Did you know that in India more human legs are lost each year to diabetes—around 40,000—than are lost to landmines across the entire world? Neither did I. This is just one of the pearls of wisdom that Novo Nordisk president and CEO, Lars Rebien Sørensen uses to illustrate the magnitude of the diabetes epidemic; he says it’s “the biggest public health problem we’ve ever faced in the world.”
It’s encouraging, heartening—impressive, even—that Sørensen refers to diabetes as a problem and not a goldmine. For Novo Nordisk produces more than half (51%) of the world’s insulin and, given the frightening pace and prevalence of the diabetes epidemic, it’s not surprising that global sales are continuing to boom: up 17% in the first nine months of 2010, with operating profits up 24% during the same period. Sales of insulin analogs have more than tripled in the past five years.
But that’s not the only reason we named Novo Nordisk our Company of the Year for 2011. With great power comes great responsibility and the fact that Novo Nordisk—which is owned by a nonprofit foundation —goes about its business “the right way” is a testament to the corporate culture of responsibility and innovation that Sørensen has instilled during his 10-year tenure.
When he first took the reigns, he vowed to find a cure for diabetes, and his company is heavily involved in stem cell research in an effort to do just that. And if you need more evidence of Novo Nordisk’s achievements (read: justification for its Company of the Year mantle), then I have more:

  • The recently launched GP-1 drug Victoza, which competes with Byetta, had already chalked up $240 million in sales by the end of October and is expect to reach blockbuster status by 2012;
  • While almost every other company has shrunk its sales and marketing personnel, Novo Nordisk has been busy bulking up —its sales force alone has exploded in the past decade from just 165 reps to around a couple thousand;
  • The company re-started trials for an obesity indication for Victoza and is pursuing Victoza-plus-insulin indications; and
  • Perhaps most impressive of all is Novo Nordisk’s marketing stance, particularly the fact that it is able to maintain such an envious market share despite spending far less than rivals Sanofi-Aventis and Lilly. “What we’d like to convey is credibility and trust in our products,” says Sørensen. “[Customers] use our products for life and their lives depend on them. So, it’s not savvy marketing or gimmicks but very serious messages we’re trying to convey.”

That’s not to say the company isn’t creative and innovate. “We also realize that to get that across you have to cut through a lot of noise, so it has to be combined with some stopping power and novelty.” adds Sørensen.
In fact, a TIME article last month described Novo Nordisk’s groundbreaking Twitter campaign with Charlie Kimball as “one of the most provocative examples of how pharmaceutical companies are cleverly navigating the emerging, largely unregulated social-media space.”
I hope you agree that Novo Nordisk is certainly a highly deserving recipient of MM&M’s Company of the Year 2011. I would like also to congratulate our other All Stars—New England Journal of Medicine, Draftfcb Healthcare, and the brand teams for AstraZeneca’s Seroquel and Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin—and wish every reader a happy and prosperous New Year.