Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk felt the effects of increasing competition to its insulin therapy franchise in the first nine months of 2006, but still managed a 14% increase in operating profit to $1.17 billion.

Sales rose 16% in the same period to 28.3 billion kroner ($4.8bn), driven once again by Novo’s stable of insulin analog products which advanced 52% to 7.7 billion kroner.

Lars Rebien Sorensen, president and chief executive of the drugmaker, said the performance provides a “good basis for continuing to deliver attractive growth rates in 2007 and beyond."

Among the major products in Novo’s biopharmaceuticals business, sales of NovoSeven (recombinant Factor VIIa) were up 13% to 4.2 billion kroner, while growth hormone product sales including Norditropin went up 21% to 2.4 billion kroner, helped by the success of the new patient-friendly NordiFlex delivery device.

Novo also updated its guidance for 2006, saying it now expects sales to grow 13%-15%, despite continuing competition in the insulin sector, with operating profit expected to grow around 13%.

Turning to its R&D pipeline, Novo said that it aims to start a Phase II dose-ranging study of oral diabetes treatment liraglutide in the first quarter of 2007, and has completed a Phase I trial of a new type of basal insulin - NN5401 – with a smooth action profile over 24 hours.

Novo is also following up on its recent additional approval of NovoSeven in acquired haemophilia in the USA with a Phase III trial, due to start in 2007, of the drug in the prophylactic treatment of haemophiliacs who have developed inhibitor antibodies. It also expects to file for approval of a heat-stable version of NovoSeven in the middle of next year.

Further back in the biopharmaceutical pipeline, Novo has completed a Phase I study of NN1731, an rFVIIa analogue, which appears to be safe with no thrombo-embolic adverse events and no immunogenic response at days 30 or 90. The drugmaker expects to start a Phase II programme for this compound in 2007.