Novo Nordisk will keep investing heavily in Bangladesh in order to raise awareness about diabetes and make high quality products available for the fast-growing disease, said a top executive of the Danish drug-maker.
Frederik Kier, senior vice president of the worlds' largest insulin producer, said, “In Bangladesh, we are in a situation where we have a big task at hand to make sure a bigger number of patients are getting a good control over their disease.”
“That's our primary objective. That's why we have been investing heavily in this country for more than 50 years, both in the partnerships and also in our organisation.”
The company will continue investing in such a way, he said. “There is still a lot to be done,” he told The Daily Star in an interview in Dhaka.
The Danish national was in the capital in December last year to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh (DAB).
The MoU aims at developing a nationwide electronic diabetes patients' registry in Bangladesh this month.
The data will be recorded through DAB's institutions and affiliated organisations with support from the insulin maker.
Kier said the registry will give a full overview of medical records of the patients who are being treated in hospitals.
It will generate data on the number of patients, blood glucose level before and after meal, three-month average of glucose in blood, renal and cardiac history of patients living with diabetes and the medicines they are taking.
As a result, the registry will help treat the patients in a better way throughout their lifetime.
“I think it is a significant improvement because you will have the history of an individual patient and will know what he or she has undergone and hence a much more dedicated and individualised treatment can be decided.”
Kier also visited and talked to local doctors to know how they are treating diabetes, what challenges they are facing and how Novo Nordisk can help them to overcome the challenges.
The registry is already a part of the healthcare system in many countries. So, Novo Nordisk together with Birdem has decided to introduce the system, he said.
Novo Nordisk does not normally initiate this type of programme because the public usually does the task, he said.
“But given the sheer size of diabetes problem in Bangladesh and strong collaboration with the diabetic association spanning five decades, this could be a starting point to further our collaboration.”
“I am sure it will be a lesson for other countries.”
According to the International Diabetes Federation, 69 lakh people are living with diabetes in Bangladesh and the figure will double to 1.37 crore by 2045.
Novo Nordisk believes that the number is underestimated. It would probably be around 8 to 9 million and will be double in the next 25 years, Kier said.
“We are seeing the same challenges in Bangladesh what we have seen at the global level. We have to do something about it.”
He said the disease probably cannot be reversed. The company wants to make sure that many more of these 8 to 9 million people are diagnosed properly.
Many people do not even know that they have diabetes, he said. “We can make them aware and help them get proper treatment.”
Kier said education, awareness, understanding of the disease and a change in lifestyle are mandatory to improve the diabetes scenario.
The prime focus of Novo Nordisk has centred around education, awareness and training of doctors during its 50 years of collaboration with the DAB, he said.
“We have seen that people go to doctors way too late. By that time, they have already developed complications and made it even worse for individuals and the society.”
“In the worst case scenario, you can lose your capabilities to work which has high societal and economic impact,” he said.
Novo Nordisk in partnership with Eskayef Pharmaceuticals Ltd, a leading pharmaceutical company owned by Transcom Group, has been manufacturing insulin in Bangladesh since 2012.
Transcom Distribution Company distributes the insulin products across the country.
Kier lauded the signing of the partnership between the two healthcare companies.
“It is proven to be a partnership in which we both play a fundamental role where the end-product is very high quality, locally manufactured insulin. I would regard that very strongly.”
“Similarly, we have also signed a long-term distribution partnership with Transcom Distribution Company Ltd,” he said.
Novo Nordisk has the intention to continue this “very strong” partnership.
“We are very happy with the way Transcom is supplying lifesaving insulin all over the country very fast. In fact, it can supply the insulin within two hours anywhere in the country. It is a very strong value proposition.”
The 43-year-old has been working in the company for more than 17 years.
He worked for the company in Denmark, India, and Russia and is now based in Dubai. He is now the regional chief of Africa, Asia, Middle East and Oceania, covering more than 110 countries.
He also talked about the company's new diabetes drug Ozempic, which he thinks will give the biggest boost to the company's growth prospect.
He said the once-weekly injection, known generically as semaglutide, has been approved in the US and the EU.
“Ozempic is our biggest drug. It has shown significant benefits on blood glucose level with a minimum appearance of hypoglycemia and loss of weight. I think it will be the best insulin product when it is launched.”
The anti-diabetic product will help the patients as well as Novo Nordisk. The company will soon start the process to get regulatory approval for the product in Bangladesh, he said.
Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with more than 90 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care. It markets its products to more than 165 countries and caters to half of the demand of insulin globally.
Novo Nordisk has 56 percent share in Bangladesh's insulin market. It employs more than 200 people in Bangladesh.