Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk has posted a massive 138% increase in net income for the fourth quarter to 2.33 billion kroner (around $410 million), boosted by strong sales growth for its modern insulin products.

Group turnover was up 15% to 12.58 billion kroner, driven by Novo's diabetes division, where turnover also rose 15% to 9.20 billion kroner. The firm's stable of modern insulin products, including Levemir (insulin detemir), contributed 5.03 billion kroner, an increase of 29%, while sales of oral antidiabetic products, notably NovoNorm/Prandin (repaglinide), were up 18% to 602 million kroner.

Among the major products in Novo's biopharmaceuticals business, sales of which climbed 14% to 3.38 billion kroner, NovoSeven (recombinant Factor VIIa) was up 17% to 1.77 billion kroner, while the growth hormone Norditropin increased 15% to 1.06 billion kroner.

Novo chief executive Lars Rebien Sorensen said the firm is “satisfied with the solid business results achieved in 2008 driven by the continued penetration of our modern insulins in all key markets”. He added that despite the economic downturn “we still expect double-digit growth in both sales and operating profit for 2009”.

Analysts were quite impressed and Deutsche Bank’s Brian Bourdot issued a research note saying that Novo’s position “within the defensive yet dynamic insulin space is reflected in a good set of fourth-quarter numbers and increased long-term financial targets”.

Observers are now waiting to see what happens at a US Food and Drug Administration advisory committee meeting in April with 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 which shows that liraglutide provides statistically significantly better blood glucose control than Eli Lilly/Amylin’s GLP-1 blockbuster Byetta (exenatide).