Novozymes' history

Explore the Novozymes history - a history of biotechnology development.

Canadians Banting and Best discover how to extract insulin from animals to treat diabetes in humans. 

In March 1923 the first Danish patients are treated with insulin extracted from bovine pancreases, and that spring August Krogh and Dr. Hagedorn establish Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium. 


The first experiments to extract insulin from animals for human use are carried out in the cellar of the Pedersen brothers on Fuglebakkevej in Denmark. 


Harald and Thorvald Pedersen design a special syringe – the Novo syringe – which patients can use to inject themselves with insulin. This was something new, as the Nordisk insulin was in tablet form and had to be dissolved and swallowed. The Pedersen brothers name their firm Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium. 


Novo builds its first factory at Fuglebakken in Denmark. The architect is Arne Jacobsen, one of Denmark's most successful architects and designers.


Thorvald Pedersen decides to expand the business by producing enzymes.

The frozen pancreas used for insulin production also contained enzymeshowever, when extracting the insulin, it was believed that youde-activated” the enzymes. So the residue after insulin extraction was not used for anything except feed. However, most pancreas in the world at this point in time were not used for insulin but for treatment of leather. So – looking at the supply problems of pancreas owing to WW II – Thorvald decided to  find out if it was not possible to use the same pancreas for both insulin extraction and enzymes production. This would cut expenses and lessen the demand for pancreas worldwide.

Novo introduces special child allowances for employees with children.


Trypsin crystals: Novo’s first enzyme product. Trypsin is extracted from the pancreas after insulin extraction and used for cleaning hides prior to tanning.

In the 1940s it was proved it wrong that enzymes were destroyed during insulin extraction and this lead to the development of a method to extract both insulin and enzymes from the same pancreas.

In the 1940s sales of trypsin were going brilliantly and Novo therefore decided to market yet another enzyme extracted from the pancreas. This was amylase, which is used in the textile industry for desizing. When production was about to start, an employee got an uncommonly good idea. He suggested making amylase by fermentation, i.e. finding a bacterial strain that could produce the enzyme in a fermentation process. The idea was an obvious one since Novo was already using fermentation technology to produce penicillin. The company’s researchers succeeded in getting bacteria to produce amylase, and that event heralded Novo’s immense success with fermentation of enzymes.

Enzyme production begins in the trypsin cellar at the Fuglebakken factory.

Svend Frederiksen discovers a way of extracting both insulin and enzymes from the same pancreas. The method is patented in the same year. 


The Novo Foundation is set up to support scientific, social, and humanitarian causes, and to provide the best possible protection for the company via the new company structure.


Termozym® is Novo’s first microbial enzyme, followed by Aquazym® in 1954. Both are used in the textile industry to remove starch from fabrics.

Arne Jacobsen designs the “Ant” chair for Novo’s new canteen. To this day the chair is marketed globally.

Enzymes are a success: they are efficient, flexible, precise and include a good economic angle. They would later also prove capable of replacing highly polluting processes with environmentally friendly processes.

Novo introduces a five-day working week.


Novo Enzym is launched for use in the detergent industry, and the first pilot plant is built at Fuglebakken near Copenhagen.


Alcalase is Novo’s first detergent enzyme produced by fermentation.

In 1960 Novo’s researchers accidentally found themselves in possession of a remarkable enzyme. To their astonishment, they found that the enzyme had all the properties which detergent manufacturers were looking for. It could remove obstinate stains from blood and sweat and acted without problems with other substances in the detergent. The new enzyme product was named Alcalase® and was Novo’s first detergent enzyme produced by fermentation.


Part of Novo’s production is moved to new buildings erected on a 122,000 m2 plot of land in Bagsvaerd, Denmark.

To celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, employees are given three days of paid holiday. In the same year, Novo triples its workforce – about half are women.


Novo builds a factory in Kalundborg, Denmark. 

During the 1960s Novo launched a number of new and improved enzyme products, not just for detergents, but for many other industrial applications as well. The starch industry became a particularly big customer, using enzymes to convert starch into sugar. To keep up with the growing demand for industrial enzymes, Novo’s management decided on a substantial increase in fermentation capacity. The first step was a new enzyme plant in Kalundborg, Denmark, inaugurated in 1969.

Medical journal The Lancet publishes an article questioning the safety of enzymes in detergents. 

The Lancet article said that some workers at a British detergent factory had developed allergy after inhaling concentrated enzyme dust. The article attracted massive media attention in the US due to fears that users of detergents could also develop allergies.

Studies show that detergent enzymes do not present a risk to consumers. Nevertheless, the media attacks on detergent enzymes spread to Europe, leading to a drop in sales and a reduction in Novo’s workforce from 2,100 to 1,700.
In November the US health authorities determine that detergent enzymes are in fact safe to use, and the media storm subsides. In 1972 sales go up again. 


To reduce the risk of workers at detergent factories developing allergies, Novo developed dust-free enzyme preparations.


