Case study by the University of Oxford

The University of Oxford partners with Novo Nordisk to pioneer innovative research into type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes affects around 3.5 million people in Britain, with type 2 diabetes accounting for between 85 and 95 per cent of all cases. The condition, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body’s cells do not react to insulin, can cause serious long-term health problems, including vision impairment, blindness and kidney failure. Worse, diabetes – fuelled by the global obesity epidemic – is the world’s fastest-growing chronic disease.

To help combat this, in January 2017 the University of Oxford entered into a landmark research partnership with Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company with 95 years’ experience of innovation in diabetes care. A key part of the new strategic alliance is the establishment of a dedicated research centre within the University of Oxford, known as the Novo Nordisk Research Centre Oxford (NNRCO). The centre focuses on innovation within early stage research that has the potential to substantially impact future treatment of type 2 diabetes and its complications.

“Our vision is that the unique combination of industrial and academic know-how will eventually lead to a new generation of treatments to improve the lives of people with type 2 diabetes.” Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Chief Science Officer and Executive Vice President of Novo Nordisk

The total investment from Novo Nordisk is expected to be around GBP115 million over a period of 10 years. Up to 100 Novo Nordisk scientists and researchers will be employed by the NNRCO, in an alliance that has bold aims: to incorporate the best practices of pharma with cutting edge research being undertaken at Oxford University. A multi-disciplinary team of scientists will work in a brandnew facility to combine industry expertise with Oxford’s existing strength in diabetes and metabolism research to explore new therapeutic targets for type 2 diabetes. It is hoped that new discoveries will be made that will one day make a difference to the lives of patients with diabetes.

The NNRCO is well-placed to achieve its aims, in building on more than 20 years of fruitful crossfertilisation between Oxford and Novo Nordisk. In 1999, funding from Novo Nordisk contributed to the establishment of the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism and in 2013 the Novo Nordisk Fellowship Programme was launched – one of the company’s largest external fellowship programmes, which will fund a total of 32 postdoctoral and clinical research training fellows in Oxford.

There’s more. To kick-start initiatives between the university and Novo Nordisk researchers, funds will be available to support pump priming applications. These funds are for bespoke 12-month projects to fuel creation of collaborative ideas and projects. Better yet, applicants will find they don’t have to hang around for decisions: the partnership aims not only to discover new and exciting avenues of research, but also to initiate work on collaborative ideas as soon as they are approved.

Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford, sums up the sense of excitement and optimism around the partnership: “We see the collaboration with Novo Nordisk as an outstanding opportunity to mix competence embedded at our campus with Novo Nordisk’s ground-breaking research and results in diabetes.” Professor Bell added “this collaboration underlines the importance of shared research and cutting edge science across boundaries.”

Published: 13 September 2018

This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.