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1920

The founders

Six people made vital contributions to the founding of insulin manufacturing in Denmark. Common interests and considerable coincidence brought them together. Although all six directly worked together for just over 6 months, the collaboration profoundly influenced the rest of their lives.

August Krogh receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Physiologist August Krogh receives the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the regulating mechanism of capillaries. He is subsequently invited to give a lecture tour in the United States but delays the journey for nearly two years because of his son’s illness and because his wife Marie is diagnosed with diabetes.

1921

Canadian researchers produce effective insulin

Frederick Banting (pictured), a young surgeon and researcher, assisted by Charles Best, a medical student, successfully extracts effective insulin from a canine pancreas at the University of Toronto in Canada. John Macleod, the head of the Department of Physiology, assigns biochemist James Collip to work on the project. Collip’s method leads to the first person with diabetes being treated with bovine insulin in January 1922. As a result of this breakthrough, insulin begins to be manufactured in several places globally.

1922

August Krogh secures permission to manufacture insulin in Denmark

August and Marie Krogh travel to the United States from September to December, and he gives lectures. During the visit, Marie Krogh persuades August to visit the Canadian researchers Frederick Banting, Charles Best and John Macleod, who successfully produced insulin the year before. August Krogh stays at Macleod’s home on 23–25 November 1922 as a guest of the University of Toronto and meets the Insulin Committee, which holds the patent on insulin manufacture. The meeting goes well, and August Krogh receives permission to manufacture insulin in Scandinavia based on the method developed and patented in Canada on one condition: insulin must be made widely available and any profits from the sale of insulin must be used for scientific and humanitarian purposes.

Agreement on manufacture and sale of insulin

August and Marie Krogh return to Denmark on 12 December from their United States trip. Shortly thereafter, August Krogh and diabetes specialist Hans Christian Hagedorn, who is also Marie Krogh’s physician in Copenhagen and with whom she corresponded about the visit to Toronto, agree to develop, manufacture and sell insulin with August Kongsted, the owner of Løvens kemiske Fabrik and Løve Apotek.

1923

Formation of the first foundation

August Krogh, Hans Christian Hagedorn (pictured) and August Kongsted agree to form the nonprofit Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium and Nordisk Insulin Foundation – the forerunners for Novo Nordisk A/S and the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The founders thereby place the company and its mission in a foundation structure. August Krogh, Hagedorn and Kongsted manage both the company and the foundation. August Krogh becomes the first Chair of Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium in 1925.

Insulin manufactured in Denmark for the first time

Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium manufactures the first insulin in Denmark in the basement of Hans Christian Hagedorn’s villa (Rødsten) north of Copenhagen. The insulin, called Insulin Leo, is in tablet form and has to be dissolved immediately before use.

Credit of illustration: Architect P.V. Jensen-Klint, Det Kgl. Bibliotek

First person in Denmark treated with insulin

The first person in Denmark is treated with insulin in March at Kommunehospital in Copenhagen. A 40-year-old man who had diabetes for 6 years is admitted in a diabetic coma. The insulin works successfully, and his blood glucose falls, but unfortunately he dies from other complications. In April, seven more people are treated. All thrive and live for many years thereafter.

Frederick Banting and John Macleod from Canada receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Based on the discovery of insulin, August Krogh nominates Frederick Banting and John Macleod (pictured) for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which they receive; Banting shares his with Charles Best, and Macleod shares his with James Collip.

1924

Dispute leads to division

Hans Christian Hagedorn has a serious disagreement in the spring with one of his most trusted employees, chemist Thorvald Pedersen, and fires him. Thorvald’s brother Harald, one of August Krogh‘s valued employees, decides to quit his job out of loyalty to his brother. “What are you going to do?” asks August Krogh. “We want to make insulin,” replies Harald Pedersen. Shortly thereafter, the bothers (pictured) agree to start a company together and develop their own insulin preparation. This is the start of another important branch of the Novo Nordisk Foundation‘s family tree.

1925

The Pedersen brothers found Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium

Thorvald and Harald Pedersen found Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium in February and start selling Insulin Novo. This starts decades of rivalry between Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium and Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium: two companies, two cultures, but both with the same overall goal of developing and producing world-class diabetes medicine. Unlike August Krogh and his colleagues, the Pedersen brothers do not initially create a foundation.

1926

Novo chooses the Apis bull logo

Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium chooses the ancient Egyptian Apis bull as its logo. When the company, which later becomes Novo Industri A/S, merges with Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium in 1989, the Apis bull remains the logo of the new company, Novo Nordisk A/S.

Nordisk Insulin Foundation adopts Articles of Association

On 11 December, August Krogh and Hans Christian Hagedorn approve the Articles of Association of the Nordisk Insulin Foundation. The Articles state that “the Foundation is established with the aim of managing the funds earned by the activities of Nordisk Insulin Laboratorium”. The Foundation is obligated to support research within physiology and endocrinology. The founding meeting is held in 1925 and appoints a Board consisting of Nordic researchers as members with August Krogh as Chair. The Board‘s task is to select grant recipients.

1927

Nordisk Insulin Foundation awards its first grants

Nordisk Insulin awards its first grants. The Foundation awards DKK 17,415 to Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium to help the company sell its insulin as cheaply as possible. It also awards a grant of DKK 10,000 to August Krogh’s laboratory. The Foundation awards grants annually beginning in 1928.

Nordisk establishes its first research building in Gentofte

Insulin manufacture is soon successful and can no longer be accommodated in the basement of Hans Christian Hagedorn’s villa. Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium initially rents industrial premises in Emdrup, near the centre of Copenhagen, and then builds its first production and research facility in Gentofte, a suburb of Copenhagen.