Four years ago, an Israeli soldier lay dying, bleeding uncontrollably from gunshot wounds, in a hospital near Tel Aviv. Doctors tried everything, but the soldier was losing almost a half-liter of blood a minute. As a last resort, they administered NovoSeven, a little-known drug used to treat hemophiliacs. Within minutes, the bleeding stopped, allowing doctors to treat the wounds and save the soldier's life.
For Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, executive vice-president and chief scientific officer of Denmark's Novo Nordisk, the maker of NovoSeven, the Israeli soldier's experience confirmed what he always believed. The blood-clotting drug may have a wide range of lifesaving applications beyond hemophilia. "We heard so many anecdotal examples of doctors worldwide using NovoSeven to treat catastrophic bleeding in trauma cases such as accidents and gunshot wounds that we knew we had to test it for more general usage," he says.
That vision is what makes the 42-year-old pharmacologist a star. Although he didn't formulate NovoSeven -- his colleague, Swedish scientist Dr. Ulla Hedner, discovered it in 1983 -- Krogsgaard Thomsen and his team are credited with recognizing the drug's massive potential and setting out to prove it clinically. In 1999, after NovoSeven was approved in the U.S. as a treatment for hemophilia, he and his team launched clinical tests for eight new uses for the drug, from stopping cerebral hemorrhages in stroke victims to controlling bleeding in liver transplant and trauma patients. Krogsgaard Thomsen has ramped up Novo Nordisk's investment in NovoSeven to 20% of the company's $550 million research-and-development budget.
It's a risky bet for Novo Nordisk, a $4 billion-in-sales outfit that specializes mainly in diabetes treatments. But analysts think it could pay off for both Novo Nordisk and patients. If NovoSeven is found to control bleeding caused by surgery or accidents, the drug could soon be used in emergency rooms around the world. That could be an important innovation because blood-clotting drugs currently on the market only work in patients with hemophilia. "Some 99.9% of the population does not respond to existing blood-clotting drugs," Krogsgaard Thomsen explains.
The native of Denmark didn't start out in the pharmacology business. Krogsgaard Thomsen received a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Denmark's Royal Veterinary & Agricultural University in 1986. But he didn't like working as a vet. "For two months, I took x-rays, gave vaccinations, and performed minor surgery, but it was the same thing every day," he recalls. So he traded animals for drug discovery, studying for a PhD and then earning another advanced degree, a doctor of science in pharmacology, from the same university. He then joined the small Danish drugmaker Leo Pharmaceuticals, where he headed the company's pharmacology-research team before moving to Novo Nordisk three years later, in 1991. He became chief scientific officer in 2000.
Now, Krogsgaard Thomsen is eagerly waiting for research results to come in on new uses for NovoSeven this year and next. If his hunch about the drug's many uses is right, patients worldwide will be glad this scientist decided setting broken dog legs wasn't enough of a challenge.