Lotte Knudsen, who pushed Novo Nordisk into the Ozempic era, wins the STAT Innovation Award

Back in the 1990s, scientist Lotte Bjerre Knudsen was tasked with reviving a struggling program at Novo Nordisk that attempted to exploit the newly discovered hormone GLP-1 into possible diabetes drugs. exam.

By that time, many of Knudsen’s bosses had lost hope in the program. After all, Novo’s focus is on insulin and the naturally occurring hormone GLP-1 whose half-life is too short to be used as medicine.

But Knudsen continues to see potential in treating not only diabetes but also obesity with GLP-1-based drugs, she said Wednesday during the STAT Summit in Boston. I’ve always been one to say don’t forget about GLP-1 and the challenging decisions at the company.

Ultimately, she found a way to create a long-acting analog of GLP-1, which became liraglutide, the ingredient in the diabetes drug Victoza and later the obesity drug Saxenda. That paved the way for Novo to develop an even more potent GLP-1 analog called semaglutide, a component of current blockbuster treatments Ozempic and Wegovy.

Through Knudsen’s hard work and persistence, Novo’s newest drugs are revolutionizing the way doctors treat obesity and giving rise to an entire industry of drugmakers pursuing weight-loss drugs, a market that some analysts predict could grow to $100 billion by the end of the decade.

It also helped Novo become a better known name. Knudsen said that when she visited America from Denmark in the 90s, no one knew what Novo Nordisk was. They all just said, Oh, you’re from Novartis, right?

For his contributions to this new generation of treatments, Knudsen has been named the recipient of STAT’s 2023 Biomedical Innovation Award.

STAT recently sat down with her for an exclusive interview to discuss her upbringing in rural Scandinavia, her start in the science of detergent making, and her decades of research. save her GLP-1 medication.

As researchers continue to probe the effects of GLP-1 drugs, treatments may offer more benefits beyond blood sugar reduction and weight loss. They have recently been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular complications and may also have potential in helping curb addiction and even treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Knudsen said her interest in Alzheimer’s disease began when she was studying the effects of the drug GLP-1 on the heart. She found that the treatments helped lower blood pressure and address other cardiovascular risk factors by regulating inflammation, leading her to hypothesize that these drugs might also help reduce inflammation in brain and address Alzheimer’s disease. Novo Nordisk is currently studying the use of semaglutide in Alzheimer’s patients in a Phase 3 trial.

In the future, she sees potential in using proteomics and metabolomics, large-scale studies of proteins and metabolites, to find out whether GLP-1 drugs could be useful in many more diseases. or not.

Although Knudsen faced a lot of opposition to the GLP-1 program from the beginning, she says she is glad she spent her career at a major pharmaceutical company, where she had can work with large groups to get drugs into the clinic and then into the hands of consumers. market. I hear young people say, I’m not really sure I want to pursue this career, because I probably won’t have any choices, I’ll be told what to do. And I would just argue, look at me, right? she speaks.

“I have had a very interesting career where I have always let myself be guided by science,” she added. Whether it’s laundry detergent or important medicine later, I always let myself be guided by science.

STAT’s coverage of chronic health problems is supported by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Our financial supporters are not involved in any decisions about our journalism.

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