Novo Nordisk to buy Emisphere and diabetes pill tech for $1.8bn

Novo Nordisk has agreed to buy Emisphere Technologies for $1.8 billion, as it continues its quest to develop diabetes medicines that can be taken as pills.

Copenhagen-based Novo Nordisk already markets Rybelsus (semaglutide), a version of its GLP-1 class drug that can help to control blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 disease.

But the company has tried and failed to produce insulin that can be taken orally – this proved unfeasible due to the high doses of the hormone that were needed for absorption through the gut.

The two companies have been working together since 2007 and Emisphere’s technology is already used under a licence agreement in the formulation for Rybelsus.

Novo will buy all outstanding shares in Emisphere for $1.35 billion plus royalty obligations owed to MHR Fund Management, Emisphere’s largest shareholder, for $450 million.

Chief scientific officer Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen told Reuters in an interview: “I don’t think we will ever completely get rid of the needles.”

“We have been making injection drugs for a hundred years, but we just have to admit that if we want patients to get treatment quickly in order to optimise the long-term course of the illness, then it requires tablets if possible,” he said.

Novo said it plans to make “substantial investments” into the platform and has around a hundred scientists at its headquarters refining the tablet technology.

He added: “By further developing the technology, we hope in the future to produce the medicine cheaper than we do now, thus allowing us to penetrate more markets and give broader access to diabetes drugs.”

Novo launched Rybelsus in the UK in September after it won backing from the cost-effectiveness body NICE.

After EU approval in April Novo said it had priced Rybelsus at parity with rival GLP-1 drugs in the UK, and NICE will not perform a single technology appraisal as a result, allowing the company to begin negotiations in England and Wales to get the drug included on NHS formularies.


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