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9 biotech companies leading the way in Denmark

Known for being one of the happiest countries in the world, Denmark has become a big hub for biotech in Europe. In this article, we take a look at 9 of the best biotech companies headquartered in Denmark.

In the last few years, Denmark’s life sciences sector has accelerated its output of high-quality research, as the country was ranked 16th overall for biological sciences-related output in 2022. The country is also among the fastest-growing nations in Europe for biotech investment, hitting $434 million in 2021.

Following the example of Danish pharma giant Novo Nordisk – which on its own has helped to raise Denmark’s gross domestic product (GDP) after the success of its weight loss drug, Wegovy – many biotech companies in Denmark are striving to bring forth the next big breakthrough in the biopharma industry. Here are 9 biotech companies in Denmark leading innovation in the sector. 

Table of contents

    Acesion Pharma 

    Based in Copenhagen in Denmark, Acesion is a cardiovascular biotech company that focuses on developing therapies for atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia. More specifically, it is working on the development of small molecule SK inhibitors. These inhibit SK channels, which are ion channels present in the heart that help regulate cardiac rhythm.

    The company currently has two candidates in its pipeline. Its lead therapy is called AP30663 and is an SK ion channel inhibitor for conversion of AF to normal sinus rhythm, delivered through an intravenous infusion. Last year, a phase 2 trial of AP30663 met its primary endpoint, which was the proportion of patients with AF conversion to sinus rhythm within 90 minutes of infusion start. 

    Acesion is developing its other candidate, AP31969, for the maintenance of sinus rhythm in patients with AF. In September last year, the company raised €45 million ($49 million) in series B funding, the proceeds of which will be used to advance the clinical development of AP31969 and progress it into a phase 1 trial and completion of a phase 2 trial. 

    Adcendo

    Adcendo is working on harnessing the uPARAP receptor to develop antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) for the treatment of cancers with a high unmet medical need. The uPARAP receptor was originally identified as a novel target and cloned by the scientific founders of Adcendo. It is a key player in the body’s management of the extracellular matrix, particularly in collagen remodeling. It is essential for tissue repair and maintenance but also happens to be overexpressed in several cancer types. 

    In April last year, the ADC company announced the completion of a series A extension financing, raising a further €31 million ($33 million) following a €51 million ($55 million) series A financing in April 2021. At the time, Adcendo said it intended to use the proceeds from this financing to initiate a broad clinical development program for uPARAP ADC in sarcoma, and it also said it was planning to advance the development of its second ADC pipeline asset with Development Candidate Nomination (DCN) planned in H1 2024.

    Then, the following month, in May 2023, the Denmark-based company also announced that it had expanded its current collaboration with Duality Biologics, a biotech company also focusing on the discovery and development of next-generation ADC therapeutics. This agreement is part of Adcendo’s strategy to further develop its ADC pipeline and the collaboration aims to utilize Duality’s capabilities to potentially enhance Adcendo’s existing ADC technologies.

    Ascendis Pharma 

    Ascendis Pharma is a biotech company based in Hellerup, Denmark, focused on the development of improved treatments that address unmet medical needs. The company has a platform technology called TransCon 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. 

    TransCon refers to “transient conjugation,” which is the ability to temporarily link an inert carrier to a parent drug with known biology. Depending on the carrier used, TransCon prodrugs can be designed to act systemically or locally, focused on meeting a specific therapeutic goal. TransCon is widely applicable to proteins, peptides, or small molecules in multiple therapeutic areas.

    Ascendis has a pipeline focused on oncology and rare diseases involving endocrinology. In 2021, it had its first product approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), named SKYTROFA, which is a treatment for pediatric 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. However, Ascendis’ treatment only has to be taken once a week, reducing the burden for patients. 

    Ascendis also recently announced that the European Commission had approved another one of its products, called YORVIPATH, for the treatment of adults with chronic hypoparathyroidism, a rare condition where the parathyroid glands, which are in the neck near the thyroid gland, produce too little parathyroid hormone.

