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Novo Nordisk Foundation's DKK 180 Million Investment Fuels Open Innovation in Drug Discovery

Photo: Simon Fischel, AU Health

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has announced a generous investment of up to DKK 180 million to significantly expand the Open Discovery Innovation Network (ODIN) project, hosted at Aarhus University. This pioneering initiative has proven to be a resounding success, facilitating an open, patent-free collaboration between academia and the pharmaceutical industry. Over the next five years, this project aims to forge a groundbreaking knowledge base for future pharmaceuticals, with the results openly shared with the public.

ODIN's unique model of collaboration, which bypasses traditional patent restrictions, has already yielded impressive outcomes. According to Marie Louise Conradsen, head of ODIN at Aarhus University, the project's initial phase supported 11 projects that have spurred over 40 publications and several innovation projects aimed at commercial applications. The initiative's success even led to the founding of a new company. This open innovation model, far surpassing initial expectations, demonstrates the tremendous potential for collaborative research in advancing medical science and technology.

Central to ODIN's philosophy is the commitment to transparency and the free dissemination of research outcomes. This approach not only accelerates the pace of scientific discovery but also ensures that advancements in healthcare are accessible to all. "These are open, patent-free collaborations, although obviously they’re established within a clear legal framework," notes Anne-Mette Hvas, Dean of Health, emphasizing the foundational principle of openness in ODIN's operation.

One of the noteworthy projects within ODIN is the FRIGG research project, focusing on chronic kidney diseases. Professors Lene Niemann Nejsum and Rikke Nørregaard, from the Department of Clinical Medicine, highlight the exploratory nature of their work and the invaluable contributions received from the collaborative process. This experience underlines the benefits of ODIN's approach, allowing for dynamic, iterative research that evolves based on collective insights and expertise.

Looking ahead, ODIN's focus will extend to drug discovery and diagnostics in areas such as cardiovascular, cardiometabolic, and infectious diseases. Additionally, the initiative will explore technology platforms that offer cross-disease benefits. "ODIN provides a unique opportunity for researchers and companies to work together on complex problems that they wouldn’t be able to solve on their own," says Hvas, underscoring the power of collective intelligence in tackling some of the most challenging issues in healthcare.

To facilitate the matchmaking process between researchers and companies, ODIN will employ a combination of digital ideation and personalized assistance, helping stakeholders articulate their research needs and find suitable partners. The project's expansion includes partnerships with Denmark's major universities and engagement with a broad spectrum of pharmaceutical and biotech companies, promising an even wider reach and impact.

Marie Louise Conradsen expresses enthusiasm about the continued growth and success of ODIN, pointing out the unique benefits of this model in driving high-risk, high-reward research that is deeply connected to real-world needs. With the first round of applications set to open in May, accompanied by informational meetings and ideation events, ODIN is poised to enter a new phase of innovation and discovery, thanks to the substantial support from the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The substantial investment by the Novo Nordisk Foundation in ODIN heralds a new era of open collaboration in pharmaceutical research and development. By breaking down traditional barriers to innovation, ODIN is setting a precedent for how academia and industry can work together more effectively, fostering advancements that promise to transform healthcare and improve global well-being.

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