Monday, January 23, 2012

Immunologist Matthias von Herrath to Work for Novo Nordisk

For those of you who missed the news, it was announced today that immunology researcher Matthias von Herrath will be sharing his duties with La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology (the announcement actually says he'll stick around La Jolla part-time, probably to continue with his existing teaching obligations) to take a position leading Danish insulin giant Novo Nordisk's type 1 diabetes research and development center in Seattle which will focus on autoimmunity treatments (see the press release at  For those of you in the Seattle area, the type 1 diabetes research and development center will be will actually be housed in South Lake Union neighborhood alongside Novo's team of autoimmune/inflammatory disease researchers.  The Novo Nordisk Type 1 Diabetes R&D Center is expected to open this summer (2012), and will be staffed by approximately 20 researchers.

As I reported in August 2008, Novo Nordisk actually opened a research facility in Seattle back in 2008 (see my blog posts at AND for details), but in my assessment, not much progress has been reported since that happened, with nothing even mentioned in the company's investor presentations or SEC filings.

Readers may recall that not one but TWO autoimmunity treatments designed for type 1 diabetes both failed to meet their efficacy endpoints in 2011: specifically, teplizumab which was being developed by a Maryland-based biotechnology company known as Macrogenics and big pharma partner Eli Lilly and Company, as well as otelixizumab which was being developed by Massachusetts-based biotech company Tolerx and big pharma partner GlaxoSmithKline. It should be noted that there is still additional research being done into these products to determine if these drugs might work on certain groups of patients, but it seems clear that neither is likely to become a product administered to all newly-diagnosed patients to arrest the autoimmune response that causes type 1 diabetes.

Perhaps Teva's [Andromeda's] recent progress in the field is prompting them putting some genuine resources into it now? (see for more, also catch the post at in which I was asked for input at

Aharon Schwartz, vice president of innovative ventures at Teva told Bloomberg BusinessWeek in an interview on the company's Diapep 277 in late 2011 (see my 2010 coverage on that treatment HERE):

"When we started we thought, even if the results are positive, we would have competition. Now we are the only game in town."

My guess is that statement didn't sit well with Novo Nordisk's top brass in Denmark.  I can only hope that Novo Nordisk, especially after it's poorly chosen Paula Deen endorsement for Victoza (check out the Forbes story HERE) disaster (which rightfully deserves some of the criticisms it has received from others within the pharmaceutical industry) will make good on the type 1/autoimmunity research.

Novo Nordisk reportedly sought Dr. von Herrath to lead the Center due to his stellar record in type 1 diabetes research.

"Dr. von Herrath is generally regarded as one of the top researchers in the world in type 1 diabetes," said Dr. Jacob Sten Petersen, Novo Nordisk corporate vice president. "He has made several key advances and is the kind of dedicated, talented researcher that can fuel true innovation in type 1 diabetes treatment." Dr. von Herrath is the recipient of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's (JDRF's) prestigious Scholar Award in 2008 for Live Imaging of Islet Destruction (the announcement for that can be viewed HERE, and the stunning videos can be accessed HERE, be sure to look towards the end for "supplemental data" for the actual videos) and he also received the Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award from the American Diabetes Association.

The company (Novo Nordisk) has done very little with the Seattle autoimmunity and inflammation research facility it opened since it was announced back in 2008 (see HERE), so the recent news that the company had hired a world-class immunologist could be a positive sign.  However, I would dare say that it will likely be a few years before this move is likely to yield much of anything, but it's nevertheless positive.


Pearlsa said...

As soon as I saw the news I thought about the Paula Deen thing I remembered reading it on your blog a I thought a year ago.

Man time fly.

Lindsay said...

Well, he's giving a seminar tomorrow at my research institute in Seattle. I'll let you know what I find out! :)