Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk has posted a 15% increase in operating profit for the first nine months of 2008 to 9.00 billion kroner (around $1.58 billion), boosted by strong sales growth for its modern insulins.

Group turnover was up 7% to 32.97 billion kroner, driven by Novo's diabetes division, where turnover also rose 7% to 24.16 billion kroner. The firm's stable of modern insulin products, including Levemir (insulin detemir), contributed 12.29 billion kroner, an increase of 22%, while sales of oral antidiabetic products, notably NovoNorm/Prandin (repaglinide), were up 9% to 1.79 billion kroner.

Among the major products in Novo's biopharmaceuticals business, sales of which climbed 5% to 8.81 billion kroner, NovoSeven (recombinant Factor VIIa) was up 6% to 4.62 billion kroner, while the growth hormone Norditropin went up 8% to 2.81 billion kroner.

Novo said that for full-year 2008, operating profit should grow between 32%-35%, up from a previous forecast of 22%-25%, while it is maintaining its previous sales growth guidance of 11%-13%. Investors were impressed and the firm’s shares ended the day up 2% at 300 kroner.

Now all eyes are on Novo’s eagerly-anticipated diabetes drug liraglutide, a glucagon-like peptide-1 analogue which was filed with regulators on both sides of the Atlantic in May. The company has presented data recently which has shown that liraglutide provides statistically significantly better blood glucose control than Eli Lilly/Amylin’s GLP-1 blockbuster Byetta (exenatide).

On a conference call, Novo chief executive Lars Rebien Sorensen said that the firm is also looking at possible acquisitions. Given the current economic conditions, he said that the fall in equity value of smaller biotech companies, and “larger companies for that matter”, may present some opportunities. The company is also considering in-licensing deals.