    Bavarian Nordic 

    Bavarian Nordic works in the vaccine space, focusing on the development, manufacturing, and commercialization of life-saving vaccines. It is a global leader in smallpox vaccines and has been a long-term supplier to the U.S. government of a non-replicating smallpox vaccine, which has been approved by the FDA, and is also intended to protect against monkeypox. The vaccine is also approved as a smallpox and monkeypox vaccine in Canada and as a smallpox vaccine in Europe. Additionally, the company’s commercial product portfolio contains vaccines against rabies, tick-borne encephalitis, cholera, and typhoid.

    The company has built its foundation around poxviral-based vaccine platform technologies, and in particular, its proprietary technology, Modified Vaccinia Ankara – Bavarian Nordic (MVA-BN). MVA-BN is an adaptable platform suitable for addressing a wide variety of infectious diseases and cancers. It is a further attenuated version of the Modified Vaccinia Ankara (MVA) virus, which is a highly attenuated strain of the poxvirus Chorioallantois Vaccinia virus Ankara (CVA).

    Bavarian Nordic also has two primary products in its development pipeline at the minute. One is a Chikungunya virus virus-like particle (VLP)-based vaccine, which is in phase 3 clinical development for active immunization against Chikungunya disease. The other candidate is a multi-valent vaccine candidate developed under contracts with the U.S. government to address the unmet medical need for a vaccine against western, eastern, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses, which are rare, but potentially deadly viruses transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

    Genmab

    Founded in 1999 in Denmark, international biotech company Genmab has invented next-generation antibody technology platforms and leveraged translational, quantitative, and data sciences, resulting in a pipeline including bispecific T-cell engagers, next-generation immune checkpoint modulators, effector function enhanced antibodies, and antibody-drug conjugates. To help develop and deliver novel antibody therapies to patients, Genmab has formed more than 20 strategic partnerships with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, such as AbbVie, Janssen, Amgen, and BioNTech. 

    Genmab already has some of its products (developed in collaboration with other companies) on the market. These include Darzalex (daratumumab), which has become a blockbuster drug for the treatment of multiple myeloma, Arzerra (ofatumumab), which is indicated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv), for previously treated recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, and Epkinly (epcoritamab-bysp), for the treatment of adults with relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. In total, Genmab says there are eight approved therapies incorporating its antibody technology.

    The company also has more than 20 products currently in clinical development, as its vision is to transform the lives of people with cancer and other serious diseases by 2030 with knock-your-socks-off (KYSO) antibody medicines. 

    Hoba Therapeutics

    Hoba Therapeutics is developing restorative treatments for chronic pain disorders and hearing loss. Both indications have a clear unmet medical need for safe and efficacious treatments for millions of patients worldwide. 

    The company’s lead candidate is HB-086 for the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain. It is a non-opioid compound with a unique mechanism of action targeting the peripheral nervous system to reverse neuropathic pain and the underlying cause of the disease. Meanwhile, Hoba’s second drug candidate is called HB-097, which is a pharmacological treatment for sensorineural hearing loss. Preclinical data of HB-097 show both a preventive effect of hearing loss by protecting nerve cells and a regenerative effect by reversal of already induced damage.

    In December 2023, Hoba managed to raise €23 million ($25 million) in a series A financing first close. The company said it will use the proceeds from this round to advance HB-086 through late pre-clinical development to the completion of phase 1 clinical studies in patients with painful Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN). The indication has been selected as a gateway indication into chronic neuropathic pain disorders and is a painful, often debilitating condition caused by cancer treatment with certain chemotherapy drugs.

    IO Biotech

    IO Biotech is a player in the immuno-oncology field and is developing therapeutic cancer vaccines based on its T-win cancer vaccine platform. The company uses peptides to modulate the activity of T cells to not only eliminate cancer cells but also immunosuppressive cells that release signals that weaken immune activity. The result is a stronger immune response against the tumor.

