The IDEA Summit conference programme will dedicate a session to exploring the needs of pharma to advance diabetes research. Tomas Landh, Vice President of Innovation Sourcing at Novo Nordisk answers the question “What is at stake for diabetes innovation and collaborations from a pharma perspective?”

(…) we need to think outside the box (…) to make these new collaborations more innovative

Diabetes is a complex disease with diverse biology. Although primarily focused on the control of blood glucose, the disease is multifaceted affecting many organs such as the pancreas, liver, skeletal muscle, adipose tissue, and vascular tissue.

One could say that the complexity of diabetes makes it difficult for one single company to handle all the challenges of the condition and therefore collaborations are indispensable.

Initially, it was necessary to focus on blood glucose control. Now, excellent treatment options are available for patients. Certain blood glucose lowering treatments are terrific and are backed by very solid data. Clinical outcome studies, focusing on the cardiovascular aspects of long term treatment for diabetic patients at risk of vascular diseases have really set new standards in treatments. Now, we need to concentrate on even more radical innovation, and effectively address other aspects of diabetes, including comorbidities and late stage complications. This will call for collaborations.

Industry innovation will result from external progress in better understanding the disease and its complications. We are looking for innovations which will enable us to control both blood glucose levels and address the many other aspects of diabetes, including innovations in microvascular or macrovascular tissues, improving liver, kidney and eye status. However, we still need drugs to improve insulin sensitivity and treatment of diabetic neuropathy.

From a patient’s perspective, there is still a major unmet need. 50% of patients diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes have access to appropriate treatments, but only half of those who receive access to treatment reach the recommended objectives for blood glucose control. Therefore, in addition to the studies of various related organs, there is a real need for innovation to improve the outcome for patients. To achieve this, numerous additional collaborations in novel pharmacological interventions are possible, but we need to think outside the box about how to make them more innovative. Recent examples include the collaborations with Google Alphabet and IBM Watson.

The session at IDEA Summit is therefore important to convey this message to academic and biotech partners. We cannot continue to act alone, we need to address the complexity of diabetes, especially Type 2 with a holistic and patient centric view.

Obviously, this does not mean that we require numerous partners, two or three actors may be sufficient. The main point is that partnering is key. Whether conveyed by AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, Sanofi, J&J or Lilly, we all share the same message today.  We need to establish collaborations and set the right expectations for our partners. With 250 million diabetic patients worldwide, the financial and social burden is enormous. With excellent treatments available to control blood glucose, we cannot expect society to pay for additional innovation in the same area.

In conclusion, the needs of the whole ecosystem, including patients and society as a whole, from basic science to drug development, must find a voice. Only then will the need for innovation that addresses more than one aspect of the disease be understood. This is in line with the pattern recently observed in clinical trials, which raises the bar for innovation in diabetes.

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