plans to expand to 200 by 2015, mainly in the Diabetes Research Unit. Novo Nordisk has approximately 32,700 employees in 75 countries, and markets its products in more than 190 countries.  
 
With China being the third biggest market in Novo Nordisk's business and the second largest insulin market, the company is committing up to $100 million to expand its Beijing Research & Development center (NNST). The expansion will enable the newly established diabetes research branch, named Diabetes Research China, to perform drug discovery from idea generation to in-vivo pharmacology. In addition, the growth will make the R&D Center in Beijing the largest wholly owned foreign R&D operation in China. It will become Novo Nordisk's largest R&D facility outside of Denmark. 
 
With a strategy to diversify its portfolio, Novo Nordisk is also looking at ways to combat diabetes in its pre stages, namely via investigation into obesity, the company stated. The company is also conducting research in the therapy areas of inflammation and growth hormone therapy.  
 
Novo Nordisk has made strides in its sales growth since 2010. Although the Danish company's insulin sales growth have slowed, sales of Novo Nordisk's new injectable diabetes drug, Victoza, more than tripled to $440 million, in the first six months of 2011, compared with a year earlier.
 
Novo Nordisk is pinning some of its growth hopes on a new insulin drug called degludec, which it submitted to regulators including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year. The product is designed to control blood-sugar levels over a longer period of time than other insulins do, and if degludec is approved for sale, it will face tough competition from products made by Sanofi and Eli Lilly & Co.  
 
About 80 percent of Novo Nordisk's sales come from diabetes treatments, followed by growth hormone, hormone-replacement therapy and Novo 7, a product designed to help blood clots and to prevent fatal bleeding in certain hemophilia patients.
 
BGI was founded in 1999 with the mission of being a premier scientific partner to the global research community. BGI has generated more than 170 publications in top-tier journals such as Nature and Science. These accomplishments include sequencing 1 percent of the human genome for the International Human Genome Project, contributing 10 percent to the International Human HapMap Project, carrying out research to combat SARS and E. coli, playing a key role in the Sino-British Chicken Genome Project and completing the sequence of the rice genome, the silkworm genome, the first Asian diploid genome, the potato genome, and most recently, 1,000 genomes and the human gut metagenome.
 

 
BGI, Agilent collaborate on next-generation super array  
 
SANTA CLARA, Calif.—BGI and Agilent Technologies Inc. announced at the end of February a collaborative effort to develop methodologies designated for next-generation, genome-wide association studies. The methodologies will assist scientists pursuing disease and drug research.
 
The goal of the collaboration is to create a next-generation super-exome using Agilent's SureSelect technology. The super-exome incorporates sequence regions believed to be more informative for specific human populations.  
 
"BGI aims to develop research collaborations and provide support to scientists all over the world," says Hui Jiang, associate director of the Science and Technology department at BGI, the largest genome-sequencing center in Asia. "Together with Agilent's expertise, we can create more precise and accurate technology that can be deployed in large-scale research to better understand complex diseases, which may have differences between ethnicities."  
 
As part of the collaboration, BGI will use Agilent's comprehensive portfolio of solutions for genomics research and next-generation sequencing tools, including the SureSelect target-enrichment system and 2100 bioanalyzers. Additionally, Agilent will grant BGI early access to newly developed tools for the sequencing space.  
 
"Agilent has a comprehensive portfolio of market-leading solutions for genomics research," says Robert Schueren, vice president and general manager of Agilent's genomics business. "This partnership with BGI will not only add to this portfolio, but also further Agilent's mission to build products that enable life-science discoveries and develop solutions that improve the human condition."
 
Code: E041204

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