Novo Nordisk A/S (NOVOB), the world’s biggest insulin maker, plans to hire about 1,000 people in the next two years to expand treatment for diabetes in emerging markets such as Vietnam.
The Danish company wants to grow in Colombia, Egypt, Ukraine, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Vietnam in the years to come, Jesper Hoiland, who heads Novo’s international operations, said in an interview.
Novo is adding headcount “rapidly” in these countries, Hoiland said yesterday in Berlin, where he attended the European Association for the Study of Diabetes conference. “Vietnam is going to be a new mini-China.”
Hoiland’s division oversees business in 136 countries and currently employs 3,400 people, about 10 percent of Novo’s total workforce. It handles all regions except for Europe, North America, China and Japan.
Drugmakers have turned to Asia and Latin America for investments to reduce their reliance on slower-growing, mature markets such as Europe. Chris Viehbacher, the chief executive of Sanofi (SAN), said last month he saw opportunities for deals in countries such as Vietnam and Colombia. Paris-based Sanofi said yesterday it agreed to buy Colombia’s Genfar SA.
Longer life expectancy, rising income levels, lifestyle changes and urbanization are leading to a surge in obesity and diabetes in these regions, Hoiland said. Of the roughly 200 million people suffering from diabetes in the countries he supervises, only a quarter have access to care, he said.
In Vietnam, where Novo representatives travel on motorbikes, diabetes may afflict three times more people than previously estimated. A survey of adults in Ho Chi Minh City found 11 percent of men and 12 percent of women have undiagnosed type-2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, according to research published in the journal Diabetologia in July.
To expand its reach in countries such as Indonesia, where diabetics can’t access medicines because there aren’t enough specialists to write prescriptions, Novo trains doctors to train physicians locally, according to Hoiland.
“Trainers must be trained to train physicians and nurses, you need this cascade of multiplication to cover” countries such as China, the Philippines and Indonesia, Viktor Joergens, executive director of the EASD, said in an interview in Berlin. “It’s the only way to deal with diabetes.”
Novo, based in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, aims to train at least 10,000 doctors annually, said Hoiland, who joined the company 25 years ago. The Danish drugmaker also has set up mobile clinics inside minivans, trailers and trucks that travel to remote areas to screen people for diabetes and help them access treatment, he said.
Diabetes kills one person every seven seconds, according to estimates by the International Diabetes Federation. The illness, caused by a lack of insulin needed to convert blood sugar into energy, can lead to kidney damage, blindness, heart problems and death if left untreated.
Novo sells its modern and more expensive insulins in countries such as Turkey, Brazil and Argentina, and there’s demand for its new Victoza in India, Hoiland said. In poorer nations, the company sells larger quantities of human insulin, which is cheaper, he says.
Sales at Novo’s international operations division climbed 19 percent in the first six months of the year, accounting for 15 percent of total revenue, Hoiland said. Novo expects “double-digit” growth at the division to continue, he said.
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