The capital of one of the happiest countries in the world, Copenhagen has become a big hub for biotech in Europe. Here are some of the best biotech companies brewing in the Danish capital.

Following the example of Novo Nordisk, now the world’s largest producer of insulin, many biotech companies in Copenhagen strive to bring forth the next big breakthrough in biotech. Although in terms of investment, the country is not at the same level of France, the UK, or Sweden, Denmark does have great science to translate into companies and products.

In particular, companies in Copenhagen have a strong focus on medical applications in areas like cancer and diabetes, as well as a lot of activity in industrial biotech. Let’s have a look at what some of the biggest and most promising biotech companies in Copenhagen are doing.

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Since the acquisition of Actelion last year, Genmab is now the largest independent biotech company in Europe, with a market cap of €8B. Founded in 1999, the company focuses on making new therapies for cancer using next-generation antibodies.

Two of Genmab’s antibodies are already on the market. The first, Darzalex (daratumumab), has become a blockbuster drug for the treatment of multiple myeloma. The second, Arzerra (ofatumumab), is indicated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

“From the beginning, Genmab was always very focused on products rather than technology,” CEO, Jan van de Winkel told us in an interview last year. “We think that, in the end, it’s products that will create a really strong company.”

A part of the Novo group, Novozymes is one of the largest industrial biotech companies. The company began by producing enzymatic detergents using fermentation, and its earliest product was the first detergent to break down fats back in 1989. Today, the biotech provides a very wide range of applications beyond detergents, including agriculture, biofuels, food and drinks.

Novozymes seems committed to the goal of providing environmentally-friendly products and solutions. The company has set targets to become more sustainable according to the UN’s guidelines and last year, it launched an open innovation project to encourage entrepreneurs to find solutions to develop faster tests to detect water contaminated with bacteria in places where water treatment is not adequate, an issue that kills over 18,000 children every year.

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Symphogen has over a hundred employees focusing on the development of therapies for cancer based on a mixture of antibodies that can bind either different targets or different parts of the same target. Founded by John Haurum, one of the most successful biotech entrepreneurs in Europe, the company is one of the best-funded biotechs in Europe, with €317M raised since its foundation in 2000.

Symphogen’s lead candidate is a drug for metastatic colorectal cancer currently being tested in Phase III trials. In addition, the company is partnered with Shire to develop immunotherapies for cancer and with Genentech for a treatment against infections with Staphylococcus aureus.

Ascendis Pharma focuses on the development of improved treatments for rare diseases. The company has a technology that allows it to slow down the release of a drug once inside the body, which can significantly reduce the frequency of injections needed to treat a chronic condition.

Ascendis’ lead drug candidate is a slow-release version of the human growth hormone as a treatment for growth hormone deficiency. People with this rare disease require daily injections and many patients are known to skip doses during the week due to the high frequency currently required. Ascendis’ technology could reduce it into a once-weekly dose. The treatment is currently in Phase III trials and results are expected early in 2019.

Ascendis is applying the same technology to experimental treatments for hypoparathyroidism and achondroplasia, and it has a partnership with Sanofi to use its technology in insulin for diabetics.

Zealand Pharma specializes in treatments for diabetes. The company developed two drugs for type 2 diabetes that are now in the market, licensed to Sanofi.

The most advanced product in its pipeline is a ready-to-use injectable pen to rescue people suffering severe hypoglycemia — when blood sugar levels drop below the normal range. Hypoglycemia is common in patients with type 1 diabetes that can be triggered by injecting too much insulin and can be deadly if blood sugar drops too low. Zealand has shown that its treatment can increase sugar levels more and over a longer period of time than Novo Nordisk’s GlucaGen pen.

Last year, Zealand raised $75M in a Nasdaq IPO to fund its pipeline of diabetes treatments, as well as a therapy for short bowel syndrome that is about to enter Phase III.

Bavarian Nordic works in the vaccine space. The company markets a smallpox vaccine in the EU and Canada that is specifically indicated for people with HIV, dermatitis, and other conditions that put them at risk of contracting infections from the usual smallpox vaccines, which contain viruses that still retain some ability to replicate.

Bavarian Nordic is also working on a vaccine against the common cold virus for elderly patients; and on an Ebola vaccine in partnership with Janssen, currently in Phase III.

The company is also seeking to extend its vaccines to oncology, currently testing its cancer immunotherapy in combination with four different checkpoint inhibitors.

The name of Galecto Biotech stems from the molecules at the core of the company’s technology, called galectin modulators. The company’s lead candidate inhibits galectin-3, a molecule that drives multiple immune and inflammatory processes.

Galecto is running clinical trials with its galectin-3 inhibitor as a treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, under a partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb that could eventually result in the acquisition of the company. The company is planning to start additional clinical trials in fibrotic diseases such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), cancer, and ocular fibrosis.

IO Biotech is a player in the immuno-oncology field. The company uses peptides to modulate the activity of T cells to not only eliminate cancer cells, but also immunosupressive cells that release signals that weaken immune activity. The result is a stronger immune response against the tumor.

IO Biotech’s most advanced program consists of a peptide derived from IDO, an enzyme that is thought to play a similar role in cancer to that of immune checkpoints such as PD-1/PD-L1. The therapy is currently being tested in Phase I/II trials in patients with non-small cell lung cancer and melanoma.

In March, IO Biotech signed a partnership with Merck to test this treatment in combination with its checkpoint inhibitor Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

Orphazyme focuses on treating rare diseases, with a particular focus on protein misfolding diseases for which limited or no treatments are available. The company’s therapies revolve around a group of proteins known as heat shock proteins (HSPs), whose role is to restore the correct three-dimensional folding of proteins, essential for protein function.

Orphazyme’s lead drug, arimoclomol, stimulates the production of one of these HSPs within the cell, which can then restore the normal function of proteins in patients with protein misfolding diseases such as Niemann-Pick disease, Gaucher disease, and ALS.

The company expects to have completed three Phase III trials and received a first marketing authorization by 2020.

Y-mAbs was founded in 2014 by a father whose daughter survived neuroblastoma thanks to a cancer immunotherapy. Though headquartered in New York, the company operates in Denmark with a management team that transferred from senior positions at Genmab.

With technology from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Y-mAbs develops bispecific antibodies that simultaneously target two cancer antigens. Two of the company’s antibodies are in Phase III trials for treating neuroblastoma.


Do you know of any other companies in Copenhagen worth a mention? Let us know!

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