Denmark’s Novo Nordisk is ending all its research programmes in small molecules for the oral treatment of diabetes and will now focus on its protein-based pharmaceuticals.

The firm also announced that its existing small-molecule projects, including NN9101, a glucokinase activator project currently in Phase I studies, are expected to be out-licensed, adding that the move will have a direct impact on 180 employees, half of whom will be offered other positions within the company.

Explaining the move, Novo says that since 2002, it has increased its focus on drugs based on therapeutic proteins, “and its pipeline of protein-based pharmaceuticals within diabetes, haemostasis, growth disorders and other diseases is larger than ever.” Chief science officer Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen said that “our core competences lie within therapeutic proteins, and it is within this area that we can make the greatest difference in terms of patient outcomes and company growth. Therefore, it is a logical move to focus all our R&D efforts on this area."

Novo said the decision, does not change its preliminary guidance for 2007 announced in October and it still expects sales to grow by 13%-15% year-on-year, while operating profit should increase 13%. The company added that it expects to increase spending on R&D in 2007 as a proportion of sales compared to the level in 2006.

Signs deal with Crucell

Meantime, Novo also announced that it has signed a non-exclusive license agreement with Dutch biotechnology company Crucell to use the latter’s STAR technology for the production of monoclonal antibodies. Financial details were not disclosed.