“Holy Cannoli!” I thought as I stepped through the glass doors and into the expansive lobby. As an intern at the North American headquarters for Novo Nordisk in New Jersey, I am already blown away by the opportunities that lie ahead for learning and engaging in new experiences. To begin, our building is newly overhauled and designed in a rather unorthodox, sleek, Danish style that promotes collaboration and tranquility. It rests on a lake with an outdoor patio and rooftop terrace and has mostly clear glass windows and walls to promote an open feel. Brimming with Ikea-esque furniture, the building is much longer than it is wide and has “pantries” every few hundred feet. These house a free soda vending machine, eating area, refrigerator/microwaves, combination bean grinder and coffee drink machine with more buttons than one could shake a stick at, bowl of fresh fruit, and more. Health and wellness are integral to the Novo Nordisk way and this is evident throughout the building. The cafeteria offers almost entirely healthy options which are minimally processed. There is even an exercise facility! More importantly today though, I met my manager, Sheldon Kong, and mentor, Neil Wintfeld, as they guided me through the building and attempted to describe our department in a nutshell.
Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR) is a part of the Clinical, Medical, and Regulatory unit of Novo. It serves as a liaison between the objective, scientific pharmaceutical research and the marketing folks tasked with convincing “payers” or “reimbursers” (code for insurance companies) to buy into the drug and thus offer its coverage to patients. Neil has already positioned himself as a professor-of-sorts, encouraging my endless curiosity and answering my questions with the help of his whiteboard. At this time I’m focused on improving my understanding of the process of drug development and exactly what HEOR does to ensure we connect the dots from the world of clinical development to the realm of patient access. For a payer to cover a drug, especially within the highly competitive and widespread Type 2 diabetes market, it must demonstrate its efficacy and worth as a product by its dosage, cost to acquire, implications for further healthcare costs, etc. On the other hand, Novo aims to develop a product that is not only profitable but also distinguishable from its comparators.
Though I’ve only been on the job for 6 hours, I’ve already sat in on a 2-hour teleconference with consultants from Copenhagen, Denmark (Novo’s world headquarters) and Belgium! We strategized with our research consulting group to design trials and collect data appropriate to re-launch a metabolic drug. Because another indication has been proven (another effect of the drug, such as weight loss), the publishing of this data will greatly add to the market base to improve reception with insurance companies. Although I took a statistics course during my first year of college, I am currently “Googling” many terms I seem to have forgotten which are going to be valuable when discussing these trials and what to make of their results. In the end, this will develop my critical eye when reading popular medical journals to determine the true value of the data presented in light of the publisher’s goal, sample population, and study parameters.
In the future, I’d like to be involved in making public health policy decisions in some capacity- be it as a city councilmember, member of a nonprofit board, or state representative. Combined with the medical degree I am pursuing in the near future, this internship will give me a perspective on healthcare and related decisions outside of one that is strictly anatomical and physiological.