The figure in that Novo Nordisk logo, the sacred Apis bull of ancient Egypt, might be especially fitting. Not only has the company enjoyed a bullish success in recent years, but it also began amid some degree of bullish stubbornness some 90 years ago in Denmark.
In 1922 a Danish couple, August Krogh and his wife, Marie, traveled to America and heard of two Canadian researchers who were treating people with diabetes using an insulin extract from bovine pancreases. Marie, who suffered from type 2 diabetes, was a doctor and researcher in metabolic diseases. August was a University of Copenhagen professor with a Nobel Prize in physiology. The Kroghs were granted permission to produce insulin in Denmark.
Back in Denmark, August Krogh founded Nordisk Insulin laboratorium with Hans Christian Hagedorn, a specialist in the regulation of blood sugar. The first patients were treated in 1923.
Then came a some old fashioned head-butting. In 1924 Hagedorn fired one of his most trusted employees, Thorvald Pedersen, a pharmacist and chemist. His brother, Harald Petersen, a valued employee working for August Krogh, resigned out of loyalty to Thorvald.
The brothers promptly established their own insulin company: Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium, producing insulin and a special syringe for injecting it.
“Competing intensely with one another, the companies developed into two of the best in their field. When at last they decided to merge in 1989, they created Novo Nordisk,” says the merged company’s website. “We will in the future continue to build on the legacy left by the founders of Novo Nordisk and do whatever it takes to change diabetes. Our history tells us it can be done.”