The devastating impact of COVID-19 on societies and economies in 2020 intensified existing challenges such as inequality and poverty. However, in times of crisis, businesses play a critical role in mobilising resources and providing solutions. Novo Nordisk worked hard to respond to the challenges, helping people with serious chronic diseases while also supporting society on a broader scale.

Novo Nordisk’s highest priority in 2020 was to ensure the safety of our employees and the uninterrupted supply of our life-saving medicines for patients. We achieved this, while also supporting society's response to the pandemic, most notably in Denmark, where our headquarter presence meant we were able to assist the government in the rapid scale-up of coronavirus testing. At the same time, our scientists continued to make significant progress in discovering new therapies of the future, while our global commercial organisation embraced an increasingly digital new reality.

The world has been through one of the most difficult years in recent human history. Despite the pandemic and the turbulent business environment, Novo Nordisk took important steps towards delivering on our purpose of driving change to defeat diabetes and other serious chronic diseases – a goal we are confident will translate into sustainable and profitable growth.

This does not mean that the road ahead is going to be easy. The pandemic has exacted an immense economic, as well as human, cost on societies and it is inevitable that public finances will remain fragile for many years. Those fiscal constraints will put pressure on businesses that work closely with governments, including the pharmaceutical industry, and we will have to find new ways to ensure that our products are accessible to all those who need them.

Beyond COVID-19, two consistent priorities were high on the Board’s agenda in 2020, namely scientific innovation and sustainability – both of which are vital to ensure the future of the company. It is therefore satisfying to see a healthy product pipeline, including the pioneering science that we consider to be the biggest contribution we can make to society. 

Our research is now more broadly focused as we look to deliver treatments within therapy areas adjacent to our core competencies. Specifically, this means looking beyond semaglutide, the GLP-1 molecule found in our new oral diabetes treatment Rybelsus® and the once-weekly injectable Ozempic®. We are exploring novel ways to treat a range of conditions beyond diabetes, including cardiovascular disease – the world’s leading cause of death – obesity and most recently also as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. In tandem with this push into new areas, we are also establishing more external alliances and partnerships to complement our in-house expertise.

It is increasingly clear that society expects more from businesses as the world grapples with climate change and environmental degradation, as well as the need for greater equity in healthcare. Indeed, the pandemic has turbocharged many of these issues, with an effective alliance emerging between young people and investors that is prompting companies to pay far more attention to sustainability.

At Novo Nordisk, we have been focused on sustainability for many years – but we are determined to continue to raise our game. 

In the past year we launched a new social responsibility strategy, Defeat Diabetes, and initiated programmes within renewable power and recycling as part of our Circular for Zero environmental strategy.

Above all, 2020 underscored the need for strong corporate values and a shared sense of purpose. We are fortunate that both are well-established across our organisation, empowering our employees to keep delivering for both patients and investors, despite the unprecedented disruptions caused by COVID-19.

On behalf of the Board of Directors I would like to offer my thanks to all Novo Nordisk’s employees for their hard work and commitment during the exceptional challenges of 2020; to Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen and his team for leading the company through a turbulent year in such a thoughtful and positive manner; and to our shareholders for their continued support.

 

Helge Lund
Chair of the Board of Directors