Novo's female employees demand equal pay for the first time.

Novo’s shares are listed on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange.


Brazil launches a large-scale project to produce fuel alcohol as an alternative to expensive oil.


Novo sets up an environmental department. Studies of obnoxious smells are one of the first tasks.


Novo becomes the first Scandinavian company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.


In the mid 1980s Novo supplies about 60% of the total world consumption of detergent enzymes.


Novo launches Lipolase® - the first fat-splitting enzyme for detergents manufactured with genetically engineered microorganisms.

Although Novo had developed a wide range of efficient detergent enzymes, there was still one serious problem frustrating the company’s researchers: They had not yet succeeded in finding an enzyme that could dissolve greasy stains. The breakthrough came in the autumn 1987. Novo’s researchers became the first in the world to develop a bacterial strain that could produce large quantities of a fat-splitting enzyme. The enzyme was given the name Lipolase®. This was Novo’s first genetically engineered enzyme product and it reached the market just four months after the enzyme researchers’ triumph in the laboratory. Novo had managed yet again to develop an enzyme with desirable properties, and before long Lipolase® was being used in a wide range of detergents all over the world.

Danish companies Novo and Nordisk Gentofte merge to become Novo Nordisk.

The Brazilian factory is inaugurated. Only 18 months after the land was purchased, the first enzyme is produced and sold.

Bagsvaerd’s kindergarten celebrates its 15th anniversary. It was one of the first company kindergartens in Denmark.


Novo in Davis, California, is inaugurated.


Novo becomes the first company in Denmark to issue an environmental report. Novo is also one of the first to implement the triple bottom line in a bid to balance financial, social, and environmental aspects.

During the 1990s the company starts issuing annual reports on social and environmental performance – in addition to the traditional annual report. The company thus started measuring what is called the "triple bottom line". In other words, the company’s activities are evaluated in terms of their social and environmental responsibility and impact and economic viability. In practical terms, triple bottom line (also known as "TBL")  accounting means expanding the traditional reporting framework to take into account ecological and social performance in addition to financial reporting. Today’s sustainabilty concept arises from the TBL reporting.

DeniLite® is launched – the first enzyme in the world for bleaching denim in the textile industry.


Kannase® is launched – a detergent enzyme for soft and cold water.

A new enzyme factory opens in Tianjin, China, enabling Chinese farmers to join Danish, American, and Brazilian farmers in receiving NovoGro®.


Novo publishes its first social report.


Novo is split into three independent companies: Novo Nordisk A/S, Novozymes A/S and Novo A/S.

For the first time customers can buy enzymes online via Novozymes’ new website.


Novozymes acquires Sybron in Salem, USA. This marks the start of the microorganism business in the US.

Novozymes in Davis contracts with the US government to develop enzymes that can turn biomass into environmentally friendly fuel.


Novozymes is awarded the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award for work on enzymes to develop healthier oils and fats for use in food.


Launch of six integrity principles to help individual employees to deal with issues such as bribery.


Acquisition of Australian biopharma company GroPep and UK-based biotech company Delta. This marks the start of the biopharma business.


President Bush visits Novozymes’ US headquarters and hosts a panel discussion on advancements in biofuels.

The business unit BioBusiness is formed consisting of microorganisms, biopolymers, and biopharmaceuticals.

The new business area, Biobusiness acquires Philom Bios, Canada, our first step into producing biological products for the agricultural market. In 2010 we acquire Brazilian bioagriculture company Turfal, and in 2011 also the bioag company EMD/Merck Crop BioScience (located in Milwaukee, the US, and Argentina).


Inauguration of the world’s largest enzyme fermentation facility in China, primarily with focus on products for the bioethanol industry.


Launch of Cellic® - the first commercially viable enzyme for production of biofuel from agricultural waste, enabling cellulosic biofuel as a competitive alternative to gasoline. 

Acquisition of EMD/Merck Crop BioScience: The USD 283 million deal makes Novozymes a major player in biofertility solutions for agriculture. 


Inauguration of new hyaluronic acid plant in China. The plant represents an investment of more than DKK 300 million.

Inauguration of enzymes (for biofuels) plant in Blair, Nebraska.

Peder Holk Nielsen takes over the reins as CEO as Steen Riisgaard retires.

The world’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant opens in Crescentino, Italy – using Novozymes enzymes.

In a transformational alliance, Novozymes and Monsanto come together to create sustainable solutions for agriculture. The BioAg Alliance will mean more solutions for farmers globally.

The commercial production of cellulosic ethanol broadens globally, as Novozymes provides enzymatic solutions to plants in South and North America as well as in Europe.

The BioAg Alliance – Novozymes’ groundbreaking partnership with Monsanto – becomes fully operational, conducting more than 170,000 field trials in the U.S.

Continuing to meet the needs of customers in emerging markets, Novozymes launches Medley®, an innovative detergent solution that targets specific regional needs and conditions.