    The company’s lead candidate, IO102-IO103, combines two of IO Biotech’s wholly-owned T-win vaccines, IO102 and IO103, that are designed to activate and expand T cells specific for IDO and PD-L1, respectively. IDO and/or PD-L1 are overexpressed by many types of solid tumors and immune-suppressive cells (Tregs and TAMs) in the tumor microenvironment (TME). By combining IO102 and IO103, the candidate is intended to have a synergistic effect on cells in the TME that express IDO and/or PD-L1, leading to enhanced cell killing.

    Based on positive phase 1/2 first-line advanced melanoma data, IO102-IO103, in combination with Merck’s checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab, has been granted a breakthrough therapy designation for the treatment of unresectable/metastatic melanoma by the FDA. IO Biotech recently completed the enrollment of 380 patients in a pivotal phase 3 trial for IO102-IO103 in advanced melanoma. 

    MinervaX

    As an antibiotic resistance company based in Copenhagen, Denmark, biotech MinervaX was established to develop a prophylactic vaccine against group B Streptococcus (GBS) based on research from Lund University. It is currently developing a GBS vaccine for maternal immunization since GBS can cause a potentially fatal infection in newborn infants. The company’s vaccine is different from other GBS vaccine candidates in development, which are generally based on traditional capsular polysaccharide (CPS) conjugate technology, as it is a protein-only vaccine based on fusions of highly immunogenic and protective protein domains from selected surface proteins of GBS. 

    The vaccine is currently in phase 2 trials. Initial data from two phase 2 studies in 470 pregnant people has demonstrated that the vaccine has an acceptable safety profile, is highly immunogenic, and gives rise to functionally active antibodies. The vaccine is also being explored in a phase 1 trial in older adults, where GBS causes significant illness, such as sepsis, pneumonia, cellulitis, and soft tissue infections. 

    At the end of last year, MinervaX raised €54 million ($58.9 million) in upsized financing, enabling it to progress its GBS vaccine toward phase 3 clinical trials at some point in 2024.

    Zealand Pharma

    Working on the development of next-generation peptide therapeutics, Zealand Pharma specializes in treatments for rare diseases, as well as obesity, which is proving to be an extremely popular field at the moment since the approval of weight loss and diabetes drugs Wegovy and Ozempic last year. More than 10 drug candidates invented by Zealand have advanced into clinical development. Two have been already approved and are marketed by Sanofi and Novo Nordisk, and three candidates are in late-stage development. 

    The Danish biotech company’s two most advanced candidates are dasiglucagon and glepaglutide. Dasiglucagon is a long-acting GLP-2 analog that the company is currently seeking FDA approval in patients aged seven days or older with congenital hyperinsulinism (CHI), a genetic disorder in which the pancreas secretes too much insulin. Glepaglutide is also a long-acting GLP-2 analog that is in phase 3 of development for the treatment of short bowel syndrome, a condition in which the body cannot absorb enough nutrients from foods because part of the small intestine is missing or damaged.

    Zealand Pharma also announced positive data last month, for its experimental weight-loss drug that it is developing with Boehringer Ingelheim, as a phase 2 trial showed that 83% of adults treated with the therapy achieved “groundbreaking” results in liver disease due to metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH), with significant improvements in fibrosis. This announcement was so significant that it made the company’s shares soar by 34%.

    Thorough investment in life sciences in Denmark 

    The Danish government invests substantially in research and development in Denmark, as it funds the academic sector, as well as the Danish National Research Foundation, which is an independent research-funding body established by the Danish parliament in 1991. The foundation hands out close to $70 million a year to fund basic research, and more than one-third of this is focused on the life sciences industry. On top of government funding, there is also a considerable amount of international investment in the sector. Ultimately, the combination of public and private investment is a major factor in the recent success of Denmark’s life sciences industry.

    This article was originally published in June 2018 by Clara Rodríguez Fernández and has since been updated by Willow Shah-Neville in March 2024.

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