In 1992, two competing diabetes hospitals merged to form the Steno Diabetes Center, a public-private partnership between Novo Nordisk A/S and the Capital Region of Denmark. The goal was to advance knowledge and create innovative treatments for diabetes. Twenty-five years later, Novo Nordisk handed control to the Capital Region, in partnership with the Novo Nordisk Foundation. Together they founded Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen, the first of the new Steno Centers.
But the story begins many decades earlier.
In the early 1920s, three Danes began producing insulin for the first time in Europe. This revolutionary treatment turned diabetes from a death sentence into a manageable condition. The work was led by Nobel Prize winner August Krogh, physician Hans Christian Hagedorn and pharmacist August Kongsted, who together founded the company Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium.
In 1932, Hagedorn established Niels Steensens Hospital, Denmark’s first hospital dedicated to the treatment of people with diabetes. It was named after a Danish anatomist, researcher and priest from the 17th century, who believed in rigorous research and the individual worth of human beings, a combination echoed in Hagedorn’s hospital, which prioritised scientific rigour and patient-centred approaches.
Five years later, in 1937, Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium – Nordisk’s major rival – opened Hvidøre Hospital, also with the purpose of researching and treating diabetes.
Over the next decades, the battle between these two companies and their hospitals – which had the same goal but different approaches – made Denmark a global leader in diabetes research and innovation.
In 1989, Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium and Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium merged to become Novo Nordisk A/S, with the hospitals joining forces three years later to become the first Steno Diabetes Center. The name was inspired by Steensen’s Latin name, Stenonis, and the centre had several additional funders, including the Novo Nordisk Foundation.
Fast forward to 2017, when Novo Nordisk handed over the reins to the Capital Region, with the Novo Nordisk Foundation now the primary private partner.
Steno Diabetes Center Copenhagen opened its doors in 2017, with six other Steno Centers following, all still guided by Hagedorn’s (and Steensen’s) principles of rigorous research and patient-centred approaches.
Watch the videos below to learn more about the story of the Steno centres.
Episode 1: The Miracle
Learn about the early years of insulin production in Denmark, the creation of Niels Steensens Hospital, and the disagreement that led to a decades-long rivalry.
Episode 2: The Vision
The story continues by looking at the very different approaches at Denmark's two diabetes hospitals during the 20th century - one regulating diet and behaviour closely, the other creating a homelike setting and prioritising self-care.
Episode 3: The Name
This episode digs into the life and beliefs of Niels Steensen, the 17th-century anatomist, researcher and priest who inspired the "Steno" name.
Episode 4: The Battle
In the final instalment, we learn more about the decades-long battle between Nordisk Insulinlaboratorium and Novo Terapeutisk Laboratorium, and their eventual merger in 1989.